The Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law was the first to offer an LL.M. in the legal aspects of biotechnology and genomics. Now, the school has been tapped to research what if any liability attaches to “personalized medicine” — using someone’s genetic profile to tailor medical treatments.

The National Institutes of Health’s National Human Genome Research Institute has granted the law school’s Center for Law, Science & Innovation the sum of $864,780 over three years to examine the liability issue.

“Liability is likely to be an increasingly important driver of personalized medicine, but it can be a double-edged sword,” said Gary Marchant, the center’s director and leader of the project. “Our goal in this project is first to understand the dynamics and likely trajectory of liability in the field of personalized medicine. We then will try to shape liability impacts to be a positive rather than detrimental influence on the deployment of personalized medicine technologies and knowledge.”

The researchers will focus primarily on the way doctors approach liability risks, Marchant said. For example, potential liability could be a benefit when it encourages doctors to take a patient’s genetic information into account when warranted. It could be a negative if liability concerns prompt doctors to recommend unwarranted genetic tests to protect themselves.

Marchant will work with faculty from the University of Arizona College of Medicine and Philadelphia’s University of the Sciences’ public health program. The Arizona State center’s research director, Rachel Lindor, also will participate in the project, called “Liability in the Delivery of Personalized Medicine: Driver, Impediment, or Both?”

“The practice of personalized medicine will have far-reaching implications for the practice of law,” said law dean Douglas Sylvester. “With the diligent work of Gary and others, the College of Law has been at the forefront of this transformation, and this grant from the NIH will allow us to make further strides in this critical area.”

The center was founded in 1984 and has 26 faculty fellows who work with students to examine law and policy questions related to technology.

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