All research protocols that meet the federal definitions of research and human subject are required to meet criteria for approval before the research may begin. The criteria are based on federal regulations and the ethical principles discussed in the Belmont Report.
Learn More : Applying the 7 criteria for approval
The federal regulations that govern human subject research require that researchers seek participants’ consent using procedures that minimize the possibility of coercion or undue influence (45 CFR 46.116). Research incentives may limit the ability of the subject to provide truly voluntary, informed consent. Subjects should be able to make informed decisions to participate based on the real risks and benefits of participation, not on compensation. Subject compensation should be equitable, and the confidentiality of information related to payments should be protected. When reviewing research protocols that include subject compensation, the IRB does so guided by these principles. In designing their research and preparing the protocols describing it, investigators should be aware of the related issues discussed below.
Learn More : Compensating human subjects for research
Informed consent is the process by which potential participants are provided important information about the research study. Obtaining written consent from individuals ensures investigators have provided the necessary and required information for one to make a fully informed choice to enroll as a research participant.
Learn More : Components of informed consent
The Institutional Review Board [IRB] must ensure that financial or other business interests do not compromise the protection of human subjects in research.
If an investigator on the study team has an actual, potential, or perceived conflict of interest, this information must be disclosed to the IRB.
The Human Research Protection Program (HRPP) supports research involving humans and works with investigators and students on conducting work appropriately, and the Institutional Review Boards (IRB) review and approve research as required. The HRPP and the IRB follow the federal definitions of regulated research and human subjects.
Undergraduate class projects and research methods classes may involve data collection activities for instructional purposes that do not require IRB review and oversight because the goal is to teach methods and prepare the student for future research, not to contribute to generalizable knowledge. This guidance provides definitions used in the regulations, examples of research, and the distinction between human and not human research.
Learn More : Defining human subjects research 09.01.2023
This document provides definitions for terms as they apply to human subject research.
Learn More : Definitions and terms used in human subject research
Regardless of whether research study meets the federal definitions of research and human subjects, measures must be taken to ensure research participants are treated with respect and that their rights and welfare are considered during every stage of the research. There are lots of areas to consider when developing a research study and this document can be used as a guide of items to consider when planning your project.
Learn More : Designing human subject research
To help reduce the administrative burden with duplicative reviews and manage the complexity
of multi-site research, reliance agreements may be established. This guide provides information for Northeastern University (NU) researchers who are collaborating with co-investigators/research team members who are affiliated with other institutions or are independent investigators.
Learn More : Establishing reliance agreements
When exercise testing is used as part of a human subject research study, investigators should consider whether procedures may expose the participants to greater risk based on their physical fitness level and general health. In some circumstances, a safety plan should also be developed in the event of injury.
Code of Federal Regulations identifies several different categories of minimal risk research as being exempt from the Common Rule, 45 CFR, Part 46.Pursuant to Northeastern University (NU) po licy, investigators do not make their own determination as to whether a research study qualifies for an exemption. The NU HRPP provides oversight and communicates exempt determinations to the investigator(s). Exempt applications must receive the exempt determination before any research commences.
Learn More : Exemption Categories
This documents delves deeper into each category and provides examples and additional considerations.
Learn More : Exemption: Examples & additional considerations
Expedited review is a review category for protocols and modifications to approved protocols that qualify as minimal risk research or are considered minor changes to approved research. These submissions may be reviewed outside an IRB meeting allowing for an expeditious process that decreases turnaround time. Under expedited review the designated reviewer applies all applicable regulations (e.g., Common Rule, FDA, etc.) including the seven criteria for approval and the requirements for informed consent.
Learn More : Expedited categories
Submitting to the IRB, for a first timer or season investigator, can be confusing and at times overwhelming. Below are some helpful tips and considerations when submitting a human research protocol application.
Learn More : Helpful tips when submitting to the IRB 09.01.2023
Some sponsors, including NIH & NSF will accept new grant proposals with the understanding that the researcher will proceed with the IRB review process upon receiving notification of a score in the fundable range. This is sometimes referred to as the “Just-in-Time” [JIT] procedure.
