Besides being required by federal regulations, what is the purpose of the Human Subjects Committee?
Our goal is to partner with researchers to find the best way to execute the research to protect the subjects while also promoting ethical research design, such as equitable selection of subjects. There is a tendency for researchers to enroll the most convenient subjects available. That does not end up with equitable research. Maybe the people you need to recruit to get the right answer to the question are the people that are harder to recruit. It’s hard to draw conclusions from research if you don’t have a representative sample of your target population. The Human Subjects Committee makes suggestions for improvement and comes to an agreement on what’s feasible while supporting the scientists’ research goals.
What science areas at the Lab have their research proposals reviewed by the Human Subjects Committee?
It spans the majority of areas we have here. We review proposals from Energy Technologies areas and Biosciences. Also, we get projects from the K-12 STEM education group and geosciences.
Getting human engagement is key for the adoption of technologies. Climate change, for example, has brought out a lot of that. You don’t know how (research) will work in the real world or how to implement new policies and new technologies in the real world until you engage participants. You have to have that human subject engagement to land on the best way to change the lives of real people. You can build the most incredible energy-efficient device but if nobody will use it, it doesn’t help anybody. Even the computing sciences are starting to do human subjects research.
When did the Lab start its Human Subjects Committee?
Human subjects were part of the Lab from the very beginning with the treatment of human subjects with radiation particles. Lab founder Ernest Lawrence and his brother Dr. John Lawrence felt medical research was something the Lab needed to do. The Lab had an Institutional Review Board (IRB) before there was such a thing, going back to the 1950s. When IRB's were created in the 1970s, after the Belmont Report, the committee at the Lab began relying on UC Berkeley’s IRB, although we always maintained a separate committee that did pre-review. We set up our own official IRB in 2008 after an external review’s recommendation.