Ethical issues in measuring biomarkers in children's environmental health

Peter D. Sly, Brenda Eskenazi, Jenny Pronczuk, Radim Šrám, Fernando Diaz-Barriga, Diego Gonzalez Machin, David O. Carpenter, Simona Surdu, Eric M. Meslin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 Scopus citations


Background: Studying the impact of environmental exposures is important in children because they are more vulnerable to adverse effects on growth, development, and health. Assessing exposure in children is difficult, and measuring biomarkers is potentially useful. Research measuring biomarkers in children raises a number of ethical issues, some of which relate to children as research subjects and some of which are specific to biomarker research. Objective: As an international group with experience in pediatric research, biomarkers, and the ethics of research in children, we highlight the ethical issues of undertaking biomarker research in children in these environments. Discussion: Significant issues include undertaking research in vulnerable communities, especially in developing countries; managing community expectations; obtaining appropriate consent to conduct the research; the potential conflicts of obtaining permission from an ethics review board in an economically developed country to perform research in a community that may have different cultural values; returning research results to participants and communities when the researchers are uncertain of how to interpret the results; and the conflicting ethical obligations of maintaining participant confidentiality when information about harm or illegal activities mandate reporting to authorities. Conclusion: None of these challenges are insurmountable and all deserve discussion. Pediatric biomarker research is necessary for advancing child health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1185-1190
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 31 2009


  • Biobanks
  • Biomarkers
  • Children
  • Environmental exposure
  • Genetics
  • Infants
  • Informed consent
  • Research ethics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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    Sly, P. D., Eskenazi, B., Pronczuk, J., Šrám, R., Diaz-Barriga, F., Machin, D. G., Carpenter, D. O., Surdu, S., & Meslin, E. M. (2009). Ethical issues in measuring biomarkers in children's environmental health. Environmental Health Perspectives, 117(8), 1185-1190.