What is an institutional review board?

An institutional review board (IRB) is a panel of people who oversee research involving human subjects. IRBs can be seen in educational institutions that conduct human subject research, along with pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and other organizations that use humans in their research. The purpose of an institutional review board is to evaluate all proposed human studies to confirm that they meet ethical guidelines, monitor ongoing research, and periodically audit researchers, ensuring that all research conducted at the institution is legal and ethical. .

Human subject studies can range from interviews with people that might be conducted by a sociology graduate student to testing new medical devices on people with particular conditions. In all cases, before people can work with humans, they must submit a proposal to the institutional review board. The proposal describes the nature of the work, explains why it is necessary to use human subjects, and demonstrates that the investigator has considered the risks to the subjects and has taken steps to mitigate them.

Panel members review the information and ask questions about the research if they feel things need to be clarified. The investigator also submits the informed consent forms that the subjects will use for review. The institutional review board has the power to deny the study outright or request changes to the study methodology to address concerns. Committee members may also request revisions to informed consent forms if these forms do not appear complete or may confuse subjects.

Once the study has been approved by the institutional review board, the investigator can move forward with recruiting subjects and conducting the study. At any stage, committee members may request to review research materials. These reviews will be used to confirm that the investigator is conducting the study as described in the application process and to identify any risks or concerns. If the study appears to endanger the subjects, the IRB may suspend or cancel the study until the problem is resolved.

Institutional review boards also review completed studies, audit trails, and meet regularly with study participants and designers. Committee members keep track of all ongoing studies, as well as completed studies, and their results. When studies go wrong, board members work together to find out what happened and why to develop plans to prevent similar problems in the future.

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