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IRB Applications Go Online

June 12, 2006

Before faculty, staff, or students enroll human subjects in research, they need to obtain approval by an institutional review board (IRB).

The researchers must make it clear to the IRB that the appropriate steps to protect the rights and welfare of their human subjects are built into their research plan.

The Office for the Protection of Research Subjects (OPRS) provides administrative support to the Northwestern IRBs. OPRS works with the research community and the IRBs to make sure that such research is conducted under the highest ethical, human and scientific standards and principles. Research subjects -- human and animal -- are protected by laws, regulations and rules, and the OPRS makes sure that everyone involved in such research is aware of those rules.

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) scrutinize faculty research projects as they are proposed and carried out, making sure that human subjects are protected. They also serve at times as liaison between investigators and federal oversight agencies. An IRB has the authority to approve, require modifications in, or disapprove research. Often, the IRB's role is to interpret the guidelines and regulations that involve human subjects research.

Numerous requests from faculty and research staff have led the OPRS, with the financial support of the Office for Research, to develop and install an electronic IRB protocol submission process, the “eIRB,” to make the process more efficient. This new online application process will help develop, track and modify human research protocol applications, using “smart form” technology, making the complex application process more user-friendly. The process also will reduce administrative processing time.

“The most important benefit from our transition to an electronic system will be that members of our research community, OPRS, and the IRBs will have real-time access to information about protocol submissions,” says Don Workman, executive director of the OPRS. “Access to the application forms as well as information about your active research files will be provided through a secure website, which should be available 24/7 anywhere you can establish a secure on-line connection.”

Starting dates for the new online IRB submission process will be staggered, based on the type of research and the relevant review category. The first applications, for social-behavioral research, began to be entered into the system on May 30. The start date for initial biomedical applications will be this summer. OPRS will send announcements to indicate other specific start dates.

In the fall, OPRS will initiate a new process for transitioning studies that have been submitted on paper into the eIRB process. Throughout the transition to the new system, OPRS will continue to accept paper submissions.

For more information about the eIRB application, contact the help desk at (847) 467-eIRB or eirbsystem@northwestern.edu. To find out more about the OPRS, visit www.research.northwestern.edu/research/OPRS/irb/index/.

Topics: Research