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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Clinical Trials – More Blinding, Less Worry! – Statistically Funny (Hilda Bastian | August 2018)0

Posted by Admin in on October 11, 2018

She’s right to be worried! There are so many possible cracks that bias can seep through, nudging clinical trial results off course. Some of the biggest come from people knowing which comparison group a participant will be, or has been, in. Allocation concealment and blinding are strategies to reduce this risk.

Blinding and randomisation are often held up as best practice for clinical trials, but the reality is a lot less certain than many people realise and the ethical challenges aren’t trivial. We’ve included links to a long list of items reflecting on the ethics of trials.

Before we get to that, let’s look at the source of the problems we’re aiming at here: people! They bring subjectivity to the mix, even if they are committed to the trial – and not everyone who plays a role will be supportive, anyway. On top of that, randomizing people – leaving their fate to pure chance – can be the rational and absolutely vital thing to do. But it’s also “anathema to the human spirit”, so it can be awfully hard to play totally by the rules.
And we’re counting on a lot of people here, aren’t we? There are the ones who enter an individual into one of the comparison groups in the trial. There are those individual participants themselves, and the ones dealing with them during the trial – healthcare practitioners who treat them, for example. And then there are the people measuring outcomes – like looking at an x-ray and deciding if it’s showing improvement or not.

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Ethical Guidelines for Observational Studies0

Posted by Admin in on October 11, 2018

Foreword to the 2012 edition
These Guidelines were first released in 2006; the current document is a revision. The Health Committee’s inquiry into improving New Zealand’s environment to support innovation through clinical trials (June 2011) resulted in significant changes to the ethics review process, as reflected in the revised Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Health and Disability Ethics Committees.

This 2012 revision aims to provide consistency with the SOPs. These Guidelines have been updated to remove process guidance, and ensure that policy previously included in the Operational Standard for Ethics Committees is now addressed by these Guidelines. The revision did not fundamentally change the existing ethical standards and principles set out in these Guidelines.

As previously, the Guidelines are directed primarily to investigators, who have the main ethical responsibility for good study conduct. But the Guidelines also continue to be directed to others with a role in health and disability research ethics – particularly the ethics committees that review studies against established ethical standards. The key objectives of developing national ethical guidelines are to…


Foreword to the 2012 edition iii
Foreword to the 2006 edition iv

1 Introduction 1

2 Guidelines scope and definitions 3
Types of observational research 3
Types of audit or related activity 4

3 Ethics of observational studies 6
Worth of observational studies 6
Ethical requirements of observational studies 6

4 Underlying ethical considerations 8
Respect for people 8
Māori and ethical considerations 8
Justice 9
Beneficence and non-maleficence 9
Integrity 10
Diversity 10
Conflict of interest 10

5 Design of study and protocol 11
Study question 11
Study design 11
Scientifically sound 11
Skills and resources 12
Protocol 12

6 Collecting health information 13
Identifiability of health information 13
Collection of health information directly from individuals 14
Collection of health information from a third party 18

7 Use of information 20

8 Confidentiality of data 21
General considerations 21
Record linkage 22

9 When to reveal information obtained by observational studies 23

10 Communicating study results 24

11 Features of observational studies that pose more than minimal risk 25

12 Additional points 27
Bibliography 28

Joint Health Research Council and NEAC guidance on features of robust peer review for assessing the scientific validity of research 30

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What information and the extent of information research participants need in informed consent forms: a multi-country survey (Juntra Karbwang, et al | 2018)0

Posted by Admin in on October 7, 2018


The use of lengthy, detailed, and complex informed consent forms (ICFs) is of paramount concern in biomedical research as it may not truly promote the rights and interests of research participants. The extent of information in ICFs has been the subject of debates for decades; however, no clear guidance is given. Thus, the objective of this study was to determine the perspectives of research participants about the type and extent of information they need when they are invited to participate in biomedical research.

This multi-center, cross-sectional, descriptive survey was conducted at 54 study sites in seven Asia-Pacific countries. A modified Likert-scale questionnaire was used to determine the importance of each element in the ICF among research participants of a biomedical study, with an anchored rating scale from 1 (not important) to 5 (very important).

Of the 2484 questionnaires distributed, 2113 (85.1%) were returned. The majority of respondents considered most elements required in the ICF to be ‘moderately important’ to ‘very important’ for their decision making (mean score, ranging from 3.58 to 4.47). Major foreseeable risk, direct benefit, and common adverse effects of the intervention were considered to be of most concerned elements in the ICF (mean score = 4.47, 4.47, and 4.45, respectively).

Research participants would like to be informed of the ICF elements required by ethical guidelines and regulations; however, the importance of each element varied, e.g., risk and benefit associated with research participants were considered to be more important than the general nature or technical details of research. Using a participant-oriented approach by providing more details of the participant-interested elements while avoiding unnecessarily lengthy details of other less important elements would enhance the quality of the ICF.

Consent forms, Informed consent, Disclosure, Information, Ethics, Research subjects

Karbwang, J., et al. (2018). “What information and the extent of information research participants need in informed consent forms: a multi-country survey.” BMC Medical Ethics 19(1): 79.
Publisher (Open Access):

A Major Industry-Funded Alcohol Study Was Compromised. How Many Others Are Out There? – UnDark (Jeremy Samuel Faust | July 2018)0

Posted by Admin in on October 2, 2018

The most salient takeaway from the collapse of the MACH15 trial is that the conflicts of interest at its core are probably not as rare as we think.

LAST YEAR, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the federal National Institutes of Health, laid out plans for what is a rarity in the realm of public health: a high quality clinical trial. The “Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health Trial,” known as MACH15, was to be randomized so that some subjects would be selected to drink and some would not. It would follow participants “prospectively,” over time, not retrospectively. And in the end, the results were to be adjudicated by evaluators blinded to which subjects had been instructed to drink and which to abstain. The goal was an assessment of the effect of alcohol consumption on cardiovascular health.

This discussion piece highlights how unmanaged conflicts of interest can easily creep into work, even when it’s a banner project of a peak research funding and oversight body. Taken in retrospect you might wonder how they couldn’t see the mistakes they were making and how inevitable the consequences were, but it’s a ‘good’ case for highlighting that even enthusiastic correspondence can slide into a compromised space.

But last month, the National Institutes of Health took the unusual step of shutting down one of its own clinical trials — a $100 million dollar experiment gone wrong. The announcement followed an internal investigation, prompted by a dogged New York Times report, that uncovered inappropriate interactions between the alcohol industry (Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken, and others) and the NIAAA in the execution of MACH15.
By law, federal health agencies can receive funding from for-profit industry. But direct courting of funding, coordination, and collaboration on research design, and excessive communications are not permitted, and according to The Times and the findings of the NIH’s subsequent internal investigation, these violations occurred early and often during the development of the MACH15 trial. The NIH report concluded that the actions uncovered “calls into question the impartiality of the process and thus casts doubt that the scientific knowledge gained from the study would be actionable or believable.”

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