Research Ethics Roundup: Research on MMA Fighters and CTE, Call for More Social Housing of Lab Primates, Research Misconduct in Canada, Oversight of Stem-Cell Clinics

This week’s Research Ethics Roundup looks at how researchers can learn about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from living mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters, why scientists are increasingly providing research primates with cage-mates, how research misconduct is handled in Canada, and the argument for more Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight of stem-cell clinics.

Can You Predict Future Brain Damage? Hundreds of Pro Fighters Are Helping Researchers Find Out
In this STAT piece, Rebecca Robbins highlights a longitudinal study with the aim to better predict the development of CTE, a brain disease tied to head trauma, where researchers are observing MMA fighters and boxers (including those still fighting). Subjects undergo a number of cognitive and brain imaging tests annually. The study, which began in 2011, has three additional years of funding, and researchers are hoping it could extend beyond that time.

Scientists Push To House More Lab Monkeys in Pairs
In this NPR article, Nell Greenfieldboyce discusses how researchers are increasingly housing nonhuman primates in pairs after recognizing that the practice not only improves the primates’ welfare but also the science itself, since loneliness affects a primate’s immune system, thereby making research results less translatable to humans, who rarely live in isolation. Traditionally, research primates were housed alone because scientists thought cage-mates might adversely affect research results, such as through the transmission of disease or injury. However, the importance of social housing has been emphasized in recent years, including in the 2011 edition of the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, which calls for social housing of primates to be the standard.

Questions Raised About Disclosure of Canadian Research-Policy Breaches
Wendy Stueck reports for The Globe and Mail on Canada’s Panel on Responsible Conduct of Research, which reviews government-funded research for alleged policy breaches. In 2011, Canada began to require researchers to sign a consent form stating their identities could be disclosed in the event of egregious breaches of conduct, such as enrolling human subjects into a research study without appropriate research oversight approval. Since its work began, the Panel has found violations in nearly half of the files it has examined, but has only issued one public disclosure statement. While critics argue for greater transparency, the Canadian government cites its need to balance public safety with the privacy of those subject to false allegations.

Stem CellsA Woman Went Blind After Stem Cells Were Injected in Her Eyes
Sarah Zhang reports for The Atlantic on the rising concern over stem cell clinics that offer purported treatments not approved by the FDA, and for the clinics’ failure to report adverse events. Four women with macular degeneration underwent a procedure in which stem cells were in which they received ocular stem cell injections, resulting in blindness. In 2015, the FDA released draft guidance on the use of stem cell treatments, but critics are worried the agency is not devoting enough resources towards oversight of these procedures.