March 3, 2021

Disclosure of clinically actionable genetic variants to thoracic aortic dissection biobank participants

Published by Addie Beil, MS, MPH ’19, Patty Arscott ’08, Wendy R. Uhlmann, MS, CGC '87, and Cristen J. Willer, Ph.D.


Background: Disclosure of pathogenic variants to thoracic aortic dissection biobank participants was implemented. The impact and costs, including confirmatory genetic testing in a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments(CLIA)-certified laboratory, were evaluated.

Methods: We exome sequenced 240 cases with thoracic aortic dissection and 258 controls, then examined 11 aortopathy genes. Pathogenic variants in 6 aortopathy genes (COL3A1, FBN1, LOX, PRKG1, SMAD3, and TGFBR2) were identified in 26 participants, representing 10.8% of the cohort (26/240). A second research sample was used to validate the initial findings. Mailed letters to participants disclosed that a potentially disease causing DNA alteration had been identified (neither the gene nor variant was disclosed). Participants were offered clinical genetic counseling and confirmatory genetic testing in a CLIA laboratory.

Results: Excluding 6 participants who were deceased or lost to follow-up, 20 participants received the disclosure letter, 10 of whom proceeded with genetic counseling, confirmatory genetic testing, and enrolled in a survey study. Participants reported satisfaction with the letter (4.2 ± 0.7) and genetic counseling (4.4 ± 0.4; [out of 5, respectively]). The psychosocial impact was characterized by low decisional regret (11.5 ± 11.6) and distress (16.0 ± 4.2, [out of 100, respectively]). The average cost for 26 participants was $400, including validation and sending letters. The average cost for those who received genetic counseling and CLIA laboratory confirmation was $605.

Conclusions: Participants were satisfied with the return of clinically significant biobank genetic results and CLIA laboratory testing; however, the process required significant time and resources. These findings illustrate the trade-offs involved for researchers considering returning research genetic results.

Keywords: Biobank, Communication, Genetic counseling, Pathogenic variants, Return of results

Beil A, Hornsby W, Uhlmann WR, Aatre R, Arscott P, Wolford B, Eagle KA, Yang B, McNamara J, Willer C, Roberts JS. Disclosure of clinically actionable genetic variants to thoracic aortic dissection biobank participants. BMC Med Genomics.2021 Mar 1;14(1):66. doi: 10.1186/s12920-021-00902-5. PMID: 33648514.