18 September 2008
GWA studies operate on the basis of the location of many SNPs associated with susceptibility to disease. The data are usually stored in publicly accessible databases so that they can be used by other researchers, and are generally pooled and summarised in the form of statistical information, in order to ensure that anonymity is maintained. The technique described by Homer et al. opens the possibility of the identification of individual participants. However, in order to achieve this, their SNP profile must be previously known, and this information is generally only available to researchers.
The new statistical approach has implications for data sharing policies, as data from GWA studies has been made publicly available via research databases, websites, journal articles and other publications. Some researchers feel that the NIH/Wellcome Trust restriction on access to data is premature and may impede research (reported by Nature). The NIH is currently working to explore and address the policy implications of this finding and in a letter published in Science, called on others in the scientific community to join in the deliberations [Zerhouni EA et al. (2008) Science Sep 4: Epub ahead of print]. Issues relating to privacy, confidentiality and consent, have already been raised in the context of personal genomics (see news reviews) and bio banking, and are becoming increasingly important as genetic data proliferates.