Workshops share best ethics practices around human research

A participant asks a panel of experts a question during the "Research Partners with Community Members" workshop, part of the U's inaugural Research Ethics Day.

A participant asks a panel of experts a question during the “Research Partners with Community Members” workshop, part of the U’s inaugural Research Ethics Day.

Across the U.S., researchers conducting studies that involve human participants must make decisions that advance scientific progress without sacrificing the welfare or freedom of their participants.

Earlier this month, University of Minnesota researchers came together with experts from across the nation to explore a range of ethics questions related to adults, adolescents and children participating in research. For example, past studies have found some research participants do not fully understand that they are signing up for research instead of routine clinical care.

Through a series of workshops and training sessions hosted by the U’s Human Research Protection Program with support from the Office of the Vice President for Research, attendees learned practical skills to help them navigate issues of informed consent while ensuring a high level of ethical conduct.

The workshops and trainings were part of the U’s first Research Ethics Day, an annual event for learning about and discussing research ethics. In establishing a day to focus on these vital issues, the University joins a group of peer institutions with similar traditions, including Rutgers University, the University of Illinois and the University of Alberta.

Allen Levine, Ph.D., the U’s interim vice president for research, said focusing on ethics provides an opportunity to lay the groundwork for improvements in research practices.

“Obtaining informed consent is a crucial element of any study that involves human participants,” Levine said. “Issues around consent are inherently complicated and challenging. If we are building a strong culture of research ethics, we need opportunities for discussion and learning, and that’s what these workshops and training sessions provide.”

The workshops were part of two days of conferences, collectively called “Frontier Issues in Research Ethics,” that brought together leading researchers, policymakers, scientists, clinicians, bioethicists, and lawyers from across the nation. The event’s panel discussions explored major challenges facing informed consent, such as research involving vulnerable populations, the emergence of new technologies and the recent revisions to federal rules governing research with human participants.

A culture of research ethics

The conferences were the latest part of a University-wide effort to cultivate a culture of research ethics. This effort, which began in early 2015, centers on protecting human research participants, upholding the highest ethical standards and improving research oversight at every step of the process. Since then, the U has implemented more than 60 improvements to its human research protections.

Later this month, the U’s Ethical Oversight Submission System, or ETHOS, will go live. ETHOS, run by the Human Resources Protection Program, is a streamlined, online platform for submitting applications to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) for review and approval. The new platform will make it easier for IRB reviewers and staff to efficiently communicate with the more than 10,000 faculty, staff, and students involved in research with human participants.

Going forward, the University will continue to evaluate ETHOS and other new processes to ensure they help to maintain the highest standards around human research protections.

Photo: Brian Carnell

Capacity-building sets stage for international research partnerships

Herd of sheep near mountains

Researchers at the University of Minnesota will soon come together with their counterparts from across Latin America to improve animal, human and environmental health through collaborative research.

This international network, launched through a two-year International Capacity Building grant from the U’s Office of the Vice President for Research and matched by endowed chair funds from the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety, will serve as the framework for forming new research projects around subjects that can benefit both the U.S. and Latin America. The International Capacity Building funding provides for a project manager to support the development of grants and provide administrative assistance for research projects that focus on promoting aquaculture (farming fish or shellfish for food), supporting livestock health, curbing zoonotic (animal-to-human) diseases and preserving ecosystems, as well as addressing the issues that lie where these four areas intersect.

The transdisciplinary effort will bring together U of M researchers from the colleges of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences; Public Health; and Veterinary Medicine, as well as the corresponding experts from these fields in Central and South American research institutions.

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The sound of music

Orchestra

Suppose a flute player and a bass player are playing a tune where they must hit notes simultaneously. A new University of Minnesota study suggests that if a high flute note comes a tad earlier than its bass counterpart, the audience probably won’t notice. But if the bass note comes early, they will.

Also, the ability to detect a lack of synchrony between a low note and a high note had nothing to do with whether either note came on the beat; all that mattered was the order in which the notes were played.

The study revealed quirks in how humans process and perceive musical sounds that have evolutionary significance. And because it concerns how the inner ear and brain work together, it could aid in the design of better hearing aids or cochlear implants.

“These surprising results have given us more insight into the complex interactions that occur between the ear and brain when we perceive sound,” says Andrew Oxenham, a psychology professor and study author.

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Meet Allen Levine, interim VP for research

University of Minnesota flag outside of a building

Allen Levine, Ph.D., has more than a passing familiarity with the University of Minnesota’s research enterprise — in one capacity or another, he has been connected to the U for more than 45 years.

Levine, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition and adjunct in the Department of Psychiatry, began his role as the U’s new interim vice president for research this week. He previously served as vice provost for faculty and academic affairs, as well as dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. As head of the Office of the Vice President for Research, Levine will oversee the University’s $900 million research enterprise across all its campuses and facilities, including the administration of sponsored projects, research compliance and regulatory offices, and offices dedicated to economic development and technology commercialization.

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“In my new position, I look forward to keeping the University’s research enterprise moving forward and preparing the office for its next permanent director,” he said. “Since arriving, I have found the staff at OVPR to be knowledgeable and well suited to the important work they do for the U.” Continue reading

Forty years with tigers

Tiger in tall grass

Tiger at night, caught in a camera trap in Nepal. Photo credit: David Smith.

