Research Ethics Roundup: Nature Argues Against Research Censorship, New Comparative Genetics Study, WHO Considers Deploying Experimental Ebola Vaccine, Majority of Completed Stem Cell Clinical Trials Never Published

This week’s Research Ethics Roundup highlights a Nature editorial that encourages researchers to push back against both public and private forms of censorship in research contracts, the National Institute of Health (NIH)’s Comparative Genomics Branch issues new study with implications for both human and dog disease research, the World Health Organization (WHO) speaks with Doctors Without Borders about using an experimental vaccine to target a new Ebola outbreak, and bioethicists’ concern about stem cell researchers’ failure to publish study results including discoveries on side effects.

Censorship of Addiction Research is an Abuse of Science
This Nature editorial argues that the researchers must push back against government and private sector funders that require gag clauses in research contracts stipulating such measures as the funder’s right to sign off on research before it is published. The publication highlights an Australian researcher’s findings that gag clauses are particularly prevalent in addiction research, and points out that although censorship is commonly associated with privately funded research, it also is a problem with research funded by government agencies who may be concerned about findings that expose problems in government programs.

Research on the Evolution of Dog Breeds May Lead to New Therapies for Human Diseases
In this ALN Magazine article, Elizabeth Doughman explores how a new study in Cell Reports is showing how researchers’ work to understand the evolution of certain dog breeds is allowing them to uncover new findings about diseases that affect both humans and dogs. NIH researchers analyzed gene sequences from dogs whose owners volunteered them for the study. The head of the NIH’s Comparative Genetics Section, Dr. Elaine Ostrander, told ALN that her team hopes more dog owners will volunteer their pets in the future as currently the majority of breeds have not been sequenced.

Ebola Vaccine Could Get First Real-World Test in Emerging Outbreak
In this Nature article, Amy Maxmen reports that Doctors Without Borders is in talks with the Congolese government and the WHO about using an approved, experimental vaccine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is currently facing an Ebola outbreak. The WHO gave the vaccine preliminary approval last month, but is still deciding whether it should be deployed; a WHO expert acknowledged that the pressure is high given the number of fatalities from the last Ebola outbreak, which left over 10,000 dead.  

Stem Cell Trial Data Mostly Go Unpublished
Anna Azvolinsky reports for The Scientist on a recent study published in Stem Cell Reports that showed fewer than half of completed stem cell clinical trials are ever published for the public and of the studies that are published, there are gaps in what gets published. For example, over twenty percent of the published studies did not report the stem cell intervention’s side effects.  University of Minnesota bioethicist Leigh Turner said, “The underlying question [to this study and others] is, what is the ethical and scientific basis to exposing human research subjects to risk if there is not going to be any meaningful contribution to knowledge at the end of the process?”