IRB Manual: Background and Administration

I. Background and Administration

Chapter 1.  Background and Principles
Chapter 2.  Governmental Oversight and Definitions
Chapter 3:  IRB Scope and Authority
Chapter 4.  Noncompliance
Chapter 5.  Roles and Responsibilities
Chapter 6.  IRB Composition and Meetings


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Chapter 1.  Background and Principles

Background for Development of Human Research Participants Protections

Examples of inhuman and unethical treatment of humans in the name of research have been documented throughout recent history.  The Nuremberg trials documented the unethical behavior of Nazi physicians, but there have been ethical lapses in the United States as well.  American researchers from the Public Health Service studied 400 African American men with syphilis in the Tuskegee syphilis study between 1933 and 1972.  These men were not asked for their informed consent or authorization to be in the study and they were, in fact, given misinformation about their treatment.  Even after penicillin became available and was known to be effective in the treatment of syphilis in the 1950s, it was withheld from these subjects because the researchers were interested in the natural history of the disease.  The study only ended when a journalist broke the story of the study.  In another example, researchers from Harvard and MIT formed a "science club" of 19 mentally impaired boys at the Fernald State School between 1946 and 1956.  These boys were fed forms of radioactive iron or calcium, sometimes in their milk, to enable the researchers to study the body's ability to digest minerals.  Doctors at the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital conducted studies of human transplant rejection using cancer cells.  The subjects were not asked for informed consent or authorization or told that they were being injected with live cancer cells.  Between 1963 and 1966, children at the Willowbrook State School, a state school for "mentally defective" youths, were purposely infected with the hepatitis virus in a study of that disease.  During the course of this study the institution closed its doors to new clients, claiming overcrowding.  However, the wing housing the hepatitis program was willing to admit new clients if their parents agreed to allow their children to participate in the ongoing studies.

Behavioral and social science researchers have exposed other humans to severe trauma and psychological stress in investigations of power. The participants in Milgram's "obedience" studies, conducted in the early 1960s, were told that they had to continue to participate in the study and shock another person at increasingly intense voltages. Studies supported by the Human Resources Research Office of the U.S. Army introduced severe stress to Army recruits by threatening them with death from errant artillery rounds or by causing the recruits to think that they, by making a mistake in wiring an instrument, had caused the injury or death of others in their units. Despite potentially important knowledge gained from such studies, the risks to the participants were extreme.

Codes of Research Ethics

Codes of research ethics have been developed, in part to address the disregard for human safety and dignity that these research projects reflect. The Nuremberg Code of 1947 was the first international code of research ethics. Its first principle is "The voluntary consent/authorization of the human subject is absolutely essential." The accompanying text made it clear that this voluntary consent/authorization should also be informed consent/authorization: "...the person involved ... should have sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the elements of the subject matter involved as to enable him to make an understanding and enlightened decision." This principle of "free and informed consent/authorization" remains the basic foundation of ethical research with human participants.

Another early code was the Helsinki Declaration, adopted by the World Medical Assembly at its meeting in Helsinki, Finland in 1964. Its second principle, "The design and performance of each experimental procedure involving human subjects should be clearly formulated in an experimental protocol which should be transmitted for consideration, comment and guidance to a specially appointed committee independent of the investigator and the sponsor..." established the concept of ethical review.

The first ethical code covering social and behavioral research was a set of 10 ethical principles adopted by the American Psychological Association in 1972. The bases for these principles were critical incidents. Psychologists were asked to submit examples of research that they deemed unethical or of questionable ethicality. The committee charged with developing ethical standards for psychological research then developed principles that would guide the conduct of researchers when conducting research that could pose ethical problems. The American Psychological Association's principles were the first to recognize the principle of confidentiality. Principle 10 states: "Information obtained about the research participants during the course of an investigation is confidential. When the possibility exists that others may obtain access to such information, ethical research practice requires that this possibility, together with the plans for protecting confidentiality, be explained to the participants as a part of the procedure for obtaining informed consent/authorization." Most professional organizations have ethical codes, and most require authors of manuscripts submitted to the journals of these organizations to state that they have followed these ethical principles in their research.