Few tiger biologists venture into dens to photograph and collect data on cubs. But University of Minnesota tiger researcher David Smith has done it twice, once with the mother just 200 yards away.

Using radio and GPS collars, Smith has tracked tigers for 40 years with one goal in mind: to achieve larger and more secure tiger populations by keeping their prey abundant and their habitat connected rather than patchy. This matters because top predators are critical to ecosystem health.

So are Smith’s graduate students. Most come from Nepal, Thailand, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Taiwan or the Philippines. Degrees completed, they return home and mobilize local people for conservation efforts.

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Spring 2017 Grant-in-Aid competition

The University of Minnesota’s Grant-in-Aid of Research, Artistry and Scholarship Program promotes the research, scholarly and artistic activities of faculty and supports academic excellence throughout the University. Administered through the Office of the Vice President for Research, the Grant-in-Aid program provides seed funding for a wide range of projects in five funding categories.

Timeline to apply:

Jan. 3, 2017     Start accepting applications
Feb. 6, 2017    Deadline for applications to be routed to approvers
Feb. 9, 2017    Deadline for approvers to submit final applications to OVPR

Visit Grant-in-Aid to learn more about the funding categories, eligibility requirements, how to apply and see samples of some exemplary proposals.

Questions? Contact the Research Advancement office: facgrant@umn.edu or 612-625-2356.

Top 10 Inquiry stories of 2016

Block numbers 2016

For the University of Minnesota, the completion of 2016 marks another year of advancing knowledge, forming new partnerships and making groundbreaking discoveries.

The Inquiry blog, led by the Office of the Vice President for Research, set out to explore such strides in research and innovation when it launched more than two years ago. Its path has since woven across departments and disciplines, delving into everything from varieties of wine grapes that withstand the cold to the microscopic communities of bacteria that live inside of us.

Before we bid farewell to 2016, here’s a look back at the year’s 10 most-read Inquiry stories. Continue reading

The future of research universities: Q&A with departing VP Brian Herman

Vice President Brian Herman

In 2013, Brian Herman, Ph.D., joined the University of Minnesota as its vice president for research.

During his tenure, Herman helped the U’s research enterprise continue to grow by diversifying funding sources, increasing public-private partnership and enhancing protections for human research participants. His recent report to the Board of Regents highlighted, among other accomplishments, research funding at record levels and thriving technology commercialization and economic development efforts.

Now, four years later, Herman is preparing to transition out of the Office of the Vice President for Research and join the College of Science and Engineering faculty in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. In the Q&A below, Herman discusses the progress of the U’s research enterprise and the future of public research universities. Continue reading

University research enterprise continues to grow

Glass windows on the side of a building

The University of Minnesota’s research enterprise continues to grow, driven by greater diversification of funding sources and enhanced public-private partnership.

At today’s Board of Regents meeting, Vice President for Research Brian Herman delivered this message as part of his annual Status of University Research and Commercialization of Intellectual Property report. The report summarized the U’s research metrics for the 2016 fiscal year, documenting trends in research productivity, scholarship and technology commercialization. It also noted the progress of strategic priorities that build the University’s research strength and work to eliminate barriers to research success. Continue reading

IRB expands to strengthen human research protections

Glass panels on side of building

The University of Minnesota’s Institutional Review Board plays an important role in ensuring that clinical research projects make the welfare of human participants their top priority.

Recently, the IRB strengthened its capacity for protecting human research participants and upholding the ethical conduct of human research by expanding its membership’s size and range of expertise. The IRB, an integral part of the U’s Human Research Protection Program, now includes more than 80 members with expertise in areas like psychiatry, pediatrics and oncology. These members now sit on eight biomedical panels and two social-behavioral panels, up from the previous one biomedical panel and two social-behavioral panels.

The majority of IRB members are U of M faculty who have deep scientific and technical knowledge in their fields and are highly regarded by their peers. They also make a significant time commitment for the good of the research community. Under federal law, IRB panels are independent and do not answer to individuals, departments or units that rely on the IRB for the review of their research.

See the full list of current IRB members or read about recently retired IRB members.

Academic research needs a new funding model

network of atoms

As federal support for academic research declines, universities are losing capacity to address significant global challenges through cutting-edge research.

In a recently published piece in The Conversation, the University of Minnesota’s Brian Herman, Ph.D., vice president for research, and Claudia Neuhauser, Ph.D., associate vice president for research, highlight how research universities must consider new models for academic R&D funding.

Limited federal funding leaves research universities locked in a fierce battle for a diminishing pool of resources. Continue reading

Developing data science tools to study how the brain works

fMRI scans

A team at the University of Minnesota aims to give researchers a better set of tools for exploring how the brain functions.

In a recent study, an interdisciplinary team of researchers investigated ways to better analyze the data that results from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a technique that records images of brain activity over time. While fMRI holds enormous potential for neuroscience research, researchers need new ways to interpret the fMRI data as a network of activity between different regions of the brain.

The study, published in IEEE Computer this month and funded by the National Science Foundation along with a MnDRIVE Fellowship in Neuromodulation, investigated different methods for analyzing and modeling fMRI data. The study’s goals align with the White House’s BRAIN Initiative, launched by the Obama Administration in 2013 which aims to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain. Continue reading