Research 2.0: Social Networking and Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) Genomics

American Journal of Bioethics 9 (6):35-44 (2009)
Abstract
The convergence of increasingly efficient high throughput sequencing technology and ubiquitous Internet use by the public has fueled the proliferation of companies that provide personal genetic information (PGI) direct-to-consumers. Companies such as 23andme (Mountain View, CA) and Navigenics (Foster City, CA) are emblematic of a growing market for PGI that some argue represents a paradigm shift in how the public values this information and incorporates it into how they behave and plan for their futures. This new class of social networking business ventures that market the science of the personal genome illustrates the new trend in collaborative science. In addition to fostering a consumer empowerment movement, it promotes the trend of democratizing information?openly sharing of data with all interested parties, not just the biomedical researcher?for the purposes of pooling data (increasing statistical power) and escalating the innovation process. This target article discusses the need for new approaches to studying DTC genomics using social network analysis to identify the impact of obtaining, sharing, and using PGI. As a locus of biosociality, DTC personal genomics forges social relationships based on beliefs of common genetic susceptibility that links risk, disease, and group identity. Ethical issues related to the reframing of DTC personal genomic consumers as advocates and research subjects and the creation of new social formations around health research may be identified through social network analysis
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