Community leaders' perspectives on engaging African Americans in biobanks and other human genetics initiatives.

Research paper by Aaron G AG Buseh, Patricia E PE Stevens, Sandra S Millon-Underwood, Leolia L Townsend, Sheryl T ST Kelber

Indexed on: 03 Jul '13Published on: 03 Jul '13Published in: Journal of Community Genetics


There is limited information about what African Americans think about biobanks and the ethical questions surrounding them. Likewise, there is a gap in capacity to successfully enroll African Americans as biobank donors. The purposes of this community-based participatory study were to: (a) explore African Americans' perspectives on genetics/genomic research, (b) understand facilitators and barriers to participation in such studies, and (c) enlist their ideas about how to attract and sustain engagement of African Americans in genetics initiatives. As the first phase in a mixed methods study, we conducted four focus groups with 21 African American community leaders in one US Midwest city. The sample consisted of executive directors of community organizations and prominent community activists. Data were analyzed thematically. Skepticism about biomedical research and lack of trust characterized discussions about biomedical research and biobanks. The Tuskegee Untreated Syphilis Study and the Henrietta Lacks case influenced their desire to protect their community from harm and exploitation. Connections between genetics and family history made genetics/genomics research personal, pitting intrusion into private affairs against solutions. Participants also expressed concerns about ethical issues involved in genomics research, calling attention to how research had previously been conducted in their community. Participants hoped personalized medicine might bring health benefits to their people and proposed African American communities have a "seat at the table." They called for basic respect, authentic collaboration, bidirectional education, transparency and prerogative, and meaningful benefits and remuneration. Key to building trust and overcoming African Americans' trepidation and resistance to participation in biobanks are early and persistent engagement with the community, partnerships with community stakeholders to map research priorities, ethical conduct of research, and a guarantee of equitable distribution of benefits from genomics discoveries.