Faculty Interview Series: P. Pearl O’Rourke

In this series of Ampersand posts, PRIM&R introduces you to our faculty, who help bring our educational programs to life. Learn more about their passion for the advancement of ethical research, their professional experiences and aspirations, and what goes on behind-the-scenes in their lives!
P. Pearl O’Rourke Director
Human Research Affairs
Partners Healthcare System, Inc. Pearl O’Rourke is teaching Tissue Banking in 2010 and Beyond on May 5, in conjunction with the May Regional Programs.

1. The elevator door just closed and you have 30 seconds to pitch who you are and why someone should attend Tissue Banking in 2010 and Beyond. What would you say?

Tissue banking is becoming increasingly pertinent, especially as genetic research becomes more prevalent. Tissue-based research requires access to an enormous collection of tissue and information.

The oversight of repositories is incredibly important for managing the risk involved. However, the regulations are not easy to discern. Opportunities for professionals to come together and share best practices are necessary for the advancement of this field.

2. What other programs or research initiatives are you involved with outside of your work with PRIM&R?

As the director of human research affairs at Partners Healthcare System, Inc., I oversee a large human research protections program, which reviews primarily biomedical research, such as medical records research, tissue banking, invasive devices, and more. I am also involved on a national level with several federal agencies and professional groups, such as the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC). I am on the Advisory Counsel to the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).

(Editor’s note: Pearl O’Rourke is a member of PRIM&R’s Board and Public Policy Committee. She is also very involved in the development of PRIM&R’s educational programs, including regional and pre-conference programs, as well as conferences and PRIM&R’s new online course for IRB members, which will launch May 1.)

3. What motivates you to maintain your commitment to advancing ethical research?

In the past, I worked as a clinician and clinical researcher; I worked in a science policy office at the National Institutes of Health (NIH); and I participated in the federal legislative process as a member of Ted Kennedy’s Senate staff. All of these experiences have contributed to my perception of how research can be done well. Research is mandatory for any type of advancement and I feel privileged to have a background that helps inform the research process to make it safer and more efficient.

4. Looking back over your tenure with PRIM&R, what is one of your most memorable moments as a faculty member?

Being involved with the development of the tissue banking white paper with PRIM&R, NIH, and AAMC. It was a first-hand opportunity to see PRIM&R’s convening power. That and singing karaoke, of course!

5. What advice do you have for young professionals interested in pursuing a career in research, IRB administration, and/or a related field?

You personally cannot know everything, therefore you need a team. Know what you don’t know. Know where to find the answer. And, respect the source.

6. What do you believe is a key challenge facing the field of research ethics?

A key challenge is making sense of existing regulations in a changing research environment. The rules were written during a different era, one that did not anticipate today’s kind of research—especially considering that the public is a much different public today than it was when the rules were written..

And just for fun…

1. What are three websites, newspapers, and/or magazines you visit/read on a daily basis?

  • New Yorker Cartoons
  • Boston Globe Online
  • The New York Times Online

2. Which three people, living or dead, would you invite to dinner?

  • Bette Midler
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Clint Eastwood

3. Chicago is known for its Chicago-style hot dog and deep-dish pizza. What are you having for dinner following Tissue Banking in 2010 and Beyond, which takes place during the May Regional Programs?

I may sneak out for one of the Food Tours in Bucktown!!!