VP for Research discusses research at the University under his tenure

Brian Herman will resume a faculty position in January

Vice President for Research Brian Herman presents an update and review of human subjects research standards at the University of Minnesota to the Senate's Higher Education Committee in the Minnesota Senate Building on March 10, 2016. Herman will resign at the end of December, University President Eric Kaler announced Nov. 2.

Maddy Fox, Daily File Photo

Vice President for Research Brian Herman presents an update and review of human subjects research standards at the University of Minnesota to the Senate’s Higher Education Committee in the Minnesota Senate Building on March 10, 2016. Herman will resign at the end of December, University President Eric Kaler announced Nov. 2.

Kevin Beckman

After nearly four years as a top administrator at the University of Minnesota, Vice President for Research Brian Herman is stepping down.

University President Eric Kaler announced Herman’s decision in an email to faculty and administrators earlier this month. He will move to a faculty position in January.

“Over the past four years, Vice President Herman has been instrumental in helping the University adapt to the changing environment for research universities,” Kaler’s email said. “His dedication to this work has made the University a stronger and better place.”

Effective Dec. 31, Herman will return to the Department of Biomedical Engineering’s faculty.

Before his time at the University, Herman was the vice president for research at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

He said he’s looking forward to continuing his research at the University and getting back to teaching students.

“It’s really important to stay excited and to stay enthused about what you’re doing,” Herman said. “And students have a way of challenging you, challenging your thinking, challenging your beliefs.That, actually for me, is exciting.”

In 2013, under Herman’s tenure, the University collaborated with the state to establish the Minnesota Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy, or MnDRIVE — an initiative to link University research with state challenges.

Since its inception, the program has aimed at global food shortages, environmental issues, the treatment of depression and brain conditions and the development of “smart fabrics” that can monitor and improve health.

“It’s really a national model, we think, of how a state can partner with the research community at universities to advance knowledge in the economy,” Herman said.

He said that under his tenure, he oversaw other notable University research accomplishments such as improving medical technology and increasing protections for research participants.

Concerns over research ethics at the University — including issues with the protection of research participants — arose after the 2004 suicide of psychiatric research participant Dan Markingson.

Two reports issued in 2015, including one by the state’s legislative auditor, revealed several flaws with the school’s research procedures, conflicts of interest and other ethical concerns, including Markingson’s inability to consent to his participation.

The reports prompted dozens of pledged changes by school administrators, and Herman said the changes will be almost completely implemented by the end of the calendar year.

A July report conducted by Herman’s office said that 12 of 16 recommended changes had been fully implemented. The remaining changes were between 80 and 95 percent completed, the report said.

“One of the biggest issues … in the world of clinical research is, what are the appropriate checks and balances on how we [allow] individuals who have impaired decision making capacities to participate in clinical research,” Herman said.

He said researchers have made strides to ensure legally authorized representatives of patients are present during consent for participation in studies and that both the patient and their surrogate understand the risks and benefits of participating.

He said it’s also important to make it clear that patients understand they can stop participation at any time.

“I think that what we have done now here at the University … will serve as a national model for many other universities in thinking about how they should engage with research volunteers,” he said.

Regent Michael Hsu said that while the improvements are on track, the school has to keep a close eye on research to make sure the standards are kept up.

“Obviously, we have to keep watching it to make sure these things continue after Vice President Herman is gone,” Hsu said.

Robert Tranquillo, head of the Biomedical Engineering Department, said he’s excited to have Herman doing research in his department.

“Given his expertise in microscopy, we certainly would welcome having professor Herman back in the department,” Tranquillo said.

Herman’s expertise in a method that uses a light microscope to view cells will be important to the University’s research and the understanding of cell processes, like those involved in aging, Tranquillo said.

“That’s something of high importance to a number of us who are trying to understand the basis for various cell behaviors,” he said.

Herman said he wants to contribute to research on degenerative diseases of the nervous system such as Parkinson’s disease.

“I’m really looking forward to getting back to creating new knowledge,” he said. “I have been very fortunate. I’ve had a very successful long-term research career.”.”

In his email to faculty, President Kaler said he will be asking Executive Vice President and Provost Karen Hanson and Vice President for Health Sciences and Medical School Dean Brooks Jackson to co-chair a search for a new vice president for research.

Kaler also said that he will appoint an interim vice president for research in the meantime, though no specific dates were mentioned about when an interim vice president will be appointed or when the search process will begin.