The Meaning of Informed Consent: Genome Editing Clinical Trials for Sickle Cell Disease

The Meaning of Informed Consent: Genome Editing Clinical Trials for Sickle Cell Disease
Stacy Desine, Brittany M. Hollister, Khadijah E. Abdallah, Anitra Persaud, Sara Chandros Hull, Vence L. Bonham
AJOB Empirical Bioethics, 12 October 2020; 11(4) pp 195-207
Open Access
A first therapeutic target of somatic genome editing (SGE) is sickle cell disease (SCD), the most commonly inherited blood disorders, affecting more than 100,000 individuals in the United States. Advancement of SGE is contingent on patient participation in first in human clinical trials. However, seriously ill patients may be vulnerable to overestimating the benefits of early phase studies while underestimating the risks. Therefore, ensuring potential clinical trial participants are fully informed prior to participating in a SGE clinical trial is critical.
We conducted a mixed-methods study of adults with SCD as well as parents and physicians of individuals with SCD. Participants were asked to complete a genetic literacy survey, watch an educational video about genome editing, complete a twopart survey, and take part in focus group discussions. Focus groups addressed topics on clinical trials, ethics of gene editing, and what is not understood regarding gene editing. All focus groups were audio-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using conventional content analysis techniques to identify major themes.
Our study examined the views of SCD stakeholders regarding what they want and need to know about genome editing to make an informed decision to participate in a SGE clinical trial. Prominent themes included stakeholders’ desire to understand treatment side effects, mechanism of action of SGE, trial qualification criteria, and the impact of SGE on quality of life. In addition, some physicians expressed concerns about the extent to which their patients would understand concepts related to SGE; however, individuals with SCD demonstrated higher levels of genetic literacy than estimated by physicians.
Designing ethically robust genome editing clinical trials for the SCD population will require, at a minimum, addressing the expressed information needs of the community through culturally sensitive engagement, so that they can make informed decisions to consider participation in clinical trials.

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