University’s Institutional Review Board fortified

Dozens of changes are planned after harsh reviews of University research practices.

Melissa Steinken

The University of Minnesota’s Institutional Review Board will face stricter guidelines as the school continues to address issues regarding human research practices. 
 
Board members — responsible for reviewing safety measures in human research studies — will be required to attend 65 percent of the group’s meetings with a majority needing to be present in order to review each research study. The number of review panels is also expected to be increased.
 
The change to the IRB was announced in November’s required Human Research Protection Program update to the state Legislature. 
 
Additionally, an outside firm will review 100 random studies at the University to identify strengths and weaknesses in school research practices, among other updates. 
 
The change comes after a series of critical reports released earlier this year pointed out weaknesses in the University’s IRB and how it protects research participants. 
 
Some Institutional Review Board Committee members say the board is in a transition phase, according to Joel Rudney, assistant dean for research in the University’s School of Dentistry.
 
But the changes could lessen the number of studies members review, since leaders have created additional panels, he said. 
 
“They’ve reduced the number of applications, and that is a good change,” Rudney said. “I don’t think any of the changes I’ve encountered personally have affected my reviewing.”
 
Potential members for a new medical IRB are being recruited and should be finalized by January, said Dan Gilchrist, spokesman for the Office of the Vice President of Research.
 
Still, some critics of the University’s research practices aren’t convinced that the changes will be impactful.
 
“These are very baseline, minimum changes on paper,” said Carl Elliott, a University bioethics professor and longtime critic of the school’s research ethics. 
 
University associate bioethics professor Leigh Turner said other institutions, like Johns Hopkins University and Duke University, have faced similar concerns in the past.
 
“These universities were investigated and had these problems a long time ago,” he said. “Other universities were paying attention at the time and could make these changes earlier.”