Research Ethics Roundup: New USDA Numbers on Animals in Research Labs, Improving Diversity in Research, Collins to Stay at NIH, ICMJE’s New Policy on Data Sharing

This week’s Research Ethics Roundup looks at the latest US Department of Agriculture (USDA) numbers on animals living in research labs, how researchers are working to better engage diverse populations, President Trump’s decision to keep Dr. Francis Collins as director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE)’s final policy on data sharing statements for clinical trials.

Number of Animals Held But Not Used in Research Dramatically Declined in 2016
In this ALN Magazine article, Elizabeth Doughman highlights new USDA figures that show the number of Animal Welfare Act (AWA)-covered animals (including pigs, rabbits, and cats) living in American research labs but are not being studied fell by 69% from fiscal year 2015 to 2016. There was a 15% increase in the number of nonhuman primates being housed over the same period. The USDA numbers do not apply to rats, mice, and other animals not covered by the AWA, though they account for most biomedical research involving animals.

Medical Studies Still Exclude People of Color
Alexandra Ossola reports for VICE that researchers still struggle to recruit diverse populations to their trials; however, new initiatives seek to change this in part by promoting the use of “soft interventions” that include culturally appropriate recruitment literature and building long-lasting connections with communities. Director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity Stephen B. Thomas argues these methods are the most effective given that minority communities have a right to be wary about researchers’ intent due to unethical research conducted on these communities in the past.

Trump Says Francis Collins Will Stay on at the NIH
In this ALN Magazine article, Lauren Morello reports that President Trump has decided to keep Dr. Francis Collins as NIH’s Director, a position he has held since August 2009 when he was appointed by President Barack Obama. However, Dr. Collins faces substantial pressure on NIH funding issues; President Trump’s Administration is recommending that Congress cut NIH’s budget by 18%, in large part by re-evaluating how NIH reimburses research institutions’ indirect costs which cover the ethical oversight of research including IRBs and IACUCs.

New Science Data-Sharing Rules Are “Two Scoops of Disappointment”
In this STAT article, Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky argue that ICMJE’s final policy on data sharing statements for clinical trials is weak and is likely to result in a system where researchers do not feel the need to share their data. Beginning in July 2018, ICMJEs members, including influential journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine, will require researchers to submit a statement on whether they will share data and related details. However, editors are allowed to decide on a case-by-case basis whether failure to share data should preclude publication. Experts suggest that the best way to promote research transparency is to require researchers to design their research with data sharing in mind, thus, reducing data curation costs later; however, according to Marcus and Oransky, this change in research conduct will only become a reality if there are solid ICMJE requirements.