ACN - 101321555 Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Resource Library

Research Ethics MonthlyAbout Us

Medical research

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Research Ethics and the New Gene-editing Technology0

 

Nik Zeps, Consultant, AHRECS

Keywords: Ethical Review, International Guidelines, Gene editing technologies,

It has now been over six months since He Jiankuiand his team used the CRISPR/CAS9 gene editing technique to introduce a gene alteration in twin girls (STAT). The revelation that he had performed this audacious experiment shocked the world and left people asking how he had been permitted to do it. Dr He Jiankui is not a medical doctor but is qualified in biophysics and was one of the pioneers of the new gene editing technology in China having worked in the United States for five years where he undertook post-doctoral studies.

The report that accompanied the announcement of the birth of the twin girls outlined how He and his colleagues had sought out couples where the father was HIV-positive but the mother was not. The purpose of their work was to alter a gene known to confer resistance to HIV infection, CCR5, so that the children would be naturally resistant to possible infection. The public response worldwide was one of outrage and fierce opposition from all quarters. His fellow scientists and doctors denounced his actions as immoral and unethical and he was fired by the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China.

Chinese authorities immediately placed a prohibition on any such activities and research (human embryonic gene editing that leads to the birth of babies) and claims were made that he and his team had acted against the law. The People’s Republic of China does have guidelines that forbid any research that involves human reproductive cloning; however, they do permit therapeutic cloning using embryonic stem cells where the aim is to cure or prevent illness. This is similar to the United Kingdom and several other European countries, but this is not legal in Australia. The key question here is whether such research is restricted to generating embryo stem cell lines or whether it permits the creation of embryos that can be implanted and grown to a full-term delivery.

There remain many unanswered questions from this case. He claims that he had ethics approval but the responsible committee denies they had any involvement. Clearly the clinic that recruited the potential parents (several signed up) also knew of the work and endorsed it. All of those working on the project presumably knew what the aim of their work was and yet still conducted it willingly. It is also important to note here that in this highly controversial case the world does not have any independent confirmation that any gene editing actually happened or that the twin girls have the CCR5 alteration. However, prominent scientists who were present at the announcement appear to believe the claims and some of the details in the report itself appear to reflect the reality of his claim.

In response to international outrage, a group of prominent scientists have called for an international moratorium. This would be similar to the 1975 Asilomar conference on recombinant gene technology. In 2015 UNESCO called for a moratorium on genome editing of the human germline at least until the ‘safety and effectiveness of procedures remain unproven’. Both calls envision the possibility that prohibitions may be lifted if the evidence for safety and effectiveness can be met in contrast to those that wish for a permanent outright ban. The general prohibition on research involving human embryos, such as is the case in Australia, prevents anyone doing research that might demonstrate that such work is safe and effective though, effectively shutting the door. In the United States there is only a prohibition for federal funding of such research so private enterprise could easily step in. Moratoria are notoriously difficult to monitor or enforce and the lure of making money or gaining fame from the research may prove to be too powerful. He might reflect that he has achieved notoriety rather than fame as a hero but reports generally paint him as ambitious and naïve, conveniently ignoring the guidelines or ethical issues rather than being actually evil in intent. After all, the intention was to augment human capacity, even though that has led to claims of ‘taking a step down the road’ of human eugenics by prominent bioethicists such as Arthur Caplan.

One of the key messages coming out of the debate is that self-regulation by scientists remains open to abuse. On the other hand, scientists argue that attempts to limit their work with increased scrutiny may be disproportionate and have a negative effect on research that may ultimately lead to improvements in human health. This is the ‘rotten apple’ argument and to some extent it is fair to be sympathetic toward it as there are good examples of how increased regulation does not necessarily improve patient or community safety. However, there is more to this debate than just regulation of laboratory activities and the issues related to what it is to be human and the consequences of manipulation that extends into augmentation or spurious characteristic selection such as eye colour or enhanced sport performance are real.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for international guidelines https://www.who.int/ethics/topics/human-genome-editing/en/to be developed and deployed by members states, forming a working party to develop these in December 2018. However, these would only be guidelines that would then have to be adopted by member countries. Importantly, the WHO panel does not envisage a permanent prohibition of embryo gene editing but stated in a media release that ‘The Committee will explore how best to promote transparent and trustworthy practices and how to ensure appropriate assessments are performed prior to any relevant work being undertaken.’ This clearly indicates that the intention is to regulate rather than prohibit future work in this area.

