Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy

Sulston Project: Creating an effective knowledge commons for interpreting cancer genomic variants


Project Description


John Sulston, the projects namesake, was a champion of sharing scientific data to improve science and inform clinical decisions. Fittingly, he helped establish the 1996 Bermuda Principles with goals of rapid, electronic sharing of data generated by the Human Genome Project to benefit science and society. Today, sharing of genomic data has become more commonplace and yet still incredibly challenging to do.

Despite a growing norm of open science, concerns about proprietary rights remain a barrier to collecting and sharing data on a large scale for research and clinical use for all inherited cancer variants, or what could be called a cancer genomic variant commons. As more efforts to create cancer genomic variant commons that provide open access to data pooled from multiple sources are underway, such as the National Cancer Institute Genomic Data Commons, policies are evolving that could become a model for genomic data sharing more generally.

The overarching goal of the Sulston Project is to develop empirically-informed policy options to address the challenges of the nascent cancer genomic variant commons. We will engage relevant stakeholders to accomplish this work and inform policy in a way that balances proprietary and commercial interests with the generation of a public good -- information and knowledge about cancer-risk variants -- for public health benefit.

We aim to:

- Describe data sharing structures and practices for inherited cancer-risk variants.
- Identify the challenges of developing a sustainable commons for inherited cancer-risk variants.
- Formulate policy options to address the most important challenges identified, and map policy options to institutions and actors who can act on them.
- Translate findings and policy options by engaging with policy-makers and other actors.

Supported by: R01CA237118, National Cancer Institute, NIH, 2019 - 2023


Project Team


Principal Investigator

Robert M. Cook-Deegan, M.D., Principal Investigator
Amy L. McGuire, J.D., Ph.D., Principal Investigator


Christi Guerrini, J.D., M.P.H., Co-Investigator
Mary Anderlik Majumder, J.D., Ph.D., Co-Investigator

Project Personnel

Juli Murphy Bollinger, M.S., Research Associate

Read more about our related work by visiting the webpage for two related studies: the PoliSeq project (McGuire R01 HG006460) examined the clinical integration of next generation sequencing technologies using a modified policy Delphi process, and Building the Medical Information Commons (McGuire R01 HG008918) examined issues confronted in fulfilling the aspirations of the 2011 NASEM report on Precision Medicine, which called for the creation of medical information commons.

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