University News

Profs support stricter research rules

Contributing Writer
Sunday, October 16, 2011

Faculty are expressing support for revisions to conflict of interest and disclosure rules enacted this August for federally funded medical research. The revisions are the first since 1995.

The federal rules regarding financial conflicts of interest needed revision, said Deborah Ciombor, associate professor of orthopedics. “Science is not as pure as it was,” she said. At times, researchers do not behave “within the ethics of science,” she said.

The changes include lowering the value of what is considered a substantial financial interest from $10,000 to $5,000, mandatory conflict of interest training for researchers, public access to information about financial conflicts of interest upon request, the disclosure of privately sponsored travel and reimbursements and new financial conflict of interest reporting regulations for research institutions.

The new rules will benefit medical researchers on the whole, said Alfred Ayala, professor of surgery. It is “always good to know the relationship between investigators and organizations,” he said.

Ciombor said she did not believe the rules would affect her research much because she rarely encounters conflicts of interest. But she said they could have affected her earlier work, which sometimes involved corporations.

Brown’s Office of the Vice President for Research created a University-wide conflict-of-interest policy for researchers in 2009. The University requires all researchers to complete an Assurance of Compliance agreement each year and, if needed, a Report of Significant Financial Interests. A relatively low proportion of Brown’s researchers have financial conflicts of interest, but they are not “inherently bad,” wrote Regina White, associate vice president for research administration, in an email to The Herald.

Procedures in place make it possible to preserve the objectivity of research, she wrote.

The office is in the process of updating the University’s policy to accommodate the new federal rules, including methods for publicly disclosing conflicts of interest. The office is also reviewing the effect of the new rules on researchers and faculty. White wrote that the policies will include more disclosure of information from faculty.

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