In many respects this is not a new ethical issue as the technology to alter the human genome has been around for many years, just not so cheap and potentially efficient. In addition, there are other applications of CRISPR that do not involve use in embryos or require a hereditary component. Somatic cell treatments for diseases such as muscular dystrophy and Beta Thalassemia have the potential to alleviate human suffering and are distinct from embryonic gene editing. It is probable that restrictions on these activities could also occur unless legislation and guidelines are careful to avoid capturing areas that are unintended. One could argue that these treatments which are aimed at people after birth should be treated in the same way as other biological therapies.

It is likely that a general prohibition of embryo manipulation for reproductive cloning will remain in most countries and some may now move to more specifically outlaw therapeutic cloning using gene editing. Many jurisdictions have looked at guidelines that prohibit this but there is little harmonization of these thus far. There is a great deal of work underway in many countries now to examine the issues and to establish appropriate pathways for regulation. AHRECS will monitor these activities and report on them as they arise.

This post may be cited as:

Zeps, N. (26  May 2019) Research Ethics and the New Gene-editing Technology. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/research-ethics-and-the-new-gene-editing-technology

A call for a national inquiry into the burden of research ethics and governance1

 

Adrian Barnett, Queensland University of Technology

.
Do we need a national inquiry into the burden of research ethics and governance in health and medical research Australia? Many Australian researchers would cry “yes!” because they have repeatedly experienced application systems that are time-consuming and illogical.

I have never met a researcher who did not think that ethics and research integrity wasn’t vitally important, but many current application systems have more to do with risk aversion than the safety of patients or the public.

This risk aversion means that millions of dollars worth of Australian researchers’ time is being wasted on submitting the same forms to multiple ethical review committees. For example, getting approvals for our group’s low-risk survey of nurses in 50 hospitals cost an estimated $348,000 in staff time and delayed the study by six months (Barnett et al 2016).

Another Australian study of 60 nationwide hospitals spent an estimated $264,000 on approvals and the researchers’ experienced puzzling variations in submission requirements and decisions about the study’s level of risk (Clay-Williams et al 2018).

Another Australian study found that the time taken to complete the ethics and governance forms for a negligible risk study took eight times longer than the actual research (Rush et al 2018).

These are not isolated experiences and the current processes are driving researchers crazy. In our recent one-day meeting on improving research quality, we asked attendees to vote on the changes most needed to improve research and reduce research waste. The idea of a national inquiry into ethics and governance was voted fourth highest out of 21 policies (the full survey results are available here).

What should a national inquiry consider? The primary question should be: why can’t we have a national system? A national system that has standardised forms and is used by every state and territory health department. A national system that covers all types of research, not just clinical trials.

An inquiry into ethics processes could have been part of the Chubb inquiry (had Labor won the election) that promised a root-and-branch examination of Australia’s overall research framework and to “ensure that Australia maintains its international competitive advantage”. Other countries use simpler approval processes and we hamper our ability to conduct research by tying up researchers in wasteful knots of unnecessary paperwork.

A national inquiry should engage with the people doing the hard work of reviewing applications on ethics committees. These people should also welcome a streamlined system that cuts-out the requirement for them to review already reviewed applications, giving them more time to focus on important ethical considerations.

Researchers should also acknowledge that some delays and duplication are their own fault. A key problem is that ethics applications can be so badly written that committee members cannot judge the ethical implications of the study.

Australian researchers want a system that improves and facilities their research, not one that puts “virtually insurmountable and costly barriers in place” (Clay-Williams et al 2018). We want a “tailored and harmonised” system (Rush et al 2018).

Many researchers have been talking about the need for change for over a decade, but have seen only small improvements and plenty of backwards steps too. A national inquiry would cost time and money, but the potential long-term savings to researchers and the public from this important reform could be enormous.

Declaration of conflicts of interest: Adrian Barnett receives funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council.

