Education Committee Highlight: An Interview with Ted Myatt

Meet Ted A. Myatt, ScD, MEM, the director of research integrity in the division of research and economic development at the University of Rhode Island and one of three new members of PRIM&R’s Education Committee! He is highlighted this month as a research ethics professional making an impact on both his institution as well as the PRIM&R community at large.

When and why did you join the field?
Theodore Myatt (TM): I would say I joined the field around 2006. I was serving as the biosafety officer for Brigham and Women’s Hospital. One of my responsibilities was to serve as a member of the Harvard Medical Area Institutional Biosafety Committee. Additionally, due to research involving animal models and gene therapy trials, I was asked to attend IACUC and IRB meetings. It was through this position that I was exposed to the broad area of research integrity which, it turns out, I really enjoyed. Being involved in multiple aspects of research integrity has been a tremendous learning opportunity—I learn something new every day.

What’s one specific challenge that you have faced during your career, and how did you overcome it?
(TM): I think the challenge I faced was to grow from someone conducting research and also involved in biological safety to someone with responsibilities in human subjects research, animal research, and all the other areas of research compliance and integrity (e.g., research misconduct, conflict of interest, export control). I wouldn’t say this was a challenge to overcome, but one where I had to gradually learn more and more about the various areas. To continue to learn, I read everything I can find on these subjects, attend as many conferences and meetings as I can, and try to meet others in the fields to learn from. It’s a never-ending process.

While all those approaches to educate myself are invaluable, nothing is more effective than working through day-to-day issues with knowledgeable colleagues.

What is one thing you wish the general public knew about human subjects research/animal research?
The media tends to cover explosive examples that portray human subjects or animal research is a poor light. While I believe it is important to expose examples of mistreatment or unethical behavior, the media rarely covers positive examples, where the value of the hard work of an IRB or IACUC is detailed.

Can you give an example of a lesson you had to learn the hard way?
One lesson I learned the hard way was when we hosted an FDA inspection of our IRB, not long after I started in my present position. Being at an institution without a medical school, and not seeing any new FDA-regulated research being reviewed by our IRB in my first few months on the job, I assumed that we did not have much in the way of FDA-regulated research. It turns out our institution had a number of FDA regulated device studies, many of which had been closed, but were still reviewable by the FDA. If I had to do it all over again, reviewing our records for studies regulated by FDA (or animal studies by USDA) would be on the top of my list when I first arrived.

What changes in the research field most concern you? What changes are you encouraged by?
I’m most concerned about ensuring that research participants fully understand the consent process. A clear, concise consent document and researchers committed to the consent process are so important. I am encouraged by projects such as the Personal Genome Project, which collects and publicly shares genetic data to hopefully answer a variety questions, like how genes interact with environmental exposures.

What motivates you to maintain your commitment to advancing ethical research?
What motivates me is that I want good, productive, and useful research to come out of my institution. While my role may be relatively small, working to ensure that the research being conducted here is ethical, compliant, and sound is my contribution to that process.

I am always looking for incremental changes that we can make to improve our work. For example, we are always looking for new ways to make the human subjects review process, which at times can be complex and confusing, more understandable for new researchers. This may take the form of new methods or forums to educate new researchers on both on human subjects research, in general, and also our institution specific submission process. The more human subjects regulations are understood, the better the research will be and the easier the review process becomes for everyone.

Have there been any PRIM&R events or talks that you have attended that have made a significant impact on your approach to your work? If so, what were they and how did they influence you?
My first exposure to PRIM&R was at the AER conference in Maryland in 2011. I was asked to present at a pre-conference course, but I was able to stay for the conference. I was amazed at the conference’s size and scope. Being able to attend motivated me to pursue broadening my background in research integrity and led me to my current position.

What other programs or research initiatives are you involved with outside of your work with PRIM&R and your institution?
I am involved in several other professional organizations, including the Massachusetts Society of Medical Research, where I sit on the Program Development and Biomedical Research Advisory Committees and the American Biological Safety Association, where I sit on the Public Relations Committee.

What challenges do you see ahead for human subjects/animal research? Any particular ethical challenges?
With the advent of new techniques for gene editing (e.g., CRISPR/Cas9), I think there will be plenty of ethical issues facing IRBs and IACUCs. For example, how will IACUCs deal with attempts to grow human organs in animals? How will IRBs and institutions handle the blurring line of cutting edge clinical care vs. what is research and potentially very complex consent processes?