Incidental Findings in Data Intensive Postgenomic Science and Legal Liability for Clinician-Researchers: Ready for Vaccinomics?

Vaccinomics encompasses a host of multiomics approaches to characterize variability in host-environment (including pathogens) interactions, with a view to a more directed or personalized use of vaccine-based health interventions. Although vaccinomics has the potential to reduce adverse effects and increase efficacy of vaccines, the use of high-throughput, data-intensive technologies may also lead to unanticipated discoveries beyond the initial aims of a vaccinomics study–discoveries that could be highly significant to the health of the research participants. How do clinician-researchers faced with such information have to act? What are the attendant legal duties in such circumstances and how do they differ from the duties of non-clinician researchers? Together with a critical analysis of the international laws and policies framing researchers’ duties with regard to incidental findings, this article also draws from Quebec’s civil law–with its rich jurisprudence on clinician and researcher liability–as a case study to evaluate the potential legal implications associated with vaccinomics investigations. Given previous lessons learned from other data-intensive sciences, the education of clinician-researchers with regard to their roles, limitations, and legal obligations remains an important strategy to prevent potential legal complications and civil liability in vaccinomics research in the postgenomics era.

This content has been updated on December 16, 2015 at 15 h 36 min.