References

  • Rush, A., Ling, R., Carpenter, J. E., Carter, C., Searles, A., & Byrne, J. A. (2018). Research governance review of a negligible-risk research project: Too much of a good thing? Research Ethics, 14(3), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1177/1747016117739937
  • Clay-Williams, R., Taylor, N. & Braithwaite, J. (2018) Potential solutions to improve the governance of multicentre health services research. Med J Aust; 208 (4): doi: 10.5694/mja16.01268
  • Barnett, A. G., Campbell, M. J., Campbell, Shield, C., Farrington, A., Hall, L., Page, K., Gardner, A., Mitchell, B.G. & Graves, N. (2016) The high costs of getting ethical and site-specific approvals for multi-centre research. Research Integrity and Peer Review 1:16 https://doi.org/10.1186/s41073-016-0023-6

This post may be cited as:
Barnett, A. G. (22  May 2019) A call for a national inquiry into the burden of research ethics and governance. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/a-call-for-a-national-inquiry-into-the-burden-of-research-ethics-and-governance

Conducting research with (not on) consumers in health – exploring ethical considerations0

 

Authors: Joan Carlini,1 Kristen Ranse,2 Noela Baglot,3 and Laurie Grealish2

1. Griffith Business School, Griffith University, Southport campus, Queensland. Email: J.Carlini@Griffith.edu.au.
2. Menzies Health Institute Queensland and School of Nursing & Midwifery, Griffith University and Nursing & Midwifery Education and Research Unit, Gold Coast Health.
3. Health service consumer.

Growing healthcare demands and limited resources raises concerns about the sustainability of practical benefits resulting from research. The Consumers’ Health Forum of Australia and the National Health and Medical Research Council have developed a Statement on Consumer and Community Involvement in Health and Medical Health Research to better align the health and medical research with community need and improve research impact.  However, the traditional research-to-practice pathway can result in findings that are not “implementable”, which has led to the active recruitment of consumers’ views in co-design of interventions.  Consumers are now recognised as valuable knowledge resource to improve the relevance and translation of research into practice.

Co-design with consumers and community organisations

Co-design is the practice of consumers and suppliers, such as researchers and clinicians, coming together to look at a problem and design a solution together.  Consumer engagement in healthcare is considered critical to safe and high quality services. While health service consumers, often labelled as patients or clients, are the subject of research in order to better understand health and illness, engaging consumers in the conduct of research is emerging as an important area for consideration in health service research.

In healthcare, co-design can strengthen the relations between the community and academia, and ensure the relevancy of the research question and intervention. Despite the benefits of using co-design, there are also unique challenges that can become apparent. The co-creation process involves collaboration between researchers and consumers from the outset, making pre-specification of interventions unlikely.

End of life project background

In our project, researchers partnered with clinicians and consumers in the development of an intervention to support people near end of life to achieve a death at home. Consumers were involved in developing the intervention, which consisted of (1) a brochure outlining key considerations to achieve a death at home and (2) the process of discharge home near end of life. Consumers were members of two design groups, one for each part of the intervention and others attended a workshop to review the brochure and process. Please see our earlier article for more information.

Unlike participatory action research, in co-design consumers are focused on the intervention rather than the research process itself. Consumers contributed to the quality of the information that people might need when considering a death at home, including the processes that facilitated the transition home.

Method of engagement

In the co-design process, researchers modified established research techniques, such as nominal group technique, to distil those features of the discharge process and brochure that were considered most important. The group negotiated importance and inclusion of various elements in the drafting process. In these discussions, the importance of some elements were not equally valued by consumers, clinicians and researchers leading to rich and robust debate. The groups met over five meetings and through these meetings developed rapport that enabled frank discussion and the ability to work towards consensus that was consumer-led.

Ethical principles applied

The importance of engaging with consumers as partners in research must be carefully considered in the design and conduct of research to ensure that ethical principles are upheld. In considering how consumer engagement can support the research project’s fulfilment of ethical principles, including those in the National Statement, we consider the following:

Voluntary

The consumers involved in the project were invited to attend based on their history as a health consumer and interest in end of life care.  Their engagement in the project was voluntary, and they had the freedom to participate at a level of their choosing (i.e., attend meetings, community forum, out of session meetings).

Nonmaleficence

The researchers took care to ensure that the wellbeing of the consumers was maintained. One consumer’s recent lived experience with the topic meant that the researcher would informally check-in on the welfare of the consumer and gather feedback on the process, participation, and interactions of the previous meeting.

