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

Top 10 Inquiry stories of 2016

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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

IRB expands to strengthen human research protections

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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.

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