BACKGROUND: In recent years, the amount of genomic data produced in clinical genetics services has increased significantly due to the advent of next-generation sequencing. This influx of genomic information leads to continuous changes in knowledge on how genetic variants relate to hereditary disease. These changes can have important consequences for patients who have had genetic testing in the past, as new information may affect their clinical management. When and how patients should be recontacted after new genetic information becomes available has been investigated extensively. However, the issue of how to handle the changing nature of genetic information remains underexplored in a laboratory setting, despite it being the first stage at which changes in genetic data are identified and managed.
METHODS: The authors organized a 7-day online focus group discussion. Fifteen clinical laboratory geneticists took part. All (nine) Dutch clinical molecular genetics diagnostic laboratories were represented.
RESULTS: Laboratories in our study reinterpret genetic variants reactively, e.g. at the request of a clinician or following identification of a previously classified variant in a new patient. Participants currently deemed active, periodic reinterpretation to be unfeasible and opinions differed on whether it is desirable, particularly regarding patient autonomy and the main responsibilities of the laboratory. The efficacy of reinterpretation was questioned in the presence of other strategies, such as reanalysis and resequencing of DNA. Despite absence of formal policy regarding when to issue a new report for clinicians due to reclassified genetic data, participants indicated similar practice across all laboratories. However, practice differed significantly between laboratory geneticists regarding the reporting of VUS reclassifications.
CONCLUSION: Based on the results, the authors formulated five challenges needing to be addressed in future laboratory guidelines: 1. Should active reinterpretation of variants be conducted by the laboratory as a routine practice? 2. How does reinterpretation initiated by the laboratory relate to patient expectations and consent? 3. When should reinterpreted data be considered clinically significant and communicated from laboratory to clinician? 4. Should reinterpretation, reanalysis or a new test be conducted? 5. How are reclassifications perceived and how might this affect laboratory practice?