Conference to address ethics for research

Experts will debate best practices regarding research with human subjects on Dec. 2.

by Keaton Schmitt

Patient advocates, policymakers and other experts from across the country will gather to discuss human research ethics at the University of Minnesota early next month.  
The conference is part of the University’s response to its troubled history with human research subjects and is sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research along with the Consortium on Law and Values in Health, Environment and the Life Sciences.
“[The conference] is an opportunity to put into national context some of the issues here,” said Susan Wolf, chair of the planning committee for the event.   
She said the conference will focus on four main issues: gray areas regarding mental illness patients’ consent, economic conflicts of interest, research involving vulnerable or underrepresented groups and the community’s role in the research process. 
“The conference is a part of the University’s work plan on improving the protection of human participants in research,” said Dan Gilchrist, an OVPR spokesman.
The University’s ethics have come under national scrutiny over the past decade, following the suicide of research participant Dan Markingson in 2004. 
An external committee found in February that the University’s efforts to protect human research subjects were not consistently efficient. 
And in March, a state legislative audit found that the University’s human subject research program had significant shortfalls that may put participants at risk.
In June, the University announced a work plan meant to extensively change human research regulations. Other than the discussion in December, the work plan does not include any future events, Gilchrist said. 
“While there are no other conferences planned, any ideas that come up that would help the University’s ongoing enhancement to its policy would be considered,” Gilchrist said.
As another component of the plan, the University opened the Research Compliance Office in October, which is meant to help ensure ethical research.