Four of the nation’s leading biomedical research institutions have announced the formation of the San Diego Research Ethics Consortium, a multi-institution core resource to support the ethical conduct of science in stem cell and other research programs.
The four San Diego institutions – The Burnham Institute for Medical Research, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, The Scripps Research Institute and the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) – have established a joint program for ethics teaching, outreach and review of stem cell research as well as other areas of science and technology.
“This is a unique program that provides not only shared resources, but the collective experience and judgment of four pre-eminent research institutions,” said Michael Kalichman, Ph.D., director of the UCSD Research Ethics Program and the founding director of the San Diego Research Ethics Consortium. He noted that there are few models of such joint ethics programs among other major research institutions in the country.
“This joint program provides a model for what other people and institutions can and should do,” said UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox.
The San Diego Research Ethics Consortium will complement the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine's inter-institutional training program for recipients of training grants from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), which began in January. Nearly one-third of the training program covers stem cell ethics, which is being taught by Mary Devereaux, Ph.D., a bioethicist with the UCSD Research Ethics Program. CIRM was established to implement Prop. 71, the California Stem Cell and Cures Initiative, which was passed into law by citizens of California in November 2004.
The institutions are stressing that ethics is an integral part of stem cell research, not just an add-on. "Review of research involving the derivation of pluripotent human stem cells is not only a regulatory obligation, but an ethical obligation,” said Devereaux.
“We have a responsibility to the taxpayers and citizens everywhere, but particularly here in California,” said Devereaux. “Conducting stem cell research is a privilege. The citizens of California have given us the resources. It is our duty to use the resources responsibly and according the highest scientific and ethical standards."
The joint ethics initiative grew out of research funding for stem cell research, according to Kalichman, but the group will address ethics of all areas of research. This includes appropriate training for young researchers, required since the early 1990s by the National Institutes of Health. Topic areas include human and animal subjects, data management and record-keeping, authorship, conflicts of interest, collaborations, peer review and mentoring, and social responsibility
“The responsible conduct of research includes engaging and informing the public, so we also plan outreach activities, such as seminars, conferences and workshops,” said Kalichman. The Consortium’s first ethics conference will be held at the Salk Institute on April 6.
The advisory board for the consortium includes Craig Hauser, Ph.D. from the Burnham Institute, Gary Silverstein, J.D. of the Salk Institute, and Dave Gilder, Ph.D. from the Scripps Research Institute. The Burnham and Salk have their own Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight (ESCRO) Committees and Scripps will be using UCSD’s ESCRO committee to review their stem cell research. Under the new consortium agreement, funding from Burnham, Salk and Scripps is being pooled with existing resources at UCSD.
"Much as the scientific process helps us to choose among competing hypotheses, the process of ethical reflection and reasoning helps us to answer the tough ethical questions raised by advances in biomedical research,” said Kalichman. “The San Diego Research Ethics Consortium was created to ensure that our local research institutions meet the highest standards of responsible conduct of research."
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