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Ethical principles, opportunities and constraints in clinical proteomics.

  • Porsdam Mann, Sebastian1
  • Treit, Peter V2
  • Geyer, Philipp Emanuel3
  • Omenn, Gilbert S4
  • Mann, Matthias5
  • 1 Uehiro Center for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK, Germany. , (Germany)
  • 2 Max-Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Germany. , (Germany)
  • 3 Department of Proteomics and Signal Transduction, Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Germany. , (Germany)
  • 4 Center for Computational Med. & Bioinformatic, University of Michigan, United States. , (United States)
  • 5 Dept. Proteomics and Signal Transduction, Max-Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Germany [email protected] , (Germany)
Published Article
Molecular & Cellular Proteomics
American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Publication Date
Jan 04, 2021
DOI: 10.1074/mcp.RA120.002435
PMID: 33397710


Recent advances in MS-based proteomics have vastly increased the quality and scope of biological information that can be derived from human samples. These advances have rendered current workflows increasingly applicable in biomedical and clinical contexts. As proteomics is poised to take an important role in the clinic, associated ethical responsibilities increase in tandem with the impact on the health, privacy, and well-being of individuals. Here we conducted and report a systematic literature review of ethical issues in clinical proteomics. We add our perspectives from a background of bioethics, the results of our accompanying paper extracting individual-sensitive results from patient samples, and the literature addressing similar issues in genomics. The spectrum of potential issues ranges from patient re-identification to incidental findings of clinical significance. The latter can be divided into actionable and unactionable findings. Some of these have the potential to be employed in discriminatory or privacy-infringing ways. However, incidental findings may also have great positive potential. A plasma proteome profile, for instance, could inform on the general health or disease status of an individual regardless of the narrow diagnostic question that prompted it. We suggest that early discussion of ethical issues in clinical proteomics is important to ensure that eventual regulations reflect the considered judgment of the community as well as to anticipate opportunities and problems that may arise as the technology matures further. Published under license by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.

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