Enhancing research ethics at U of G

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By Ariana Longley

Crafting a research proposal is a complicated endeavor; made even more complex when considering the safety and wellbeing of research participants. To ease researchers through this process and hold their research studies to the highest ethical standards, the University of Guelph’s Research Ethics unit is enhancing its membership and streamlining the services they provide to the academic community.

“As a research-intensive institution, scholarly excellence is at the core of [the University’s] mission; a key principle of which is building a supportive research environment. The Research Ethics unit is imbedded in this goal as we support and guide researchers through the ethics process.” says Katelyn Wadleigh, the Manager of the University of Guelph’s Research Ethics unit.

The Research Ethics Board (REB) operates in compliance with various guidelines, policies and regulations surrounding the treatment and protection of human participants in research. These guides uphold the safety and privacy of participants. All research involving human participants must go through ethical review before the planned research can be carried out.

That’s where the University of Guelph’s Research Ethics unit comes in. This crucial branch of the Office of Research Services is responsible for reviewing the ethical merit of proposed studies and acts as a support system to enhance projects and the treatment of participants.

“Our primary focus is on the participants and ensuring their care is considered,” says Wadleigh. “We make sure there’s no undue risk or that the risks and benefits of a project are weighed out and there’s considerations taken if [researchers] are going to be conducting their research on a vulnerable population.”

But the Research Ethics unit doesn’t just work to protect participants. They also encourage research at the institution by assisting investigators in the early stages of their protocol development and by providing critical guidance as far as what will meet ethical and privacy standards.

“We are a service-oriented unit. We try to address issues and give solutions,” says Wadleigh. “We’re here to facilitate and improve research initiatives. Our role is to be a support system in taking an idea that [researchers] have and creating a protocol that meets all ethical guidelines.”

The process of approving a protocol is multistep. Once an application is submitted to the Research Ethics unit, it is pre-reviewed by a Research Ethics Coordinator. Research Ethics Coordinators are the front line of the unit and responsible for initially identifying ethical issues in a proposal. Protocols are assessed for risk and reviewed by members of the Research Ethics Board, which is composed of faculty, graduate students, community members and experts in various fields of research. The reviews take the form of full board meetings for high-risk protocols and delegated reviews for low-risk protocols. The board members provide valuable feedback and recommended changes to the proposed research study, which is then communicated to the researcher. For more information on the protocol submission process, visit Research Ethics

On average, the Research Ethics unit receives eight to nine new proposals per week, with each one needing to be examined before research can begin. Considering the high volume of submissions, the more board members available to conduct delegated reviews, the more efficiently the unit can review and move protocols through to approval. To keep up with these demands and better facilitate the research process, the University of Guelph Research Ethics unit is seeking to expand their REB membership.

“A lot of the work researchers plan on doing is contingent on us,” says Wadleigh. “To be able to accommodate and pull their work forward, we need to be doing our jobs to get the projects moved and approved in a timely fashion. [By increasing our board membership], it’ll allow us to keep up with the current demand.”

The Research Ethics unit is supported by the federal government’s Research Support Fund.