Publications

2015
Holm IA, Iles BR, Ziniel SI, et al. Participant Satisfaction With a Preference-Setting Tool for the Return of Individual Research Results in Pediatric Genomic Research. J Empir Res Hum Res Ethics. 2015;10 (4) :414-26.Abstract
The perceived benefit of return of individual research results (IRRs) in accordance to participants' preferences in genomic biobank research is unclear. We developed an online preference-setting tool for return of IRRs based on the preventability and severity of a condition, which included an opt-out option for IRRs for mental illness, developmental disorders, childhood-onset degenerative conditions, and adult-onset conditions. Parents of patients <18 years of age at Boston Children's Hospital were randomized to the hypothetical scenario that their child was enrolled in one of four biobanks with different policies for IRRs to receive (a) "None," (b) "All," (c) "Binary"--choice to receive all or none, and (d) "Granular"--use the preference-setting tool to choose categories of IRRs. Parents were given a hypothetical IRRs report for their child. The survey was sent to 11,391 parents and completed by 2,718. The Granular group was the most satisfied with the process, biobank, and hypothetical IRRs received. The None group was least satisfied and least likely to agree that the biobank was beneficial (p < .001). The response to the statement that the biobank was harmful was not different between groups. Our data suggest that the ability to designate preferences leads to greater satisfaction and may increase biobank participation.
Green RC, Christensen KD, Cupples AL, et al. A randomized noninferiority trial of condensed protocols for genetic risk disclosure of Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimers Dement. 2015;11 (10) :1222-30.Abstract
INTRODUCTION: Conventional multisession genetic counseling is currently recommended when disclosing apolipoprotein E (APOE) genotype for the risk of Alzheimer's disease (AD) in cognitively normal individuals. The objective of this study was to evaluate the safety of brief disclosure protocols for disclosing APOE genotype for the risk of AD. METHODS: A randomized, multicenter noninferiority trial was conducted at four sites. Participants were asymptomatic adults having a first-degree relative with AD. A standard disclosure protocol by genetic counselors (SP-GC) was compared with condensed protocols, with disclosures by genetic counselors (CP-GC) and by physicians (CP-MD). Preplanned co-primary outcomes were anxiety and depression scales 12 months after disclosure. RESULTS: Three hundred and forty-three adults (mean age 58.3, range 33-86 years, 71% female, 23% African American) were randomly assigned to the SP-GC protocol (n = 115), CP-GC protocol (n = 116), or CP-MD protocol (n = 112). Mean postdisclosure scores on all outcomes were well below cut-offs for clinical concern across protocols. Comparing CP-GC with SP-GC, the 97.5% upper confidence limits at 12 months after disclosure on co-primary outcomes of anxiety and depression ranged from a difference of 1.2 to 2.0 in means (all P < .001 on noninferiority tests), establishing noninferiority for condensed protocols. Results were similar between European Americans and African Americans. CONCLUSIONS: These data support the safety of condensed protocols for APOE disclosure for those free of severe anxiety or depression who are actively seeking such information.
Vassy JL, Christensen KD, Slashinski MJ, et al. 'Someday it will be the norm': physician perspectives on the utility of genome sequencing for patient care in the MedSeq Project. Per Med. 2015;12 (1) :23-32.Abstract
AIM: To describe practicing physicians' perceived clinical utility of genome sequencing. MATERIALS & METHODS: We conducted a mixed-methods analysis of data from 18 primary care physicians and cardiologists in a study of the clinical integration of whole-genome sequencing. Physicians underwent brief genomics continuing medical education before completing surveys and semi-structured interviews. RESULTS: Physicians described sequencing as currently lacking clinical utility because of its uncertain interpretation and limited impact on clinical decision-making, but they expressed the idea that its clinical integration was inevitable. Potential clinical uses for sequencing included complementing other clinical information, risk stratification, motivating patient behavior change and pharmacogenetics. CONCLUSION: Physicians given genomics continuing medical education use the language of both evidence-based and personalized medicine in describing the utility of genome-wide testing in patient care.
