Ethical issues in genomics research on neurodevelopmental disorders: a critical interpretive review

S Mezinska, L Gallagher, M Verbrugge, Eline maria Bunnik

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Background: Genomic research on neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs), particularly involving minors, combines and amplifies existing research ethics issues for biomedical research. We performed a review of the literature on the ethical issues associated with genomic research involving children affected by NDDs as an aid to researchers to better anticipate and address ethical concerns. Results: Qualitative thematic analysis of the included articles revealed themes in three main areas: research design and ethics review, inclusion of research participants, and communication of research results. Ethical issues known to be associated with genomic research in general, such as privacy risks and informed consent/assent, seem especially pressing for NDD participants because of their potentially decreased cognitive abilities, increased vulnerability, and stigma associated with mental health problems. Additionally, there are informational risks: learning genetic information about NDD may have psychological and social impact, not only for the research participant but also for family members. However, there are potential benefits associated with research participation, too: by enrolling in research, the participants may access genetic testing and thus increase their chances of receiving a (genetic) diagnosis for their neurodevelopmental symptoms, prognostic or predictive information about disease progression or the risk of concurrent future disorders. Based on the results of our review, we developed an ethics checklist for genomic research involving children affected by NDDs. Conclusions: In setting up and designing genomic research efforts in NDD, researchers should partner with communities of persons with NDDs. Particular attention should be paid to preventing disproportional burdens of research participation of children with NDDs and their siblings, parents and other family members. Researchers should carefully tailor the information and informed consent procedures to avoid therapeutic and diagnostic misconception in NDD research. To better anticipate and address ethical issues in specific NDD studies, we suggest researchers to use the ethics checklist for genomic research involving children affected by NDDs presented in this paper.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16
JournalHuman Genomics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful for the feedback on an early version of this paper from participants at the COST Action CA16210 MINDDS workshop in Leuven (February 4–7, 2019). Also, we would like to thank Dr. Wichor Bramer, biomedical information specialist at the Medical Library of Erasmus MC, for his help with the development of our search strategy.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

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