Sharing Genomic Data

Under the NIH's Policy for Sharing of Genomic Data Obtained in NIH-Funded Research, the Institutional Official (IO) and the IRB are responsible for certifying that plans for the submission of genotype and phenotype data to the NIH meet the requirements of the policy.

To clarify the requirements the NIH has issued

This document makes clear that even though sharing de-identified data and specimens is not human subjects research under the 45 CFR 46, the NIH Policy requires the IO and the IRB to review the investigator's plan for data submission and must consider the appropriateness of the informed consent process and document. The Policy goes beyond the regulatory requirements because the genotype and phenotype information generated about individuals will be substantial and, in some instances, sensitive (such as data related to the presence or risk of developing particular diseases or conditions and information regarding family relationships or ancestry), the confidentiality of the data and the privacy of participants must be protected.

Data Sharing Plans

Data sharing plans should describe how the expectations of the policy will be met, including:

  • the consistency of the informed consent for submission to the NIH-designated data repository and subsequent sharing;
  • how informed consent will be obtained (for prospectively collected samples and data); and
  • how data will be subsequently de-identified in accord with the specific criteria for data submission.

The investigator is responsible for ensuring that the data submitted for inclusion in the NIH-designated repository is appropriately coded or de-identified. Provided the code isn't shared, the data sent will be de-identified to the recipient (the NIH). If the data is coded, the investigator may retain the key to the code that links to specific individuals.

Additional Protections for GDS

Investigators are encouraged to obtain a Certificate of Confidentiality (COC) from the NIH. Information is available at the NIH's Certificate of Confidentiality Kiosk to guide investigators seeking a COC through the process

Informed Consent

Prospective Studies:

The informed consent process and informed consent document should make clear that participants' DNA will undergo genetic analysis and that resultant genotype and phenotype data will be shared with an NIH-designated data repository for research purposes. (Note: prospective means after the date of submission to the IRB.)

Retrospective Studies:

The IRB must determine whether the initial consent document, under which existing genetic materials and data were obtained, is consistent with the submission of data to the NIH-designated repository and the sharing of that data in accord with the GDS policy. (Note: retrospective means existing on or before the date of submission to the IRB.)

For studies that propose to use existing data or samples, the IRB may be forced to conclude that the original consent document is not adequate for submission to the NIH-designated repository. In these cases, the IRB may decide that it is appropriate and necessary for the investigator to seek explicit consent of the research participants for submission to the NIH-designated repository and subsequent sharing.

The criteria for a waiver of consent under 45 CFR part 46 are not applicable to the IRB's determinations (45 CFR 46 does not apply to this use). The criteria the IRB must apply in making its determinations are those set forth in the GDS policy.

Certification by the Institutional Official (IO)

Certification Criteria

The certification should assure that:

  • The data submission is consistent with all applicable laws and regulations, as well as institutional policies;
  • The limitations on the research use of the data, as expressed in the informed consent documents, are delineated;
  • The identities of research participants will not be disclosed to the NIH-designated data repositories; and an
  • IRB reviewed and verified that:
    1. The protocol for the collection of genomic and phenotypic data is consistent with the 45 CFR 46.
    2. Data submission and subsequent data sharing for research purposes are consistent with the informed consent of study participants from whom the data were obtained;
    3. The investigator's plan for de-identifying datasets is consistent with the standards outlined in the GDS policy;
    4. To the extent relevant and possible, consideration was given to risks to groups or populations associated with submitting data to NIH-designated data repositories and subsequent sharing; and
    5. The investigator's plan for de-identifying datasets is consistent with the standards outlined in the GDS policy;
  • The certification also needs to indicate whether the data are to be made available through unrestricted or controlled-access and whether future use is limited to not-for-profit organizations.

The NIH will accept genomic data into the NIH-designated data repository after receiving appropriate certification by the responsible IO of the submitting institution that they approve submission to the NIH GDS data repository.

The IRB will conduct its reviews based on the NIH's criteria above and will document its findings using the Review: Genetic Data/Specimen Sharing Plan.

What if the IRB can't verify that the sharing plan meets all 4 requirements of the policy?

After review of the investigator's application, the IRB may find that the consent documents do not meet the criteria listed above. They may either

  • Decide that it is appropriate and necessary for the investigator to seek explicit consent of the research participants for submission to the NIH-designated repository and subsequent sharing; or they may
  • Determine that re-consent is not feasible or appropriate for a given study.

The IRB may also determine that it cannot verify that one or more of the other required criteria (1-5) have been met for submission to the NIH-designated repository.

In all these cases, the researchers' data-sharing plan should explain the reasons the IRB's determined that submission to the NIH-designated repository was considered inappropriate. NIH Institutes and Centers will consider these issues on a case-by-case basis when making programmatic decisions to fund genomic research studies for which the submission criteria cannot be met.

Additional Information

The NIH has created a Genomic Data Sharing webpage that provides additional materials related to their GDS Policy for researchers and IRBs.