Research Ethics Roundup: The Henrietta Lacks Story and Research with Biospecimens Today, NIH Tackles Reproducibility Problems, Reviewing Research with Prisoners, PubMed Improves Conflicts of Interests Disclosures

This week’s Research Ethics Roundup reviews the ways research with biospecimens has changed since Henrietta Lacks’ story made news, how the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s grant application changes focus on transparency in preclinical research, how ethicists can avoid stereotyping prisoners who choose to participate in research, and how one of the top research search engines is improving transparency efforts.

Should You Worry About Being the Next Henrietta Lacks?
HeLaCellsThis New York Times column by Robert Klitzman—also the featured guest of our most recent podcast episode—explores the parallels between the story of Henrietta Lacks, a woman whose cells were taken without her permission before she died of cancer nearly 70 years ago, and present day practices where companies and institutions share de-identified data with other researchers. Dr. Klitzman himself supports the practice of de-identified biospecimen donations, but also points out that the science industry and policymakers should take steps to protect patients and research subjects—especially when it comes to genetic information.

Rigor and Transparency in Biomedical Research: How NIH is Taking No Prisoners
In this ALN Magazine article, Helen Kelly reports on how NIH is tackling reproducibility concerns in preclinical animal research that are due in part to researchers’ failure to report such elements as sample sizes and methods of randomization. These failures, combined with evidence of poor training in experimental design and reporting, and transparency problems in results reporting, have led NIH to make changes to their requirements for grant applications, training, and reporting.

How Can Research with Prisoners Be Done Ethically? Q&A with Charles Lidz
In this Hastings Center article, Rachel Zacharias interviews Charles Lidz and finds that one of the most challenging questions when considering research on prisoners is whether they are exposed to coercion or exploitation when being researched. Dr. Lidz argues that prisoners are no different than non-incarcerated subjects when it comes to their decision-making processes around participation in research and thus, ethicists should avoid stereotypes and instead recognize that prisoners have a diverse set of concerns about the research enterprise.

Too Many Studies Have Hidden Conflicts of Interest. A New Tool Makes it Easier to See Them
In this Vox article, Julia Belluz explores the concern that research is sometimes funded by industry stakeholders who seek to influence studies of their own products in order to receive a scientific “green light.” PubMed recently began sharing conflict of interest data following study abstracts in an effort to make readers more aware of these possible conflicts. Currently, many articles list conflicts of interest information near the end, making it less likely that readers actually encounter it.