2014
Vassy JL, Lautenbach DM, McLaughlin HM, et al. The MedSeq Project: a randomized trial of integrating whole genome sequencing into clinical medicine. Trials. 2014;15 :85.Abstract
BACKGROUND: Whole genome sequencing (WGS) is already being used in certain clinical and research settings, but its impact on patient well-being, health-care utilization, and clinical decision-making remains largely unstudied. It is also unknown how best to communicate sequencing results to physicians and patients to improve health. We describe the design of the MedSeq Project: the first randomized trials of WGS in clinical care. METHODS/DESIGN: This pair of randomized controlled trials compares WGS to standard of care in two clinical contexts: (a) disease-specific genomic medicine in a cardiomyopathy clinic and (b) general genomic medicine in primary care. We are recruiting 8 to 12 cardiologists, 8 to 12 primary care physicians, and approximately 200 of their patients. Patient participants in both the cardiology and primary care trials are randomly assigned to receive a family history assessment with or without WGS. Our laboratory delivers a genome report to physician participants that balances the needs to enhance understandability of genomic information and to convey its complexity. We provide an educational curriculum for physician participants and offer them a hotline to genetics professionals for guidance in interpreting and managing their patients' genome reports. Using varied data sources, including surveys, semi-structured interviews, and review of clinical data, we measure the attitudes, behaviors and outcomes of physician and patient participants at multiple time points before and after the disclosure of these results. DISCUSSION: The impact of emerging sequencing technologies on patient care is unclear. We have designed a process of interpreting WGS results and delivering them to physicians in a way that anticipates how we envision genomic medicine will evolve in the near future. That is, our WGS report provides clinically relevant information while communicating the complexity and uncertainty of WGS results to physicians and, through physicians, to their patients. This project will not only illuminate the impact of integrating genomic medicine into the clinical care of patients but also inform the design of future studies. TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov identifier NCT01736566.
Gray SW, Martins Y, Feuerman LZ, et al. Social and behavioral research in genomic sequencing: approaches from the Clinical Sequencing Exploratory Research Consortium Outcomes and Measures Working Group. Genet Med. 2014;16 (10) :727-35.Abstract
The routine use of genomic sequencing in clinical medicine has the potential to dramatically alter patient care and medical outcomes. To fully understand the psychosocial and behavioral impact of sequencing integration into clinical practice, it is imperative that we identify the factors that influence sequencing-related decision making and patient outcomes. In an effort to develop a collaborative and conceptually grounded approach to studying sequencing adoption, members of the National Human Genome Research Institute's Clinical Sequencing Exploratory Research Consortium formed the Outcomes and Measures Working Group. Here we highlight the priority areas of investigation and psychosocial and behavioral outcomes identified by the Working Group. We also review some of the anticipated challenges to measurement in social and behavioral research related to genomic sequencing; opportunities for instrument development; and the importance of qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-method approaches. This work represents the early, shared efforts of multiple research teams as we strive to understand individuals' experiences with genomic sequencing. The resulting body of knowledge will guide recommendations for the optimal use of sequencing in clinical practice.
McLaughlin HM, Ceyhan-Birsoy O, Christensen KD, et al. A systematic approach to the reporting of medically relevant findings from whole genome sequencing. BMC Med Genet. 2014;15 :134.Abstract
BACKGROUND: The MedSeq Project is a randomized clinical trial developing approaches to assess the impact of integrating genome sequencing into clinical medicine. To facilitate the return of results of potential medical relevance to physicians and patients participating in the MedSeq Project, we sought to develop a reporting approach for the effective communication of such findings. METHODS: Genome sequencing was performed on the Illumina HiSeq platform. Variants were filtered, interpreted, and validated according to methods developed by the Laboratory for Molecular Medicine and consistent with current professional guidelines. The GeneInsight software suite, which is integrated with the Partners HealthCare electronic health record, was used for variant curation, report drafting, and delivery. RESULTS: We developed a concise 5-6 page Genome Report (GR) featuring a single-page summary of results of potential medical relevance with additional pages containing structured variant, gene, and disease information along with supporting evidence for reported variants and brief descriptions of associated diseases and clinical implications. The GR is formatted to provide a succinct summary of genomic findings, enabling physicians to take appropriate steps for disease diagnosis, prevention, and management in their patients. CONCLUSIONS: Our experience highlights important considerations for the reporting of results of potential medical relevance and provides a framework for interpretation and reporting practices in clinical genome sequencing.
Christensen KD, Kalia SS, Green RC. Incidental findings from genetic testing. In: UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate ; 2014.
