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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Secondary uses and the governance of de-identified data: Lessons from the human genome diversity panel

Stephanie M Fullerton1* and Sandra S-J Lee2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Bioethics & Humanities, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA 98195, USA

2 Center for Biomedical Ethics and Department of Pediatrics, Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, CA 94305, USA

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BMC Medical Ethics 2011, 12:16  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-12-16

Published: 26 September 2011



Recent changes to regulatory guidance in the US and Europe have complicated oversight of secondary research by rendering most uses of de-identified data exempt from human subjects oversight. To identify the implications of such guidelines for harms to participants and communities, this paper explores the secondary uses of one de-identified DNA sample collection with limited oversight: the Human Genome Diversity Project (HGDP)-Centre d'Etude du Polymorphisme Humain, Fondation Jean Dausset (CEPH) Human Genome Diversity Panel.


Using a combination of keyword and cited reference search, we identified English-language scientific articles published between 2002 and 2009 that reported analysis of HGDP Diversity Panel samples and/or data. We then reviewed each article to identify the specific research use to which the samples and/or data was applied. Secondary uses were categorized according to the type and kind of research supported by the collection.


A wide variety of secondary uses were identified from 148 peer-reviewed articles. While the vast majority of these uses were consistent with the original intent of the collection, a minority of published reports described research whose primary findings could be regarded as controversial, objectionable, or potentially stigmatizing in their interpretation.


We conclude that potential risks to participants and communities cannot be wholly eliminated by anonymization of individual data and suggest that explicit review of proposed secondary uses, by a Data Access Committee or similar internal oversight body with suitable stakeholder representation, should be a required component of the trustworthy governance of any repository of data or specimens.