ever, IRBs have come to shoulder an increasing share of these tasks in ways that were not originally intended. Because IRBs should be constituted to carry out their obligation to focus primarily on the ethical aspects of human protection issues, the committee suggests that protection programs consider changing the name of these boards to reflect this recommended fundamental shift in emphasis.

Recommendation 3.1: The Institutional Review Board (IRB), as the principal representative of the interests of potential research participants, should focus its full committee deliberations and oversight primarily on the ethical aspects of protection issues. To reflect this role, IRBs should be appropriately renamed within research organizations’ internal documents that define institutional structure and policies. The committee suggests the name “Research Ethics Review Board (Research ERB).”

Changing the name of an entity can be a useful way to signal important substantive change. In the United Kingdom and elsewhere, ethics review is carried out by what are typically called “Ethics Committees” or “Ethics Review Committees.” The International Conference on Harmonisation uses the terminology “Independent Ethics Committee.” In each case, the objective of these reviews is to ensure the ethical conduct of research and that participants’ interests are fully recognized, represented, and protected. The committee therefore recommends moving away from the term “Institutional Review Board,” which conflates institutional interests with those of participants and which may cause at least the appearance of an institutional conflict of interest.

Admittedly, the term IRB is now firmly embedded in the regulations and literature, and is likely to continue to be used despite its imperfect reflection of the function that the board is designed to serve. However, many research organizations in this country have given these bodies different names (“Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Human Subjects” or “Committee on Clinical Investigations”)1 that more accurately describe their appropriate functions, while empowering them to carry out the functions that have been assigned to IRBs by the applicable federal regulations.

This committee urges all research organizations (as well as free-standing IRBs) to signal their commitment to reform by changing the name of the bodies serving the functions of IRBs to “Research Ethics Review Board”


In addition to these designations in use at the Duke University Medical School and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, respectively, Johns Hopkins University also uses the terms “Joint Committee on Clinical Investigation” and “Committee on Human Research” within their medical school and school for public health.

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