Ethical, legal and social issues of genetic studies with African immigrants as research subjects

Gordon Gong, Sade Kosoko-Lasaki, Gleb Haynatzki, Cynthia Cook, Richard L. O'Brien, Lynne E. Houtz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations


There is growing interest in exploring gene-environment interactions in the etiology of diseases in immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa. Our experience working with the Sudanese immigrant population in Omaha, NE, makes clear the pressing need for geneticists and federal and local funding agencies to address the ethical, legal and social implications of genetic research with such vulnerable populations. Our work raises several questions. How does one design research with African immigrant participants to assure it is ethical? Many immigrants may not understand the purposes, risks and benefits involved in research because of low literacy rates, one of the results of civil wars, or concepts of biologic science foreign to their cultures. Is it possible to obtain truly informed consent? Do African immigrants perceive genetic research using them as subjects as racist? Is genetic research on minorities "biopiracy" or "bio-colonialism?" In our experience, some Sudanese immigrants have challenged the legality and ethics of genetic studies with profit-making as an end. We have concluded that it is essential to educate African immigrant or any other non-English-speaking immigrant participants in research using lay language and graphic illustrations before obtaining consent. Cultural proficiency is important in gaining the trust of African immigrants; profit-sharing may encourage their participation in genetic research to benefit all; involvement of African immigrant community leaders in planning, delivery and evaluation using the community-based participatory research approach will facilitate healthcare promotion, health literacy education, as well as genetic research. It is crucial to address the ethical, legal and social implications of genetic studies with African immigrants as research subjects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1073-1077
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of the National Medical Association
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2008



  • Knowledge, attitudes and beliefs
  • Research
  • Sub-Saharan Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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