Streamlined system will improve, expedite human research oversight

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A new online platform, over a year in the making, will go live next month to streamline and enhance oversight of research involving human participants at the University of Minnesota.

The Ethical Oversight Submission System, or ETHOS, is an online platform that allows researchers to submit applications to the U’s Institutional Review Board for review and approval. The system will cater to the nearly 10,000 faculty, staff and students involved in research with human participants, as well as to researchers conducting similar studies at Fairview Health Services and Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, which both send studies for review at the U’s IRB.

ETHOS, run by the U’s Human Research Protection Program, uses software developed by Huron Consulting Group that has been adapted for use at U of M. Many prominent research universities — including Pennsylvania State University, Northwestern University and Harvard University — use this software to handle submission, review, storage and communication related to studies that need IRB review and approval. Continue reading

Highlights from a year of excellence in research

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Last month, the University of Minnesota’s annual State of Research report highlighted a research enterprise that continues to grow, driven by greater diversification of funding sources and enhanced public-private partnership.

The report, produced by the Office of the Vice President for Research, also highlighted several ongoing research projects that are advancing knowledge across a wide variety of fields. These efforts are shedding light on youth brain function, boosting computing technology, exploring new mining processes and improving transportation systems.

Below, Inquiry explores each of these projects and their potential to benefit society. Continue reading

Research partnerships work to bring knowledge beyond U

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Public universities play a well-known role in creating new knowledge, but they must also bring that knowledge beyond the ivory tower and into the community.

A new pilot program at the University of Minnesota focuses on working with partners outside the U to create new knowledge and put it into play benefiting the community. External Stakeholder Engagement, launched earlier this year by the University’s Office of the Vice President for Research, combines University research talent with one or more partners from community organizations, government agencies, industry and nonprofits to promote innovation across a range of disciplines.

Claudia Neuhauser, Ph.D., associate vice president for research and program leader, said the partnerships are designed to catalyze and sustain research between the University and external partners to accelerate the transfer of new knowledge for the public good — a cornerstone of the  research strategic plan, Five Years Forward. Continue reading

New startups take on societal challenges in health, environment

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When it comes to finding solutions to some of the largest challenges facing society today, research and innovation are some of the best tools available.

The University of Minnesota’s 10-year strategic plan, Driving Tomorrow, lays out the role that cutting-edge University research will play in addressing the grand challenges that face Minnesota, the U.S. and the world. The plan highlights how innovative research conducted by interdisciplinary teams can lead to new solutions that help society succeed in finding ways to feed the world sustainably, foster just and equitable communities and more.

The focus on the five Grand Challenges is growing throughout the University’s research endeavors, and its startup enterprise is no exception. Fiscal year 2016 saw another record number of startups launched, and several of these companies are working to implement promising new discoveries that connect to these priorities.

Below, Inquiry highlights two new startups that are further developing U research to create solutions in the Grand Challenges areas of advancing health through tailored solutions and assuring clean water and sustainable ecosystems.

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Research ethics — a responsibility of the University and individuals alike

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The University of Minnesota is a research university dedicated to the advancement of knowledge. Our research enterprise is premised on the idea that our faculty, staff and students will pursue the truth and allow the data to speak for itself. It also relies on researchers conducting their work in ways that respect the rights and interests of people participating in their studies, as well as the community in which those people live.

As I indicated in a note to researchers this month, faculty, staff and others have made an immense effort to strengthen human research protections across the University. There is a great deal of that work in motion right now, and, as part of those efforts, we are launching a University-wide research ethics campaign, one that includes posters, digital communications, events and other activities to promote and build awareness of the University’s principles, policies and processes that support and require ethical research practices. Continue reading

Streamlining regulations to help innovative research flourish

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By Pamela Webb, associate vice president for research

At universities across the nation, excessive regulatory demands are posing a large challenge for researchers. That concern, which has long been expressed by both faculty and staff at the University of Minnesota, is validated by a September 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that found “continuing expansion of the federal regulatory system and its ever-growing requirements are diminishing the effectiveness of the nation’s research investment by directing investigators’ time away from research.”

The national Faculty Workload Survey by the Federal Demonstration Partnership found that faculty spend about 42 percent of their time on administrative activities associated with research, including proposal preparation, award oversight and reporting, and a wide variety of compliance-related responsibilities. While I would be hard-pressed to suggest an ideal timeshare for faculty to spend on such activities — it would certainly depend on the type of research and its risk to the safety of participants and researchers — 42 percent is clearly too high. Researchers I speak with believe spending a third to half of their time on compliance is a real barrier to innovative research. Continue reading

Citizen science evolves to engage new projects, participants

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As a physicist and astronomer, Lucy Fortson, Ph.D., never imagined she would find herself involved in a study to analyze half a million ancient Greek writing fragments found on Egyptian papyri. Helping orchestrate an effort to code over a million pictures documenting animal behavior in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park wasn’t high among her expectations, either.