The U. S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare issued ethical guidelines in 1971 which were codified into Federal Regulations in 1974. However, the primary impetus for current government ethical regulation began with the establishment of a National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research under the aegis of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1974. The Commission was charged with identifying the basic ethical principles that should underlie research with human subjects. The report of the Commission, called The Belmont Report because it was based on deliberations held at the Smithsonian Institution's Belmont Conference Center, was published in 1978.

Belmont Principles

The Belmont Report identified three basic ethical principles that now serve as the foundation all human research participant protection programs. They are:

(1) Respect for Persons (autonomy): This principle acknowledges the dignity and freedom of every person. It requires obtaining informed consent/authorization from all potential research subjects (or their legally authorized representatives).

(2) Beneficence: This principle requires that researchers maximize benefits and minimize harms or risks associated with research. Research-related risks must be reasonable in light of expected benefits.

(3) Justice: This principle requires the equitable selection and recruitment and fair treatment of research subjects.

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Chapter 2.  Governmental Oversight and Regulations

The University of Northern Iowa (UNI) is committed to ensuring that the rights and welfare of human research participants are adequately protected in all research activities conducted under its auspices.  In addition, UNI strives to comply with all relevant federal and state regulations pertaining to the involvement of individuals in research activities.  This includes maintaining and authorizing an Institutional Review Board (IRB) to oversee human participants research at UNI.  

Federal Regulations on Human Participants Research

In order for the University to fulfill its responsibility and to comply with the laws and regulations, all human participants research conducted under University auspices must receive appropriate IRB review and approval.  In its Federal-wide Assurance (FWA), on file with the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the University assures compliance with all requirements of Title 45, Part 46 of the Code of Federal Regulations (45 CFR 46) for all human participants research, regardless of source of support.  This law serves as the federal policy for the protection of human research participants. Although DHHS was directed to exercise authority over 45 CFR 46, this policy has nevertheless also has been adopted by more than 16 other federal departments and agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education.  This federal policy, sometimes called the Common Rule, is codified as the Common Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects and was published in the Federal Register in 1991. It requires that each institution at which federally funded research is conducted adhere to the principles of The Belmont Report and set forth in writing its ethical principles, policies, and procedures.  It also requires that all institutions conducting such research file an Assurance of Compliance (such as the FWA) and register each IRB operated by the institution. 

Periodic audits conducted by the federal departments that are responsible for human subject protections and the performance of IRBs have resulted in temporary injunctions of research with humans at institutions that are not in compliance with the regulations. The IRB is also required to report to the OHRP serious problems and adverse events that occur in particular research projects at the institution, including serious noncompliance with IRB requirements. 

Other Related Federal Regulations

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.  The law applies to all institutions and schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.  Generally, FERPA requires that schools have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student's education record.  However, FERPA allows schools to disclose those records, without consent, to certain parties under certain conditions, as outlined in the regulations (such as to other schools or for certain research purposes).  Schools also may disclose to anyone, without consent, "directory" information such as a student's name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance.

The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232h; 34 CFR Part 98) applies to programs that receive funding from the U.S. Department of Education (ED).  Among other things, it seeks to ensure that schools and contractors obtain written parental consent before minor students are invited to participate in any ED-funded survey, analysis, or evaluation that reveals information concerning:

Political affiliations;

Mental and psychological problems potentially embarrassing to the student and his/her family;

Sex behavior and attitudes;

Illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating and demeaning behavior;

Critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships;

Legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians, and ministers; or

Income (other than that required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or for receiving financial assistance under such program).

Health Information Privacy and Portability Act (HIPPA).  The Office for Civil Rights enforces the HIPAA Privacy Rule, which protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information; the HIPAA Security Rule, which sets national standards for the security of electronic protected health information; and the confidentiality provisions of the Patient Safety Rule, which protect identifiable information being used to analyze patient safety events and improve patient safety.  The HIPAA Privacy Rule establishes the conditions under which protected health information may be used or disclosed by covered entities for research purposes. Research is defined in the Privacy Rule as, “a systematic investigation, including research development, testing, and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.” See 45 CFR 164.501.  A covered entity may use or disclose for research purposes health information that has been de-identified (in accordance with 45 CFR 164.502(d), and 164.514(a)-(c) of the Rule). 

In the course of conducting research, researchers may obtain, create, use, and/or disclose individually identifiable health information. Under the Privacy Rule, covered entities are permitted to use and disclose protected health information for research with individual authorization, or without individual authorization under limited circumstances set forth in the Privacy Rule, which include obtaining IRB approval. 

