Returning incidentally discovered Hepatitis C RNA-seq results to COPDGene study participants

Edwin K. Silverman, Arthur Y. Kim, Barry J. Make, Elizabeth A. Regan, Jarrett D. Morrow, Craig P. Hersh, James O’Brien, James D. Crapo, Nadia N. Hansel, Gerard Criner, Eric L. Flenaugh, Douglas Conrad, Richard Casaburi, Russell P. Bowler, Nicola A. Hanania, R. Graham Barr, Surya P. Bhatt, Frank C. Sciurba, Antonio Anzueto, Mei Lan K. HanCharlene E. McEvoy, Alejandro P. Comellas, Dawn L. DeMeo, Richard Rosiello, Jeffrey L. Curtis, Tricia Uchida, Carla Wilson, P. Pearl O’Rourke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The consequences of returning infectious pathogen test results identified incidentally in research studies have not been well-studied. Concerns include identification of an important health issue for individuals, accuracy of research test results, public health impact, potential emotional distress for participants, and need for IRB permissions. Blood RNA-sequencing analysis for non-human RNA in 3984 participants from the COPDGene study identified 228 participants with evidence suggestive for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. We hypothesized that incidentally discovered HCV results could be effectively returned to COPDGene participants with attention to the identified concerns. In conjunction with a COPDGene Participant Advisory Panel, we developed and obtained IRB approval for a process of returning HCV research results and an HCV Follow-Up Study questionnaire to capture information about previous HCV diagnosis and treatment information and participant reactions to return of HCV results. During phone calls following the initial HCV notification letter, 84 of 124 participants who could be contacted (67.7%) volunteered that they had been previously diagnosed with HCV infection. Thirty-one of these 124 COPDGene participants were enrolled in the HCV Follow-Up Study. Five of the 31 HCV Follow-Up Study participants did not report a previous diagnosis of HCV. For four of these participants, subsequent clinical HCV testing confirmed HCV infection. Thus, 30/31 Follow-Up Study participants had confirmed HCV diagnoses, supporting the accuracy of the HCV research test results. However, the limited number of participants in the Follow-Up Study precludes an accurate assessment of the false-positive and false-negative rates of the research RNA sequencing evidence for HCV. Most HCV Follow-Up Study participants (29/31) were supportive of returning HCV research results, and most participants found the process for returning HCV results to be informative and not upsetting. Newly diagnosed participants were more likely to be pleased to learn about a potentially curable infection (p = 0.027) and showed a trend toward being more frightened by the potential health risks of HCV (p = 0.11). We conclude that HCV results identified incidentally during transcriptomic research studies can be successfully returned to research study participants with a carefully designed process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number36
Journalnpj Genomic Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Genetics
  • Molecular Biology


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