Research expedited with new IRB review protocol
Up until this academic year, any student planning to conduct research involving human subjects has had to submit forms to the IRB and wait for the board to approve them at a monthly meeting before beginning research. Now projects posing minimum risk to participants may go through expedited review, which can simplify and quicken the approval process on a case-by-case basis.
This option emerged from a larger, ongoing reorganization of the IRB and Office of Research Integrity and Assurance. This year, the University increased the size of the IRB staff, adding three members with considerable IRB experience and hired outside consultants with expertise in the social and behavioral sciences to evaluate the current operation of the IRB.
“In the words of one of the consultants, we had a very good 20th century IRB but not yet a 21st century IRB,” IRB chair and psychology professor Susan Fiske said.
The evaluation concluded that project proposals posing no greater risk than what is encountered by people on a daily basis — including those that use anonymous data or questionnaires — do not require the entire board to convene for approval. The board decided a single reviewer with expertise in the project’s area of interest could provide sufficient review and approval on a rolling basis for minimum-risk proposals.
“It’s been working very well for us so far. It cuts down the turnaround time for review,” Andrea Ferguson-Dadas, the assistant director of the RIA, said. “The board now reviews really the truly very sensitive and substantive issues that really need to be discussed by a full committee of people.”
Fiske noted researchers should still submit their proposals well in advance because they may still have to go through the full approval if the reviewer sees it as necessary. The board may also perform random audits of expedited proposals and send them to the full board meetings to ensure these reviews continue to follow the guidelines and criteria of full board approval. Nonetheless, under normal circumstances, researchers can now expect to get a response a few weeks after they submit their forms, rather than a few weeks after the full board’s monthly meeting.
“It really empowers the researchers in terms of allowing them to submit more research to be able to get more done in a shorter time frame,” Ferguson-Dadas said. “It simplifies the process for them.”
The IRB is also currently working to transition the approval process to a completely online system, in which all forms can be completed and submitted electronically and investigators could check the status of their applications online. This change could streamline the process even further and accommodate the increasing volume of project proposals, Fiske said.