2013
Lautenbach DM, Christensen KD, Sparks JA, Green RC. Communicating genetic risk information for common disorders in the era of genomic medicine. Annu Rev Genomics Hum Genet. 2013;14 :491-513.Abstract
Communicating genetic risk information in ways that maximize understanding and promote health is increasingly important given the rapidly expanding availability and capabilities of genomic technologies. A well-developed literature on risk communication in general provides guidance for best practices, including presentation of information in multiple formats, attention to framing effects, use of graphics, sensitivity to the way numbers are presented, parsimony of information, attentiveness to emotions, and interactivity as part of the communication process. Challenges to communicating genetic risk information include deciding how best to tailor it, streamlining the process, deciding what information to disclose, accepting that communications may have limited influence, and understanding the impact of context. Meeting these challenges has great potential for empowering individuals to adopt healthier lifestyles and improve public health, but will require multidisciplinary approaches and collaboration.
Christensen KD, Green RC. How could disclosing incidental information from whole-genome sequencing affect patient behavior?. Per Med. 2013;10 (4).Abstract
In this article, we argue that disclosure of incidental findings from whole-genome sequencing has the potential to motivate individuals to change health behaviors through psychological mechanisms that differ from typical risk assessment interventions. Their ability to do so, however, is likely to be highly contingent upon the nature of the incidental findings and how they are disclosed, the context of the disclosure and the characteristics of the patient. Moreover, clinicians need to be aware that behavioral responses may occur in unanticipated ways. This article argues for commentators and policy makers to take a cautious but optimistic perspective while empirical evidence is collected through ongoing research involving whole-genome sequencing and the disclosure of incidental information.
2012
Terry SF, Christensen KD, Metosky S, et al. Community engagement about genetic variation research. Popul Health Manag. 2012;15 (2) :78-89.Abstract
The aim of this article is to describe the methods and effectiveness of the Public Engagement in Genetic Variation and Haplotype Mapping Issues (PEGV) Project, which engaged a community in policy discussion about genetic variation research. The project implemented a 6-stage community engagement model in New Rochelle, New York. First, researchers recruited community partners. Second, the project team created community oversight. Third, focus groups discussed concerns generated by genetic variation research. Fourth, community dialogue sessions addressed focus group findings and developed policy recommendations. Fifth, a conference was held to present these policy recommendations and to provide a forum for HapMap (haplotype mapping) researchers to dialogue directly with residents. Finally, findings were disseminated via presentations and papers to the participants and to the wider community beyond. The project generated a list of proposed guidelines for genetic variation research that addressed the concerns of New Rochelle residents. Project team members expressed satisfaction with the engagement model overall but expressed concerns about how well community groups were utilized and what segment of the community actually engaged in the project. The PEGV Project represents a model for researchers to engage the general public in policy development about genetic research. There are benefits of such a process beyond the desired genetic research.
2011
Christensen KD, Roberts SJ, Uhlmann WR, Green RC. Changes to perceptions of the pros and cons of genetic susceptibility testing after APOE genotyping for Alzheimer disease risk. Genet Med. 2011;13 (5) :409-14.Abstract
PURPOSE: Perceptions about the pros and cons of genetic susceptibility testing are among the best predictors of test utilization. How actual testing changes such perceptions has yet to be examined. METHODS: In a clinical trial, first-degree relatives of patients with Alzheimer disease received genetic risk assessments for Alzheimer disease including APOE disclosure. Participants rated 11 possible benefits associated with genetic testing (pros) and 10 risks or limitations (cons) before genetic risk disclosure and again 12 months afterward. RESULTS: Pros were rated higher than cons at baseline (3.53 vs. 1.83, P < 0.001) and at 12 months after risk disclosure (3.33 vs. 1.88, P < 0.001). Ratings of pros decreased during the 12-month period (3.33 vs. 3.53, P < 0.001). Ratings of cons did not change (1.88 vs. 1.83, P = 0.199) except for a three-item discrimination subscale which increased (2.07 vs. 1.92, P = 0.012). Among specific pros and cons, three items related to prevention and treatment changed the most. CONCLUSION: The process of APOE genetic risk assessment for Alzheimer disease sensitizes some to its limitations and the risks of discrimination; however, 1-year after disclosure, test recipients still consider the pros to strongly outweigh the cons.
