With so many developments at the intersection of genomics and the law, there is often a variety of interesting stories that, for one reason or another, don’t find their way into a full-length posting on the Genomics Law Report. In this post we recap several recent key developments and, at bottom, round up all of the recent tweets from @genomicslawyer.
Continuing Uncertainty Over FDA’s 510(k) Overhaul. As we have discussed previously, in addition to overhauling the approval process for direct-to-consumer (DTC) and laboratory developed tests (LDTs), the FDA is also in the midst of a comprehensive review of its 510(k) clearance process for medical devices.
The top news story the past two weeks: the release of hundreds of thousands of confidential American diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks. While dissecting diplomatic maneuvering is not a traditional area of expertise for the Genomics Law Report, a pair of cables did catch our eye.
The first is primarily a curiosity: the allegation that Chinese authorities are spying on deCode Genetics, Iceland’s most prominent genetic research company and provider of the direct-to-consumer genetic testing service, deCODEme. Nobody seems to know exactly what China is looking to gain by clandestinely exploring Iceland’s genetic genealogy. You are welcome to speculate in the comments.
The second raises broader issues: the revelation that the State Department’s ongoing human intelligence collection directives include requests for “biometric information” on key world leaders, including United Nations arms inspectors, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) and key advisors and aides to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. A separate cable detailing intelligence collection priorities in Africa’s Great Lakes region clarifies that “biometric information” includes “health [data]…fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans.”
Not disclosed in the WikiLeaked cables: why the State Department wants the biometric data or whether any have been successfully obtained.
Surreptitious Testing: An Overview. The cables are, however, a reminder that the law surrounding the surreptitious collection and testing of biometric data, including DNA, remains extremely murky.
In late February, the state of Texas incinerated 5.3 million newborn bloodspots.
The background – the Genomics Law Report has had several posts (here and here) about the ongoing situation involving 5.3 million newborn bloodspots in a state biorepository in Texas. Often referred to as “residual” bloodspots, these are the tiny dried bloodspots left over after states conduct mandatory screening for specified diseases. State practices regarding retention of the residual bloodspots vary widely, with some destroying them promptly and others storing them indefinitely. Where post-screening use of the bloodspots occurs, the most common use is for quality assurance and quality control of the screening tests. Some states also permit the release of small sets of bloodspots for research.
Any such research must be done in compliance with the federal Common Rule applicable to clinical research and HIPAA, the federal medical privacy law. To simplify these laws’ complex requirements – what researchers must do depends on whether the samples or information will be made available in an identifiable or de-identified form. If a researcher receives identifiable information, then informed consents, privacy authorizations, and Institutional Review Board (IRB) reviews are mandatory. If the researcher receives only de-identified samples or information, no parental consent or privacy authorizations are required, although some states, including Texas, still insist on IRB review.
The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) could soon face a new federal lawsuit in light of the discovery that it sent 800 anonymous newborn blood samples to a U.S. military DNA lab in 2003 and 2007. As discussed in a post by Adam Doerr on February 2, Texas Civil Rights Project lawyer Jim Harrington successfully negotiated a settlement in 2009 to have DSHS destroy 5.3 million newborn blood samples because it did not obtain informed consent from parents to use the samples for research. Now DSHS has come under criticism over samples it had already released for approved research.
The Texas Tribune reported last Monday under the headline “DNA Deception” that its review of nine years’ worth of e-mails and internal documents, obtained under state sunshine laws,1 revealed a DSHS agreement to help the military build a national mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) database. The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory claims a legitimate research purpose for the newborn DNA samples—to improve the identification of missing person remains through analyses of highly stable mtDNA.2 Because mtDNA generally lasts longer in a wider variety of tissues than nuclear DNA, it is also more likely to be recovered from particularly old or decayed remains.
Sometime in the next few months, Texas will destroy more than 5 million blood samples collected from newborn babies across the state over the past seven years. The lawsuit that led to this result—agreed to as part of a settlement reached between the state and a civil rights group representing a group of parents—illustrates a number of interesting points about the law and litigation of genetics issues.
As we discussed in A Closer Look at Biobanking of Newborn Blood Spots, states collect blood samples from most infants born in the United States each year, with the goal of detecting and treating a variety of potentially serious conditions. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) has been collecting newborn blood samples from babies born within the state since the 1960s. Texas currently tests for conditions including cystic fibrosis, endocrine disorders, fatty acid disorders, and others—28 disorders in all (pdf). At least some of the samples are apparently subjected to genetic testing for hemoglobinopathy, phenylketonuria, and galactosemia.