UM System creates conflicts of interest policy regarding human subjects

Friday, March 26, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The situation comes up at universities where research and finance go hand in hand. A university is undertaking a research project with human subjects and accepts a gift or grant from a company that is invested in what is being researched.

UM System President Gary Forsee issued an executive order Thursday to system campuses that will add guidelines to existing university policy about conflict of interest issues. This new policy focuses specifically on problems stemming from research involving humans in experiments.

The Institutional Conflicts of Interest in Human Subjects Research policy will outline procedures to address issues that might arise from a conflict of interest between the financial concerns of an institution and its own human subjects research. The previous UM System policy focused on individual conflicts of interest for faculty members, research teams and the UM System Board of Curators.

The new policy defines a human subject as "a living individual about whom a researcher acquires information through intervention or interaction with the individual or through identifiable private information."

A 12-member task force of representatives from the four system campuses formed in August 2009 to create the new policy, which will require the UM campuses to periodically review financial investments and interests with corresponding human subject research.

Just because a situation is deemed a conflict of interest doesn't mean research can't move forward, UM System General Counsel Stephen Owens said. Owens, a member of the task force, said the policy is about making a management plan for dealing with the issue. Sometimes that means simply disclosing conflicts of interest before research begins or making it clear to the public that a research team is not influenced by its benefactor.

Owens said when a conflict of interest is determined on a campus, staff on the campus and at the system level will submit the issue to theresident or a designee. If a conflict of interest is deemed to exist, a management plan will be created to reduce or eliminate the conflict. The plan is then sent to the Campus Institutional Review Board, which will determine whether research should continue.

“This new policy underscores our continued commitment to the integrity and transparency of our research programs, as well as the safety of research subjects,” Forsee said in a news release issued Thursday. 

Another task force will form in coming weeks to outline procedures for issues outside human subjects research. The new task force will include some but not all members of the first task force.

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