Hock KT, Christensen KD, Yashar BM, et al. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing: an assessment of genetic counselors' knowledge and beliefs. Genet Med. 2011;13 (4) :325-32.Abstract
PURPOSE: Direct-to-consumer genetic testing is a new means of obtaining genetic testing outside of a traditional clinical setting. This study assesses genetic counselors' experience, knowledge, and beliefs regarding direct-to-consumer genetic testing for tests that would currently be offered in genetics clinics. METHODS: Members of the National Society of Genetic Counselors completed a web-administered survey in February 2008. RESULTS: Response rate was 36%; the final data analysis included 312 respondents. Eighty-three percent of respondents had two or fewer inquiries about direct-to-consumer genetic testing, and 14% had received requests for test interpretation or discussion. Respondents believed that genetic counselors have a professional obligation to be knowledgeable about direct-to-consumer genetic testing (55%) and interpret results (48%). Fifty-one percent of respondents thought genetic testing should be limited to a clinical setting; 56% agreed direct-to-consumer genetic testing is acceptable if genetic counseling is provided. More than 70% of respondents would definitely or possibly consider direct-to-consumer testing for patients who (1) have concerns about genetic discrimination, (2) want anonymous testing, or (3) have geographic constraints. CONCLUSIONS: Results indicate that genetic counselors have limited patient experiences with direct-to-consumer genetic testing and are cautiously considering if and under what circumstances this approach should be used.
Christensen KD, Roberts SJ, Shalowitz DI, et al. Disclosing individual CDKN2A research results to melanoma survivors: interest, impact, and demands on researchers. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2011;20 (3) :522-9.Abstract
BACKGROUND: Whether to return individual research results from cancer genetics studies is widely debated, but little is known about how participants respond to results disclosure or about its time and cost burdens on investigators. METHODS: We recontacted participants at one site of a multicenter genetic epidemiologic study regarding their CDKN2A gene test results and implications for melanoma risk. Interested participants were disclosed their results by telephone and followed for 3 months. RESULTS: Among 39 patients approached, 27 were successfully contacted, and 19 (70% uptake) sought results, including three with mutations. Prior to disclosure, participants endorsed numerous benefits of receiving results (mean=7.7 of 9 posed), including gaining information relevant to their children's disease risk. Mean psychological well-being scores did not change from baseline, and no decreases to melanoma prevention behaviors were noted. Fifty-nine percent of participants reported that disclosure made participation in future research more likely. Preparation for disclosure required 40 minutes and $611 per recontact attempt. An additional 78 minutes and $68 was needed to disclose results. CONCLUSION: Cancer epidemiology research participants who received their individual genetic research results showed no evidence of psychological harm or false reassurance from disclosure and expressed strong trust in the accuracy of results. Burdens to our investigators were high, but protocols may differ in their demands and disclosure may increase participants' willingness to enroll in future studies. IMPACT: Providing individual study results to cancer genetics research participants poses potential challenges for investigators, but many participants desire and respond positively to this information.
Roberts JS, Christensen KD, Green RC. Using Alzheimer's disease as a model for genetic risk disclosure: implications for personal genomics. Clin Genet. 2011;80 (5) :407-14.Abstract
Susceptibility testing for common, complex adult-onset diseases is projected to become more commonplace as the rapid pace of genomic discoveries continues, and evidence regarding the potential benefits and harms of such testing is needed to inform medical practice and health policy. Apolipoprotein E (APOE) testing for risk of Alzheimer's disease (AD) provides a paradigm in which to examine the process and impact of disclosing genetic susceptibility for a prevalent, severe and incurable neurological condition. This review summarizes findings from a series of multi-site randomized clinical trials examining psychological and behavioral responses to various methods of genetic risk assessment for AD using APOE disclosure. We discuss challenges involved in disease risk estimation and communication and the extent to which participants comprehend and perceive utility in their genetic risk information. Findings on the psychological impact of test results are presented (e.g. distress), along with data on participants' health behavior and insurance purchasing responses (e.g. long-term care). Finally, we report comparisons of the safety and efficacy of intensive genetic counseling approaches to briefer models that emphasize streamlined processes and educational materials. The implications of these findings for the emerging field of personal genomics are discussed, with directions identified for future research.
