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March 10, 2010
By Skyler Dillon
The University of Nevada, Reno recently joined an exclusive number of institutions after being accredited by the Association for Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs (AAHRPP). The accreditation means that the University’s Office of Human Research Protection (OHRP) meets nationally set standards, which exceed federal regulations, for human research protection programs.
“It’s exciting because it gives us an undisputed sense of legitimacy with other organizations,” said Marsha Read, vice president of research, of the distinction held by only 194 organizations internationally.
The OHRP guarantees the safety and confidentiality of those participating in both physical and scholarly research completed on campus by reviewing proposals and setting regulations for research projects. The office completed an intensive self-study as part of the accreditation process that took a year to complete.
“We drew together a report of our policies, procedure, and boards—all different aspects of our office,” said Read. “It was a very time-consuming process.”
After the self-study was completed, a team of four people from other human-research protection institutions reviewed the office and gave their recommendations to the AAHRPP. The lengthy process ensures that the AAHRPP standards, which exceed the regulations set by the federal government, are met. The standards require that institutions address conflict of interest, provide community outreach and education and apply stringent safeguards in every level of research involving human participants.
Larry Williams, associate professor of psychology, is a former chair of the OHRP’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), the committee that reviews research proposals. He said the office and its accreditation are essential to his and his graduate students’ research, which attempts to find the best ways to teach intellectually disabled adults and children.
“When you’re tasked with protecting the well-being of people, you want to be as conservative as possible,” he said.
When research proposals are submitted to the IRB, reviewers weigh the potential benefits, both to the research participants and to general scientific knowledge, against the risks that participants might face before giving approval.
“The research has to have the potential to add to our general body of knowledge,” Williams said.
The other main priority of the IRB is to ensure that research subjects and their guardians are given as much information as possible about the project before they give their consent.
“We let them know as best we can what exactly they’ll be doing, that it’s completely voluntary and that they can walk away at any time,” Williams said. “We outline any benefits and any risks.
The accreditation process enhanced the office’s research guidelines and also gave it a important means by which to continue to improve.
“The process is very beneficial for the exchange of ideas and the suggestions about ways to improve,” Read said. “That’s always a good thing.”
For example, the IRB is beginning to transform their paper-based review system into an electronic one, expediting the sometimes lengthy approval process.
The OHRP plays an important role at Nevada, which according to Read completes more research than the other institutions of the Nevada System of Higher Education combined.
“Research is one of the three core missions of the University,” she said. “That is what any university is about; it’s expected to bring people together to advance the knowledge of society.”
“It’s how we learn,” he said. “If we don’t research, we can’t develop our best practices.”
The accreditation, which was finalized last semester, is valid for three years. The successful completion of the accreditation process reflects the work and commitment of the University’s Office of Human Research Protection, including Director Susan Publicover and team members J. Logan Hamill, Jan Lantz, Joyce Newton, Valerie Smith and Gwenn Snow.
The University also previously earned accreditation from the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Care International (AAALAC), considered one of the most important internationally known recognitions a research institution can receive. AAALAC International is a private, nonprofit organization that promotes the humane treatment of animals in science through voluntary accreditation and assessment programs. For more information, contact the Office of Human Research and Protection.