Beneficence

The group Chairs carried responsibility to support the group to establish a shared vision about the value of keeping the person who is dying at the centre of care. The complexities of how beneficence can be achieved, and possible barriers, emerged during meeting discussions and this information was used to support the implementation plan. For example, as the discussions progressed, the value of a formal family meeting and the need for general practitioner and transition nursing support was considered essential to enact patient and family well-being.

Consumers were included as committee members and accepted as part of the group, with all group members, who were representing a range of stakeholders with an interest in discharge home near end of life, invited to contribute their views at each meeting. All stakeholders were valued as being integral to the solution. In this project, consumers were considered as experts, understanding what happens outside of hospital and in the community, and directing the researchers to focus on family limitations as well as strengths. Because the group members were focused on the same, shared goal early in their work together, the process provided respect for families who decide to die at home, as well as those who may need to return to hospital.

Fidelity

Minutes were taken at each meeting, with action items discussed at the beginning of each meeting. Member were accountable for actions that they had agreed to undertake, with outcomes discussed at the meeting. The finalised draft of the two documents, the information brochure and discharge process, were circulated to the consumers, as members of the respective design groups, for comment. The consumers’ commented on how pleased they were to see the tangible outcome.  In another example, when one researcher (JC) was preparing this article, she spoke with one of the consumers about her experience with the co-design approach of the project.  Later, when the researcher provided a hard copy of the draft article to the consumer, she responded happily that her view “was well developed & expressed clearly”.

Respect

Respect for consumers who would be using the intervention was considered important during the groups’ deliberations. For example, consumer members of the information committee, tasked to design a brochure to support patients and families, were invited to review readily available resources about dying at home available in Queensland and other Australian jurisdictions. Through this activity, they were able to identify the information and conversations that would be most important in the local context. They also contributed to the language used in the brochure, supporting the use of example questions to focus health professionals on what was important to the consumer, making the planning process more personalised.

Justice

In relation to justice, this intervention and associated project provides guidance on the appropriate clinical and non-clinical people and resources that can enhance a person and family’s experience of dying at home. In the Gold Coast community, this project provides a vehicle for people living with chronic, life limiting diseases to imagine an end of life experience that is not in the hospital. Within the brochure, information about the financial, social and personal challenges of caring for a person at home is explored, ensuring that people have awareness of those challenges and can plan for them.

Safety

All members of the co-design teams should be well supported in a safe environment. A structured timeline indicating the milestones were developed in advance, thus setting a framework for meeting agendas.  This structure allowed participants to feel secure in knowing the process, approaches and activities that would be covered.  Both of the Design Group chairs were experienced researchers and knowledgeable about the process of co-design. As Chairs, they ensured that the conduct of all members were respectful, hence creating a safe and supportive atmosphere.

The future of consumer engagement in research

Based on our experiences, consumers as experts on health services added value to the outputs of the design process. In this study, there were specific value assumptions associated with consumer engagement in the intervention design process, including:

  • Clear expectations of consumer contribution, the anticipated project outcomes, and some knowledge or experience of the issue under investigation enhances contribution;
  • Consumers require formal training in consumer advocacy and require the time, understanding and passion to sustain their commitment; and
  • Engagement is enhanced by effective communication in regard to formal agendas, written minutes and ongoing personal communication.

Image source: Gold Coast Hospital Health Service, Achieving end of life care at home, A guide for patients and their family carers (2019)

In our case, consumers with experience of end of life care, as either a family member or a paid carer, were able to make a sound contribution that enhanced discussions and the final product. Other stakeholders including clinicians from the hospital, community health service providers and researchers expressed learning from the insights provided by the consumers.

In this project, consumer engagement through co-design was limited to developing the intervention. Consumer contribution has been found to enhance scientific and ethical standards, provide legitimacy and authority, and increases project credibility. Our experience resonates with these findings.

As consumer advocacy training becomes more sophisticated, there are clear opportunities to involve consumers more actively as members of research governance groups and in some cases, research teams. Consumers bring an experiential perspective, often grounded in local context that can be particularly helpful in translational or implementation research, an emerging research discipline in Australia. We invite other researchers, consumers and clinicians to contribute to this constructive conversation about the value of involving consumers in research co-design, with a view to satisfying the national quality standard in health care, focused on Partnering with Consumers. Not only can the quality of research improve, but consumer engagement can assist with focusing on matters of importance to the local community, increase public confidence in research through openness and transparency, and increasing local community understanding of research.