But now, delving into such wide-ranging projects is business-as-usual for Fortson, associate head of the University of Minnesota’s School of Physics and Astronomy. In her other role as the head of Zooniverse@UMN, the U’s citizen science initiative, Fortson helps researchers in fields ranging from anthropology to zoology connect their studies to volunteers who can contribute to data collection or analysis. So far, the Zooniverse project has led to over 100 peer-reviewed research articles.

At the U and beyond, citizen science continues to evolve to fit the new tools available to it, calling upon volunteers from across the world. NASA’s CosmoQuest project, for example, provides volunteers with a way to investigate high-resolution images taken by spacecraft for signs of impact craters on the surfaces of Mars, Mercury and the moon. Closer to home, there are projects like that of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which has been rallying residents for 20 years to help monitor the population of loons across the state. Continue reading

The State of University Research

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By Brian Herman

Last week, I was proud to provide some good news to the Board of Regents in our Annual Report on the State of Research at the U. I hit on high marks for our research enterprise that are a tribute to the creative and dedicated people of our research community (faculty, staff and students) who continue to advance academic scholarship, address global challenges and develop breakthrough research.

In the past year, the University attracted record levels of competitively awarded funding. Our researchers were awarded $754 million in externally sponsored research awards, up nearly 2 percent from FY2014. This represents a record level of funding for the University (when one-time funds from the 2009 federal stimulus bill are discounted) and is part of a long-term upward trend. Over 10 years, the University has seen a 31 percent increase in external awards. This year we also saw the value of a diversified research funding portfolio as a dip in federal awards, our largest source of research support, to the University were more than compensated for by funds from non-federal sources. Continue reading

A workforce to counteract the spread of diseases

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The 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa was the largest outbreak of the disease in history. It had a devastating impact, infecting more than 28,000 people and killing more than 11,000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota are now leading an international effort to ensure nations have the skilled health care workers they need to battle the spread of infectious diseases, like Ebola, as soon as these threats emerge. The One Health Workforce project, funded by a five-year award of up to $50 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is working to build a stronger workforce of health professionals in 11 countries that currently lack the professional resources needed to respond to a pandemic threat. The project comes in part as a response to the Global Health Security Agenda, a White House initiative that emphasizes the need to prevent, detect and respond to future infectious disease outbreaks.

One Health Workforce brings together an international partnership of universities that includes the U of M; Tufts University in Massachusetts; 14 public health and veterinary medicine institutions from Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda; and 10 universities located in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Experts from across academic disciplines at these institutions are coming together to face the challenge of infectious diseases. Continue reading

A better future through “smart cities” research

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Across the world, cities are working to accommodate their residents’ growing needs in transportation, energy, housing and more. Their efforts will become even more crucial in the years to come; estimates predict 2.5 billion more people will live in urban areas by 2050, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

At the University of Minnesota researchers are teaming up with city planners, nonprofit leaders and industry professionals to form solutions that tackle these emerging challenges and prepare communities for the future. These partnerships take advantage of the prevalence of data and technology in society to open new doors for smarter decision making that can lead to more livable, sustainable and resilient cities. The U’s efforts to implement advanced smart cities concepts are part of a growing trend among research universities and technology companies across the U.S. that’s already taken root among global cities, especially in Europe and Asia.

This “smart cities” focus channels the U’s capacity for innovative research. Many faculty at the U have expertise in key smart cities topics, such as urban planning, alternative energy sources, improved water quality, food security, transportation infrastructure and the inclusion of nature and green spaces. There are also many centers and institutes within the U that conduct research in and contribute new knowledge to this emerging field. Examples include the Center for Transportation Studies, Institute on the Environment, Social Media and Business Analytics Collaborative, U-Spatial, Accessibility Observatory, Informatics Institute, Sustainable Infrastructure and Cities Initiative, and Wearable Technology Lab. These efforts also engage a wide range of partners outside the University, from community development groups to policymakers to transit authorities. Continue reading

Resilient communities: Q&A with Rolf Weberg

Ore Docks and Harbor in Duluth

Rolf Weberg came to the University’s Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) in Duluth in the spring of 2014 following a successful 25-year career at DuPont in global research and development. His graduation from the University of Minnesota Duluth in 1982 led to a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1986 before he launched his career.

Weberg has tremendous enthusiasm for NRRI’s unique mission of sustainable natural resource management and economic development for resilient communities. And that enthusiasm is reaching out across the University of Minnesota, the state, even the globe. Fresh from a trip to Germany with Minnesota legislators to learn about new energy opportunities, Weberg effuses about NRRI’s opportunities.

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Scarce resources for research tough on young scientists

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Brian Herman, University of Minnesota vice president for research, cites chronic underfunding of biomedical research as the root cause of a disturbing new trend. Many new graduates are turning to industry jobs rather than pursuing careers in research, largely due to decreased federal support and a increasingly competitive finding environment, especially for younger scientists.

Many new graduates hoping for a career in bioimedical research are finding that the wait for a lab of their own at a university is longer than ever – if it happens at all. It’s a situation leading many to opt for a career in industry instead, where advanced degrees are welcome and well-paid.

Read VP Herman’s full commentary in The Washington Post’s Grade Point blog.