case western reserve university



Case law faculty to participate in research activities for new Center for Genetic Research Ethics and Law

image: Center for Genetic Research Ethics and Law Faculty members from the Law-Medicine Center at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law are among more than 20 Case faculty members to participate in interdisciplinary activities related to the new Center for Genetic Research Ethics and Law (CGREL), established with a five-year, $5.3 million grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute.

“This is a tremendous honor and recognition of the quality and quantity of work that we have been doing over the past decade,” said Maxwell Mehlman, director of the Law-Medicine Center who will undertake research as part of the grant and administer activities in the areas of genetic enhancement and public policy.

Eric T. Juengst, associate professor of bioethics at the Case School of Medicine, will direct activities as the grant’s principal investigator. “Thanks to the network of first class researchers in human genetics, bioethics, law and social sciences that already exist in Cleveland, we have been a ‘center of excellence’ in this area already, in everything but name,” said Juengst.

In addition to Juengst and Mehlman, other law faculty members with integral roles in the new center’s activities and research are Jessica Berg, associate professor of law who has a joint appointment at the medical school in the bioethics department, and Sharona Hoffman, associate professor of law. Hoffman and Mehlman, the Arthur E. Petersilge Professor of Law, have secondary appointments at the medical school.

Case was among 20 universities competing for the recognition as a center of excellence in the area of genetics. The university received the largest grant with an additional $13 million shared by centers at Duke University, Stanford University and University of Washington at Seattle. Support for these centers of excellence also came from the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Lack of support for legal research in medical and biotechnology issues has hampered researchers in the past. From its inception in the early 1990s, Mehlman noted that the National Human Genome Research Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health) has been one of the few sources in the world to allocate funds for studies in legal issues related to medicine and medical research. In the past, it has provided him with support to examine the issues of access to genetic research and genetic enhancements.

His ongoing involvement in research has spanned such topics as access to new and revolutionary genetic products and technologies. He investigated such factors as who might be beneficiaries of new genetic technology and products and whether these products could be paid for by private or government-supported insurance plans. His work in these fields earned Mehlman an appointment as an associate director of CGREL for public policy.

“We essentially have been charged with the mission to help guide public policy and regulatory policy in the realm of genetic research—how we should regulate genetic testing in humans and how to protect human subjects undergoing genetic therapy,” said Mehlman.

Public policy is only one of the new center’s six focuses.

Berg, who has authored numerous papers on medical ethics and is the co-author of Informed Consent: Legal Theory and Clinical Practice (2001), will oversee the activities within the regulatory and legal resource core. Part of that core’s responsibilities is to provide genetic researchers with rapid-response information pertaining to the various legal and regulatory matters related to genetics research. Hoffman also will contribute in those areas.

In addition to their leadership activities, the law faculty will engage in numerous pilot research projects that may eventually lead to more in-depth examinations of legal issues in genetics.

Hoffman is an investigator on a project that examines what roles genetic factors play upon personal and group identity issues that arise from genetic research. The project centers on the impact of genetic research on such population groups as the elderly, African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews.

Mehlman and Hoffman will undertake a joint research project on the legalities of commercializing genetic research and gene therapy findings. They will look at such topics as in-home genetic testing and how companies make decisions to commercialize research findings.

Mehlman also will head the research group that will investigate the implications of genetic enhancement issues in such areas as preventative aging, improving athletic performance and non-disease traits of physical appearance and intelligence. It is a research topic that Mehlman has been investigating since 1992 with medical school faculty members. He has co-authored Access to the Genome: The Challenge of Equality (1998) with Jeffrey Botkin, formerly with the Case medical school, and is the author of Wondergenes: Genetic Enhancement and the Future of Society (2003).


About Case Western Reserve University

Case is among the nation's leading research institutions. Founded in 1826 and shaped by the unique merger of the Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, Case is distinguished by its strengths in education, research, service, and experiential learning. Located in Cleveland, Case offers nationally recognized programs in the Arts and Sciences, Dental Medicine, Engineering, Law, Management, Medicine, Nursing, and Social Work.