IRB: Ethics & Human Research

Conflicts of Interest in Research: How IRBs Address Their Own Conflicts

We conducted this study to determine whether medical schools address conflicts of interest among their IRB members and staff, and, if so, in what ways.  We analyzed the conflict of interest policies for 121 U.S. medical schools whose research is funded by the National Institutes of Health.  About three-quarters of the schools we studied have written policies that address IRB conflicts of interest, and almost 80% of them defined the term, although their definitions varied substantially.  The majority of IRBs explicitly prohibit a conflicted member from participating in discussion and voting, but few explicitly prohibit serving as a reviewer or extend their policies to cover IRB staff.  This illustrates important gaps in these policies.  A few policies even conflict with federal requirements.  More specific policies might improve consistency and increase confidence in the integrity of IRB oversight.

Key words/concepts: conflicts of interest, conflict of interest policies, IRB members, IRB staff, NIH funding, federal requirements, ethics review