“Human subjects research is a human process conducted with other human beings,” said Todd Davenport, DPT, MPH, OCS Associate Professor of Physical Therapy. “Human subject based research gives us a chance to explore questions that are specific and meaningful to people.” Dr. Davenport has been appointed co-chair of the University’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB is responsible for holding all research projects involving human subjects to the ethical standards outlined by federal regulations. The committee reviews proposed research studies involving human subjects to evaluate the ethical implications of the research.
“The IRB assists with making sure that the rights of human subjects are protected,” explains Dr. Davenport. It is essential that in the review process the IRB weighs both the potential benefits and risks of the proposed research study. When the IRB is evaluating a proposal one of the questions they are seeking to answer is the matter of informed consent; meaning whether or not the subject has a clear understanding of what they are agreeing to. He adds, “Ensuring that while we humans assess questions that have uniquely human components to answer we observe uniquely human rights.”
Dr. Davenport believes that the IRB plays an important role in maintaining the positive relationship between the University and the surrounding community. He elaborates, “I find that for many research subjects, the only interaction they get with Pacific is through a study.” He adds, “Part of ensuring an ethical experience is to ensure an excellent one.” Participants in a study can contact the Office of Sponsored Programs to report any concerns and in response the IRB will investigate.
Dr. Davenport has served on the board for seven years as a committee member. He is honored to have been unanimously chosen for the position of co-chair. He shares, “It is deeply meaningful for your peers to believe you can do a good job and conversely it motivates you to do a good job.” For Dr. Davenport, his own research has helped prepare him for this new role. In addition, he recently earned a master of public health from University of California, Berkeley, which gives him a unique perspective on research ethics. Dr. Davenport adds that one of the benefits of serving on the IRB is the opportunity to see what innovative research his colleagues are conducting.
When asked how he would define research he responded, “the process of systematically asking and answering questions to yield information for public consumption.” He emphasizes that what falls within the parameters of needing to be reviewed by IRB is defined by federal guidelines and listed on the IRB website. Context and intent are the determining factors of what projects require IRB approval. At Pacific a wide range of disciplines utilize the services of the IRB including pharmacy, physical therapy, speech-language pathology, psychology, dentistry, biology and education.
The ongoing goal of Pacific’s IRB is to maintain a culture of ethics and compliance. They are also committed to making the process as simple as possible for investigators working with human subjects. “The last thing people want is a roadblock or a hoop to jump through,” said Dr. Davenport. He stresses, “The IRB is here to help.” He encourages students and faculty conducting research to ask questions throughout the process. He says, “If there is any doubt whatsoever people should feel free to reach out.”
By Anne Marie H. Bergthold