04 June 2020
Share this article

Dr. Eline Bunnik on 'Ethical handling of incidental findings in research'


Online webinar presented by Eline Bunnik, PhD, Erasmus MC, BBMRI.nl

In biomedical research involving human subjects, incidental findings can be uncovered that are beyond the scope of the research but may be of relevance to the health of the research participant. Incidental findings place researchers before an ethical dilemma: disclosing  information about incidental findings to participants may be beneficial, but it may also be harmful, and potentially unwanted.

There is considerable heterogeneity between research groups and biobanks within and across countries, in current practices and policies for the handling of incidental findings in research settings. In the Netherlands, we developed practical guidance for the detection, management and communication of incidental findings for the biobank community. The project was funded by BBMRI-NL and based on earlier work on ethical issues surrounding incidental findings in imaging research.

Check our newsitem on the publication of the English translation of the Guide to the detection, management and communication of incidental findings for biobanks in BBMRI-NL.

BBMRI-ERIC organised a webinar on the occasion of the publication of the English translation.  In this webinar, Dr. Eline Bunnik, one of the authors of the guide, reflected on the results of two interview studies on the impact of incidental findings, detected in the brain during research imaging, on research participants’ lives, to sketch the ethical dilemma. She also presented a 7-step framework for the responsible handling of incidental findings. Finally, she highlighted the key recommendations of our practical guide, and pointed out open questions for discussion.

To see the webinar, click on the recording of the webinar

Recording date: 4 June 2020

Learning points:

- understanding the ethics of incidental findings

- taking control of the technical, organizational and social decisions that influence the detection of incidental findings

- better policies, protocols and practices for the handling of incidental findings in biobank research