Acknowledgement

This project was supported by a Queensland Health Clinical Excellence Division, Care at End of Life SEED funding grant (2018). Project team members include Grealish, L., Cross, A., Sharma, S., Carlini, J., Ranse, K., Hiremagalur, B., & Broadbent, A..

This post may be cited as:
Carlini, J., Ranse, K., Baglot, N. and Grealish, L. (26 February 2019) Conducting research with (not on) consumers in health – exploring ethical considerations. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/conducting-research-with-not-on-consumers-in-health-exploring-ethical-considerations

 

Consumer Co-design for End of Life Care Discharge Project0

 

In this issue, we are publishing an account of an end-of-life project in whose design there are some features that add to its ethical interest. Many of us are familiar with institutional policies about consumer engagement in human research and have served on project reference groups, but perhaps have less experience with the successful – and ethical – implementation of these. This project may add some valuable understanding of these matters, including:
.

  • What insights do the design and information groups offer into the practice of research co-design?
  • Do those insights help to clarify the distinction between co-design and participatory action research?
  • Do those groups have advantages in demonstrating the project’s fulfilment of ethical principles of beneficence, respect or justice
  • Could those groups have a role in overseeing the ethical conduct of a project?
  • Given the subject of this research project, what sort of projects might make best use of groups such as those in this project?

We have invited the author and the research team to provide some follow-up reflection on issues such as these as the project progresses and is completed

.
The End of Life Care Discharge Planning Project is led by Associate Professor Laurie Grealish from Griffith University. This research project partners with consumers at all stages, allowing consumers significant contribution. As part of the Queensland Health End of Life Care Strategy, Gold Coast Health is developing a process to support discharge for people near end of life who would like to die at home. A Productivity Commission Report in 2017 noted that although over 70% of Australians prefer to die at home, less than 10% do. This is attributed to the need for improvement in the transition between hospital and community care.

The outcomes of this study are expected to include: (1) an evidence-based discharge process and infrastructure to enhance the transition from hospital [medical wards] to home for end of life care; (2) end of life care information brochure for patients and their family carers; (3) stakeholder feedback to indicate that the process is feasible and satisfactory; and (4) a health service and non-government organisational partnership network to monitor the discharge process and enhance future integrated models of end of life care. Ethical approval has been granted by the Gold Coast Health Human Research Ethics Committee and Griffith University Human Research Ethics Committee.

For the research design stage, three groups were established: 1) Project reference group, 2) Project design group, and, 3) Project information group.

1. Project reference group – The aim of the project reference group is to consider the analysed data and reports from the sub-committees, provide advice on, as well as monitor, implementation strategies. This group is led by Associate Professor Laurie Grealish and has membership from a wide range of stakeholders including hospital clinicians and managers, researchers, community groups, non-government organisations and consumers.

2. Project design group – The purpose of this group is to design an evidence-based discharge process to enable people near the end of life to return home to die if this is their wish. Dr Kristen Ranse from Griffith University is the Chair of this group and the membership of the group includes representatives from Gold Coast Health, consumers, and non-government organisations.

3. Project information group – Led by Dr Joan Carlini from Griffith University, this group is to provide expert advice about what information people need as they consider dying at home. It was identified early by the group that there is an overwhelming amount of information available online and in brochures, leading to confusion. Since this group has stakeholders from a wide range of representatives from health care providers, nongovernment organisations, community groups as well as consumers, there has been a healthy generation of discussions. The consumers on the team led the way in selecting pertinent information and producing a draft document. This was then further modified by the committee, ensuring that the booklet is concise, but also a thorough source of information for end of life care.

The next stage of the project runs from Janulary to July 209, with implementation, data collection and anlaysis, and dissemination of finding.

Contributor
Dr. Joan Carlini, Lecturer, Department of Marketing, Griffith University | Griffith University profile, LinkedIn profile (log in required), Twitter – @joancarlini |

This post may be cited as:
Carlini, J. (18 January 2018) Consumer Co-design for End of Life Care Discharge Project. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/consumer-co-design-for-end-of-life-care-discharge-project

0