Learn More : Just-in-Time, 07.13.2023
In the absence of documentation from an ethics committee at the site of recruitment or
research, a letter of support or other documentation of permission may be needed. The IRB may request that researchers provide this documentation to ensure that appropriate
safeguards are in place, that the study is feasible, or the research plan is culturally appropriate.
Learn More : Letters of support from external sites
After receiving the written approval from the NU IRB to begin a research project, investigators may follow the protocol procedures and use only the versions of the recruitment materials, consent and assent forms and study instruments as approved. However, if you need to make
changes to the study, you may do so by completing the modification form and providing all new
and revised documents. Depending on the requested modification and risk to study
participants, modifications may either be reviewed expeditedly or by a convened IRB.
Learn More : Modifications to protocols (exempt and non-exempt)
To assist investigators new to Northeastern, we have drafted guidance and provided resources and reference links. Our team is also happy to meet with you one on one to discuss your project and to guide you in preparing and submitting the materials for IRB review.
Learn More : New Investigators Conducting HSR
Research involving potentially vulnerable populations must include additional protections to minimize the possibility of coercion or undue influence. Federal regulations provide specific protections for pregnant women and fetuses, prisoners, and children; however, considerations may also be necessary for other potentially vulnerable groups, such as students and employees.
The purpose of this guidance is to outline additional protections that investigators and IRBs should consider for research involving students and employees.
Learn More : Research involving students and employees
Incarceration places prisoners under constraints that may affect their ability to make truly voluntary and un-coerced decisions about whether or not to participate as subjects in research. Prisoners, therefore, constitute a vulnerable population for which additional protections are warranted. This guidance details the additional protections
Learn More : Research with Prisoners
Northeastern University human research protection office (HRPO) has three primary roles: (i) protect human participants by ensuring applicable studies comply with the federal regulations; (ii) promote ethical and compliant research by providing education and training tools; and (iii) enhance research efforts in the development of resources, e.g., forms, templates, checklists, and guidance. This guidance details components on how the HRPO protect human participants by ensuring applicable studies comply with the federal regulations.
Learn More : Review types & processes
Secondary data analysis includes data that was collected previously for a different purpose. Some research projects involving existing data sets and archives may not meet the definition of “human subjects” research requiring IRB review; some may meet definitions of research that is exempt from the federal regulations at 45 CFR part 46; and some may require IRB review. This guidance details each of these situations and provides examples.
Learn More : Secondary data analysis
The IRB accepts the need for certain types of studies to employ strategies that include deception. However, employment of such strategies must be justified. In general, deception is not acceptable if, in the judgment of the IRB, the participant may have declined to participate had they been fully informed of the true purpose of the research.
Learn More : Using deception in research
Northeastern University strongly recommends gender inclusive language and consciousness in all study materials including surveys. Sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation are specific terms and should not be used interchangeably. When researchers ask questions about sex, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation, there must be an understanding of what is being asked and what information is sought.
This guidance explains the rationale behind this recommendation, how to comply, and examples of respectful language. Gender inclusivity, in this context, refers to considering all possible options regarding sex, gender, and sexual orientation when collecting research data.
Learn More : Using gender inclusive language in research
Video and audio recordings can be extremely valuable in collecting study data as it often allows investigators to be engaged during data collection without having to simultaneously take notes. It also provides a means by which the investigator can ensure the information the participant shared is accurate. Researchers may either choose to transcribe the recordings manually or use an external transcription service. This guidance includes considerations when using an external transcription service as a sample confidentiality agreement.
Under the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (a.k.a. the “Common Rule”), the IRB may approve an informed consent process that:
- Waives the requirement to obtain informed consent, or
- Alters some or all of the elements of informed consent, or
- Waives the requirement to document informed consent (i.e., to obtain a signature)
Learn More : Waivers or alterations of informed consent