Thursday, August 11, 2022

Anya Prince, professor of law at the University of Iowa, along with a multidisciplinary team of researchers from across the country, was recently awarded a R01 grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH titled, “Beyond the Medical: The ELSI of Polygenic Scores for Social Traits.” The co-principal investigator is Jean Cadigan, associate professor of Social Medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Additional members of the research team are Margaret Waltz, Kriste Kuczynski, and Courtney Cantor from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Shawneequa Callier from George Washington University, and Karen Meagher from the Mayo Clinic. Librarians at the University of Iowa Law Library will also assist in key aspects of the study. The 4-year grand grant totals over $2.7 million in funding with over $485,000 awarded to the University of Iowa.

In the emerging field of sociogenomics, scientific researchers are exploring the connectivity of nature versus nurture—investigating how one’s genes may play a role in determining social attributes and behaviors. Prince and Cadigan’s project will focus on the increasing development of sociogenomic polygenic scores (PGS) that may predict complex behaviors and traits, like reproductive behavior, educational attainment, and income. The development of these scores has the promise to improve genetic and social science research, but it can also exacerbate social inequities and disparities if not implemented carefully. Prince, Cadigan, and the team will examine how these scores are being utilized and ascertain the ethical, legal, and social impacts (ELSI) of their use.

“With an exploration of diverse viewpoints on the potential harms and benefits of sociogenomic PGS and assessment of the legal protections and barriers for implementation, this project seeks to better understand the ethical and social impacts of this new technology,” explained Prince. Cadigan added, “Our findings from stakeholder perspectives and development of legal case studies will provide guidance for how to move forward with sociogenomic PGS research in ways that promote public health and social justice.”

More information about the project can be found here.