This review was conducted to characterize the nature of contemporary occupational epidemiologic research involving genetic markers, consider how genetic information is unique with regard to its social applications, and examine some of the ethical dilemmas that may arise over the course of studies. We have reviewed the literature and the lessons from our experience in conducting occupational epidemiologic research involving genetic markers. This review describes how occupational epidemiologic studies differ from other epidemiologic studies on issues of participation, confidentiality, and the history of including genetic markers. Of primary concern in occupational studies are genes that have multiple alleles and are sometimes referred to as "metabolic polymorphisms." They generally do not confer risk on their own but rather only in combination with a specific exposure. There is a need for a clear policy and guidelines for the conduct of occupational epidemiologic studies using genetic material. This policy should address all of the steps in study design, implementation, interpretation, and communication of results.
From the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cincinnati, Ohio (Dr Schulte, Dr Ward, Dr Colligan); and the University of California at Berkeley, School of Public Health, Berkeley, Calif. (Mr Lomax).
Address correspondence to: Paul A. Schulte, PhD, Education and Information Division, NIOSH, Robert A. Taft Laboratories, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45226-1998.