Research Ethics Roundup: Legal status of chimpanzees, paper microscopes, and more

As the April showers turn to May flowers, take a moment to check out some of the research ethics and oversight news that has been making headlines this month.

Should a Chimp Be Able to Sue its Owner?: Reporter Charles Siebert explores the work of lawyer Steven Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), who are systematically filing court cases on behalf of animals with higher-order cognitive abilities such as chimpanzees, other members of the great ape family, orcas, dolphins, belugas, and elephants in an effort to expand the legal rights of animals. Wise and the NhRP, who hope to eventually convince a judge to recognize these higher-order animals as individuals that have a fundamental right not to be wrongfully imprisoned, are being met with both praise and criticism.

Science Tools Anyone Can Afford: Scientific research is not distributed equally around the world; the bulk of scientific research is conducted in only a few regions. To combat this inequity, Manu Prakesh, PhD, a biophysicist and assistant professor at Stanford University, is working to advance “frugal science” by creating and distributing powerful but inexpensive laboratory instruments to regions that have historically been left out of the production of scientific and biomedical research.

From Volunteers, A DNA Database: The Personal Genome Project, a collaboration between 16 research groups, aims to find 100,000 volunteers willing  to contribute data from their genomes, health records, microbiomes, and more. The success of the project depends on the willingness of participants to provide broad consent for the use of their health information. Data contributed to the project will be made available online, and while names will not be attached to the information, participants’ anonymity cannot be guaranteed. In order to ensure participants fully understand the risks of participation, they are required to pass an entrance exam.


NSF: Researchers Need Regulation Relief: The National Science Board, which is the policymaking body of the National Science Foundation (NSF), released a report on May 1, 2014 that indicates that excessive regulations that dictate the process of securing and maintaining grants waste researchers’ time and taxpayers’ money. The report acknowledges the importance of regulation and oversight in ensuring accountability and transparency, but also makes several recommendations to lighten researchers’ administrative load.

MIA In The War On Cancer: Where Are The Low-Cost Treatments?: Despite an increasing need for affordable cancer treatment options, pharmaceutical companies continue to invest in blockbuster cancer drugs, which can be sold for thousands of dollars a dose. This article explores the need for lower-cost alternatives.