CHICAGO — The race to find new uses for genetic discoveries is hindering the usual exchange of information among university researchers, according to a study.
A majority of geneticists say they increasingly are being denied access to colleagues' data, a practice many say may be slowing progress in genetics research.
The reasons given for withholding information included the cost and effort of sharing and a desire to protect a researcher's or student's ability to publish his or her findings, according to the study in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.
Some scientists also do not share because they are trying to protect their ability to market their research commercially, said lead author Eric Campbell, who teaches health-care policy at Harvard Medical School and the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital.
"Clearly genetics is one area that is thought to be the fertile field for the next generation of drugs and medical applications," Campbell said.
Withholding data may hinder scientists' ability to replicate the results of published studies or pursue their own research, and hurt the education of new scientists, experts said.
The survey of 1,240 geneticists found that 47 percent said at least one request for data on published research had been denied in the preceding three years, while 12 percent said they had denied a request for data on published results during that time.
Seventy-three percent believed withholding slowed the rate of progress in their field, and 28 percent reported being unable to confirm published results because authors would not share data.
"There's a real question there with what that means," Campbell said. "It's a quickly moving field, and it may move quickly because results are limited to a small group of scientists working collaboratively and pushing the field.
"Or it may be the fastest-moving fields are ones that are totally open and people share. It may be that competition among different groups makes research go faster."
A certain amount of withholding by industry is necessary for patents and other commercial applications, Campbell and other experts said. But sharing is imperative — and expected — once an academic publishes findings, they said.
David Ledbetter, head of human genetics at the University of Chicago, said he does not believe research has been hurt by the withholding. But he said there must be clear distinctions between industry and academic behavior.
"If you're working with industry, follow industry standards," said Ledbetter, who does research on the genetics of mental retardation and was not involved in the study. "But you have to accept the fact that you can't also behave like an academic and publish things, get academic credit, then not make the information available."