Editor’s note:  This information is supplied by Kelly O’Berry, the Institutional Review Board (IRB) IRB Education & Outreach Manager, Human Subjects Office (HSO) asked if UIRA would include this information in our newsletter.  Questions about IRB membership should be directed to Kelly O’Berry, whose contact information is at the end of this article.

Have you ever wondered about the people who review research applications submitted to the University of Iowa Institutional Review Board (IRB)?  There are current openings for Community Members, Other Scientist and Non-Scientist members of the University of Iowa IRBs.  IRB members have a front-row seat to learn about the wide variety of research conducted at the university, from Alzheimer’s and diabetes to early childhood development and driver safety.

Board members support the University of Iowa Human Research Protection Program, and by extension society, by reviewing proposals for such research.  IRB members are asked to attend one to three meetings per month, based on their availability. This volunteer opportunity may be of interest to someone who cares about protecting the rights, safety and welfare of individuals who volunteer to participate in research.  This is also an ideal position for someone who is interested in learning about research conducted by UI faculty, staff & students and VA researchers. The UI currently has about 55 board members on the three separate IRBs:

  • IRB-01 – reviews biomedical research
  • IRB-02 – reviews social, behavioral and educational research
  • IRB-03 – reviews research conducted at the VA Health Care System or using VA resources
  • IRB-04 - will review Department of Defense research (This is a new IRB which the University of Iowa Human Research Protection Program is hoping to launch, once the IRB membership requirements are met.)

IRB Membership  The Human Subjects Office seeks balanced IRBs made up of UI faculty and staff as well as members of
Iowa City and surrounding area.  We also strive for balance in terms of gender, race and ethnicity.  IRB members include people with scientific and non-scientific backgrounds.  Unaffiliated members, scientists with a non-medical background and non-scientists play a crucial role in reviewing human subjects research and can bring fresh insight and perspective to the review process.  No previous experience is necessary.  Community Members may include clergy, public servants (police officers, fire fighters), research participants, and others.

As you can imagine, it is difficult to find people in Iowa City and the surrounding area who are not employed by the University of Iowa themselves and do not have a connection with the institution through the employment of someone in their immediate family.  A Community Member may or may not have a scientific or medical background, but they must not have an affiliation with the UI.  A former UI faculty or staff member who retires or is no longer employed by the UI would be considered unaffiliated after two years.  Anyone who does not have a medical degree can serve as an Other Scientist member and those without training in a scientific field could be a Non-Scientist member of the IRB.

The IRB relies on Community Members and Non-Scientist Members to serve as a “voice” for potential subjects who may be approached to participate in research.  Within that role, during the IRB meetings, these members are asked to:

  • Raise questions (or concerns) they bay have with the proposed research
  • Make recommendatons on how to present the research to subjects in terms that potential subjects can understand.

Qualifications to be a Community Member or Non-Scientist IRB Members

  • Applicants and their immediate family must not be employed by (or volunteer at) the UI or VA hospital.
  • Applicants should have a non-scientific or non-medical background or training (preferred).
  • UI or VA Retirees may qualify as community members two years post-retirement.
  • Applicants must be able to attend regular review meetings (one to three times a month).
  • Meetings are generally held during business hours on Monday and Thursday afternoons or Wednesday mornings.
  • Applicants should have interest in and general aptitude for reviewing research proposals prior to IRB meetings.
  • Applicants must complete IRB member training prior to participation.

We appreciate assistance from the UI research community to spread the word to anyone eligible and interested to serve as a Community Member.  Additional information is available on the Human Subjects Office web site.  To apply, contact Kelly O’Berry, IRB Education & Outreach Manager, by phone: 319-335-8477 or email: kellyoberry@uiowa.edu.

Testimonial  “I see my role as being an advocate for the potential subject, making sure that what they are asked to do is reasonable and that the explanaton of the research is understandable.  While I rely on my medical and scientific colleagues to determine if the project is ‘good science,’ I have never been made to feel that my opinion is any less valuable.” -Nancy Goldsmith, Non-Scientst IRB Member

Testimonial  “As a community member my primary task has been to help determine that the information and consents given to participants in clinical trials are accurate and understandable to persons who do not have medical training.  As a bonus, I have learned a great deal about human research and new medical advances.”  -Dave Schuldt, Former IRB Community Member