The Ethics of Repurposing Previously Collected Research Biospecimens in an Infectious Disease Pandemic

Benjamin E. Berkman, Anna C. Mastroianni, Leila Jamal, Coleman Solis, Holly A. Taylor, Sara Chandros Hull

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the early days of a pandemic, repurposing biospecimens from established research projects could prove to be extraordinarily useful in achieving substantial and timely public health benefits. Nonetheless, there are potential ethical and regulatory uncertainties that may impede access to those valuable biospecimens. In this article, we argue that there should be a presumption in favor of using previously collected identifiable research biospecimens without reconsent to directly address an infectious disease pandemic, assuming certain conditions are met. This argument fills a unique yet critical gap in decision-making where the specific consent accompanying the identifiable biospecimens would not otherwise permit repurposing. Further, it suggests that even if gaining reconsent is feasible, doing so in a fast-moving crisis is not necessary. This analysis also attempts to address the ethical concerns of public health authorities who already may have the power to use such specimens but are reluctant to do so.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2-18
Number of pages17
JournalEthics and Human Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • biospecimen research
  • human research ethics
  • human subjects research
  • identifiable research biospecimens
  • infectious disease pandemic
  • informed consent
  • pandemic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)


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