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

Highlights from a year of excellence in research

Collage of Annual Report story images

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

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

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

Leader in research administration receives field’s top honor

A longtime leader in research administration at the University of Minnesota has been recognized with her profession’s top honor.

Pamela Webb, associate vice president for research, received this year’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Research Administration from the National Council of University Research Administrators. The award recognizes Webb’s significant contributions to the field of research administration, as well as the time, knowledge and service she has provided to NCURA itself.

Pamela Webb

Pamela Webb

Webb has been involved in research administration for 32 years, with responsibilities including pre-award and post-award non-financial sponsored project services, research compliance oversight, negotiation of facilities and administrative (F&A) rates, effort reporting, and export controls. She has also worked with technology transfer, conflict of interest, animal subject tracking systems, and human subject policy and procedure. Continue reading

Research ethics — a responsibility of the University and individuals alike

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

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

U research infrastructure gets $2.4 million boost

The University of Minnesota’s Office of the Vice President for Research has announced the recipients of its 2016 Research Infrastructure Investment Program, which helps maintain the robust, state-of-the art equipment key to propelling research and innovation.

The awards, which totaled over $1.2 million from OVPR and were matched one-to-one by funds from supporting colleges, centers and external partners, are a one-time investment in university research infrastructure designed to ensure that crucial research facilities and support services on all campuses are viable and up-to-date for cutting-edge research. The program supports transdisciplinary research and encourages collaboration across the U’s colleges and campuses.

Eleven proposals were chosen for funding, which range from expanding the presence and research capacity of the Driven to Discover building at the Minnesota State Fair to acquiring a machine that tests the quality of asphalt mixtures and determines how well they hold up against wear and tear. The selected proposals impact researchers in at least nine colleges and eight centers and institutes across the University system. Continue reading

2016 Minnesota Futures awards explore health and the environment

Mushrooms

The University of Minnesota continues to research innovative solutions in major areas of study and impact. This year, The Office of the Vice President for Research awarded a total of $491,990 to two projects for the Minnesota Futures grant program, an internal funding opportunity that promotes novel research to advance new ideas that cross disciplinary boundaries. The two winning projects, selected out of 55 proposals submitted, address significant challenges in health and the environment while encouraging collaboration on emerging research opportunities.

Continue reading

White House OSTP recognizes U microbiome research

The University of Minnesota’s commitment to developing better microbiome methods for use in translational medicine, industry and agriculture research was recognized today by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The recognition comes as part of the White House OSTP’s announcement of the National Microbiome Initiative, an effort to advance understanding of microbiome, the communities of microorganisms that live on and in people, plants, soil, oceans and the atmosphere and are essential to the health of the planet. The U of M, a participant in the new initiative, has recently committed more than $5 million to advance microbiome research.

“The University of Minnesota is on the cutting edge of microbiome research,” said Brian Herman, Ph.D., the University’s vice president for research. “The University has remarkable strengths in and across the academic disciplines involved in this rapidly growing field, including medicine, agriculture, industry, the environment and informatics, just to name a few.”

See the press release for more information.

VP Herman: Federal budget plan’s research boost a good start

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Research VP Herman

University of Minnesota Vice President for Research Brian Herman applauded the vision behind a 2017 federal budget plan released yesterday that would increase funding for research into major environmental, health and societal challenges. The additional funding, part of the $4.1 trillion overall spending plan President Barack Obama has sent to Congress, includes a government-wide investment in research and development that would help fuel discovery at public research institutions around the country.

“President Obama’s final budget plan provides a good starting point for ensuring that we at the University of Minnesota, along with other research universities, can continue to generate new knowledge and develop innovative ideas and technologies to tackle society’s greatest challenges,” said Herman. “Although the University of Minnesota is moving to a more diversified portfolio for research — in part to deal with long-term uncertainty around federal funding for research — funding from federal agencies still comprises more than half of sponsored research performed by our scientists and investigators. Continue reading