2010
Roberts SJ, Shalowitz DI, Christensen KD, et al. Returning individual research results: development of a cancer genetics education and risk communication protocol. J Empir Res Hum Res Ethics. 2010;5 (3) :17-30.Abstract
The obligations of researchers to disclose clinically and/or personally significant individual research results are highly debated, but few empirical studies have addressed this topic. We describe the development of a protocol for returning research results to participants at one site of a multicenter study of the genetic epidemiology of melanoma. Protocol development involved numerous challenges: (1) deciding whether genotype results merited disclosure; (2) achieving an appropriate format for communicating results; (3) developing education materials; (4) deciding whether to retest samples for additional laboratory validation; (5) identifying and notifying selected participants; and (6) assessing the impact of disclosure. Our experience suggests potential obstacles depending on researcher resources and the design of the parent study, but offers a process by which researchers can responsibly return individual study results and evaluate the impact of disclosure.
Christensen KD, Jayaratne TE, Roberts JS, Kardia SLR, Petty EM. Understandings of basic genetics in the United States: results from a national survey of black and white men and women. Public Health Genomics. 2010;13 (7-8) :467-76.Abstract
AIM: This study examined understandings of basic genetic concepts among Americans. METHOD: In a national telephone survey of 1,200 Americans with equal representation among Black and White men and women, subjects responded to 8 items developed by a multidisciplinary team of experts that assessed understanding of basic concepts in multiple domains, including inheritance, genetics and race, and genetics and behavior. RESULTS: Over 70% of subjects responded correctly on items about the genetic similarity of identical twins and siblings. Less than half of subjects responded correctly on all other items. Understanding of genetics was lowest in three areas: types/locations of genes in the body (29% correct), a genetic basis for race (25% correct), and the influence of single genes on behaviors (24% correct). Logistic regression models controlling for age and education showed some differences by race and gender on specific items but also showed that understandings are generally similar across these groups. CONCLUSION: Misunderstandings about genetics are common among Black and White American men and women. Responses appear to reflect personal experiences, group values and interests. These findings emphasize the need for initiatives to improve the public's genetic literacy as well as a need for further investigation in this domain.
2008
Christensen KD, Roberts SJ, Royal CDM, et al. Incorporating ethnicity into genetic risk assessment for Alzheimer disease: the REVEAL study experience. Genet Med. 2008;10 (3) :207-14.Abstract
PURPOSE: To describe how investigators in a multisite randomized clinical trial addressed scientific and ethical issues involved in creating risk models based on genetic testing for African American participants. METHODS: The following informed our decision whether to stratify risk assessment by ethnicity: evaluation of epidemiological data, appraisal of benefits and risks of incorporating ethnicity into calculations, and feasibility of creating ethnicity-specific risk curves. Once the decision was made, risk curves were created based on data from a large, diverse study of first-degree relatives of patients with Alzheimer disease. RESULTS: Review of epidemiological data suggested notable differences in risk between African Americans and whites and that Apolipoprotein E genotype predicts risk in both groups. Discussions about the benefits and risks of stratified risk assessments reached consensus that estimates based on data from whites should not preclude enrolling African Americans, but population-specific risk curves should be created if feasible. Risk models specific to ethnicity, gender, and Apolipoprotein E genotype were subsequently developed for the randomized clinical trial that oversampled African Americans. CONCLUSION: The Risk Evaluation and Education for Alzheimer Disease study provides an instructive example of a process to develop risk assessment protocols that are sensitive to the implications of genetic testing for multiple ethnic groups with differing levels of risk.
2007
Harvey EK, Fogel CE, Peyrot M, et al. Providers' knowledge of genetics: A survey of 5915 individuals and families with genetic conditions. Genet Med. 2007;9 (5) :259-67.Abstract
PURPOSE: Individuals affected by genetic conditions are increasingly likely to seek information about inheritance and risk factors from their primary care physicians rather than a geneticist, but several studies suggest that few health care providers are capable of fulfilling that role or are comfortable doing so. Acknowledging that the adoption of new genetics knowledge and technologies is often patient-driven, we asked affected individuals and family members about their experiences in encounters with a variety of nongenetics-trained health care providers. METHODS: Staff at the National Coalition for Health Professional Education in Genetics, the Genetic Alliance, and a University of Maryland graduate student in genetic counseling drafted a web-based survey. We recruited study participants from the Genetic Alliance, and a total of 5915 respondents completed the questionnaire between December 2004 and August 2005. RESULTS: Overall, 64% of respondents reported receiving no genetics education materials from the provider type named most important in the management of the condition in the family. We present knowledge ratings for various provider types and themes emerging from written descriptions of positive and disappointing experiences. CONCLUSION: We discuss the implications of these and other results for continuing genetics education and for clinical practice.

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