Senior Christine Scanlan works on a research project with pro­fes­sional of Biology Bob Miller during summer 2016 on devel­op­mental biology. Cindy Hoard | Courtesy

The lack of insti­tu­tional ethics review boards has pre­vented some Hillsdale College faculty and stu­dents from pub­lishing their research.

Based on rec­om­men­da­tions from the biology department, the college is looking into estab­lishing such review boards, said Chris VanOrman, dean of natural sci­ences and pro­fessor of chem­istry.

The Journal of Mam­malogy refused to publish Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Biology Jeffery VanZant’s research, because Hillsdale does not have an Insti­tu­tional Animal Care and Use Com­mittee, or IACUC. The lack of an Insti­tu­tional Review Board, or IRB, has pre­vented pub­li­cation of a student research project involving vac­ci­nation surveys, Wyatt McDonnell ’15 said. Not having an IACUC at Hillsdale limited Pro­fessor of Biology Bob Miller’s research on Fetal Alcohol Syn­drome to chick embryos instead of mam­malian embryos, Miller said.

IACUCs provide over­sight in ethical research involving ver­te­brates and have detailed guide­lines for sample col­lection, animal care, and min­i­mizing the pain or dis­comfort of the research animals. These com­mittees, which must have at least five members, include an insti­tution admin­is­trator, a senior faculty member with expe­rience in ver­te­brate research and pub­li­cation, a vet­eri­narian, a sci­entist in a field other than biology, a com­munity member not employed by the college, and a the­ologian or philosopher. The com­mittee reviews research pro­posals to ensure best ethical prac­tices.

IRBs deal with human research and help ensure per­sonally iden­ti­fiable or medical infor­mation is properly col­lected, ana­lyzed, and stored for behav­ioral or bio­medical research.

“We have faculty members who produce art, people who write and publish aca­demic papers and books, yet some faculty members, because we have no IACUC, can’t do what they are trained to do,” Miller said.

Since chicks are unable to com­pletely function as inde­pendent organisms until several days after hatching, their lack of via­bility renders IACUC reg­u­la­tions less strict. This allows for the pub­li­cation of Miller’s work.

“I have to go through and point out the guide­lines to prove I’m not com­mitting an ethics vio­lation,” Miller said.

Since the federal Health Insurance Porta­bility and Account­ability Act, or HIPAA, pro­tects the privacy of medical infor­mation, McDonnell said proper steps to ensure con­fi­den­tiality of infor­mation is important from a legal stand­point as well as an ethical stand­point.

“In my mind, having a rushed, stamped review board applies also to childhood edu­cation research, soci­ology, psy­chology, eco­nomics — there are a lot of areas to which this applies,” he said. “It’s in Hillsdale’s best interests to have these review boards not only from a stand­point of, ‘We take this seri­ously.’ It also pro­vides a better research envi­ronment for faculty members recruited in the coming years, and it pro­vides legal pro­tection to the college, as well.”

Although these com­mittees help prevent ethics vio­la­tions and HIPAA vio­la­tions, Miller and McDonnell said, founding an IRB or IACUC would not incur addi­tional federal or state over­sight unless researchers applied for and received fed­erally funded grant money from the National Science Foun­dation or the National Institute of Health.

After a year of working with Van­derbilt University’s IACUC and IRB, McDonnell and Matthew Dro­gowski ’15, a second-year medical student, wrote a letter in January 2016 to Hillsdale College’s admin­is­tration asking the college to con­sider founding an IRB and IACUC.

VanOrman said he has dis­cussed the prospect with department chairmen and is researching the process of starting these review boards at Hillsdale.

“If we decide to move forward with these com­mittees, I will also need to get approval from admin­is­tration,” VanOrman said in an email. “I’m just not that far into the process yet. I’m hoping to get some­thing figured out by the end of this coming summer.”

The review board members vol­unteer their time to serve. Some orga­ni­za­tions accredit such com­mittees and provide pro­fes­sional devel­opment for board members. To join these non­mandatory orga­ni­za­tions, however, the college would incur a small cost.

Miller said he researched the IACUC estab­lishment require­ments in the past and drafted the paperwork nec­essary to establish a Hillsdale com­mittee five or six years ago, but no further action was taken.

Addi­tionally, Miller said approval from a Hillsdale IRB or IACUC would allow for pub­li­cation of research projects that would oth­erwise be declined by journals because of the lack of review by an ethics com­mittee. He also said this would help the college to recruit new faculty members, who are coming from insti­tu­tions where IACUCs and IRBs are a given.

McDonnell said estab­lishment of these review boards at Hillsdale would allow for pub­li­cation and recog­nition of Hillsdale’s research and would help the college recruit young researchers.

“By not having these boards, we’re stopping research from being pub­lished in respectable places and putting us on the map for things we’ve been good at for over a century,” he said.