Research Ethics Roundup: open access research policy, clinical ethicists, and more

This week’s research ethics roundup covers efforts by Black scientists to develop oxygen sensors for darker skin; the ethical challenges faced by clinical ethicists; new policy guidance for immediate open access to research findings; and the use of electronic health record data to study pregnancy outcomes.

‘A poster child’ for diversity in science: Black engineers work to fix long-ignored bias in oxygen readings
STAT | Usha Lee McFarling

Pulse oximeters, a standard tool in hospitals for monitoring patient oxygen levels, became a public health staple during the COVID-19 pandemic, particular for older or immunocompromised individuals suffering from respiratory symptoms of infection. The devices read oxygen levels through the skin of a finger and were developed based on measurements taken through light-colored skin. For decades, it has been known that these devices are less accurate when reading through pigmented skin, due to the absorption of light by melanin, but it wasn’t until 2021 and the COVID-19 crisis that the FDA released a safety communication highlighting this concern. Now engineers at Tufts University and Brown University—who are themselves Black—are working to develop sensors that will provide accurate measurements on those with darker skin.  

Understanding the expanded role of clinical ethicists
Science Daily

Healthcare workers have faced unprecedented challenges in recent years, including having to deal with troubling ethical issues. A recent article published in AJOB Empirical Bioethics explores the unique role that clinical ethicists play behind the scenes helping frontline workers, and the medical organizations they support, navigate these new ethical frontiers.  “By understanding the experiences of clinical ethicists during the COVID-19 pandemic and the ethical challenges they faced, we can better understand how their expanded role links to both clinical and organizational outcomes,” says Connie Ulrich, the lead investigator of the study.

White House requires immediate public access to all U.S.-funded research papers by 2025
Science Insider | Jeffrey Brainard, Jocelyn Kaiser

A recent policy announcement by the Biden administration will weaken the ability of journals to keep papers describing federally funded research behind their paywalls. This latest move has been applauded by advocates of open-access publishing, who believe that the one-year embargo allowed under a 2013 rule inhibits the free flow of information, and ultimately, scientific advancement. The new guidance requires agencies to submit plans by the end of 2025 that will make any federally funded research papers available to the public without any embargo or delay following publication.   

A pandemic push for data sharing could pay off for pregnancy research
STAT | Katie Palmer

Even after recent regulatory changes to encourage enrollment of pregnant people in clinical research, studies examining maternal mortality and other pregnancy complications are rare. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a focus on creating accurate electronic health records with substantial protections for the protection of patient privacy, and some researchers are taking advantage of opportunities these records provide to learn about pregnancy outcomes. Researcher Jose Figueroa examined a large nationwide hospital dataset and found that maternal deaths increased during the acute phase of the pandemic. Now researchers are working to create a centralized database that will, among other advances, facilitate tracking individual pregnancy data from before, during and after birth, to identify factors leading to various pregnancy outcomes.