EU project publishes bioethics guidelines for nutrigenomics research
Inextricably linked with the exponential growth of scientific and technological discovery are concerns over human health and safety. Increased understanding of the human genome in recent years has unlocked enormous potential in improving our well-being, and as a result public officials are careful to take the requisite measures to protect public safety in emerging fields. One such example is the field of nutrigenomics, the study of the interaction between nutrients and genes. Consequently. the European Commission has funded the European Nutrigenomics Organisation (NuGO) Network of Excellence which recently published a set of bioethics guidelines designed to help scientists undertaking nutrigenomics research using human subjects.
Emerging in 2000 as a new field of research, scientists predict that nutrigenomics could one day bring about big changes in how food is grown, processed and consumed. It could also lead to personalised diets tailored on the genetic make-up of an individual. In these ways, the discipline holds the promise of improving health conditions and preventing diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
At the same time, nutrigenomics also raises many ethical questions about the privacy aspects of personalised foods and diets, genetic testing and the potential high cost of new functional foods.
Ethical concerns addressed
In response to these ethical concerns, NuGO, an EU-funded network, has produced a report containing 19 bioethics guidelines. These cover topics under the headings of informed consent, genotype information (covering criteria for disclosure of genotype results to participants), biobanks, and use and exchange of data samples. They are accompanied by references to relevant official and legal documents from the EU and individual European countries. Also included are a list of definitions, a set of template documents chosen as examples of good practice for processes such as seeking informed consent, and a list of available bioethics training courses within Europe.
The guidelines are based on principles for which there is a general consensus within the EU, and conform to the legal standards set out in various EU Directives. However, the authors point out that the guidelines are not a legal document and that the ethical approval for nutrigenomics research will depend on the legal standards found in individual Member States.
Nevertheless, the NuGO guidelines could be used as a starting point for researchers and parties interested in the ethical principles involved in population-based genomics research. NuGO also encourages users to add examples and comments from their own experience in order to inform the further development of the guidelines.
Through their application, these guidelines will contribute to the standardisation of human nutrigenomics research ethics in Europe.
NuGO is a European network of excellence funded under the EU's Sixth Framework Programme for Research (FP6).
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