Relevant State Regulations

Iowa Code Chapter 232.2(5) Definition of Child.  "Child" means a person under eighteen years of age.

Iowa Code Chapter 599.1 Definition of Minority Age.  The period of minority extends to the age of eighteen years, but all minors attain their majority by marriage.  A person who is less than eighteen years old, but who is tried, convicted, and sentenced as an adult and committed to the custody of the director of the department of corrections shall be deemed to have attained the age of majority for purposes of making decisions and giving consent to medical care, related services, and treatment during the period of the person’s incarceration.

Iowa Code Chapter 235B.3: Dependent Adult Abuse.  This section lists the types of individuals who are mandated to report dependent adult abuse, primarily service professionals and police officers.  It also provides the option for others to make reports.  Dependent adult" is defined in §235B.2(4) as follows: "Dependent adult" means a person 18 years of age or older who is unable to protect the person's own interests or unable to adequately perform or obtain services necessary to meet essential human needs, as a result of a physical or mental condition which requires assistance from another, or as defined by departmental rule.

Iowa Code Chapter 232.69(1) Child Abuse Reporting. This section lists the individuals who are mandated to report child abuse within 24 hours, primarily service professionals, school employees, and police officers.  This section also refers to permissive reporters ("any other person (i.e., other than on the list) who believes that a child has been abused may make a report").  When it is possible that identification of a reportable abuse may occur in the research setting, investigators must include this information in the informed consent document. 

Iowa Code Chapter 147.111 Reporting Injuries. The general licensing provisions for a number of health care professions (see Iowa Code Chapter 147) require reporting a wound or "other serious injury" that is being treated by the person licensed under that chapter and that appears to have been received in connection with the commission of a criminal offense.

Iowa Code Chapter 139A.3 Reporting Diseases. This section requires health providers and laboratories to make a report to the local or state health department when they become aware of possible communicable and infectious diseases, and conditions.  The section also provides for immunity from prosecution for individuals who report, and for confidentiality of the identifiable data in the records.  Of note, in Iowa reportable conditions include cancer and birth defects with reporting to the State Health Registry located at UI.  When it is possible that identification of a reportable condition may occur in the research setting, investigators must include this information in the informed consent document. 

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Chapter 3.  IRB Scope and Authority

Regulatory Authority of the IRB

The requirements in this document apply equally to all research involving human participants conducted under the auspices of the University of Northern Iowa.  The conduct of research with human beings raises fundamental ethical and civil rights questions; thus, no distinctions in the monitoring of research are drawn between funded and non-funded research; between research conducted on or off campus or internationally; or between various kinds of individuals associated with the institution.  All UNI faculty members, staff, students and affiliated researchers who anticipate conducting research projects involving human participants are responsible for familiarizing themselves and complying with IRB requirements.

The IRB is formally designated by UNI to review and approve or disapprove the initiation and ongoing conduct of research involving human participants.  The primary purpose of this review is to assure the protection of the rights and welfare of human participants, although risks to the researcher and to nonparticipants may be considered as well.  The IRB also has the authority to disapprove a proposed research activity if in its judgment, appropriate and reasonable mechanisms are not in place for the protection of the participants and/or the potential benefits to the research do not outweigh the risks.  The IRB may request that the investigator modify proposed study procedures in order to receive approval. 

Review and approval of the IRB must be secured prior to the initiation of any aspect of the research involving individual human participants.  (See Chapter 10 for a discussion of acceptable methods for making initial contacts with research sites and potential participants.) 

Definition of UNI Affiliation

This policy applies to all research involving human participants, and all activities which even in part involve such research, regardless of sponsorship, if the research:

  • is sponsored by this institution, or
  • is conducted by or under the direction of University of Northern Iowa faculty, staff, or students in connection with the fulfillment of institutional responsibilities or academic requirements; or
  • is performed with or involves the use of University records, facilities or equipment belonging to the University.

Research Conducted in Foreign Countries

Research conducted in a foreign countries by a UNI-affiliated researcher must be reviewed by the IRB and adhere to University and federal guidelines. The standards for ethical conduct in research as well as considerations regarding cultural differences must be incorporated into the research design.

Performance Sites

The University is responsible for ensuring that all performance sites cooperating in the conduct of research to which the University’s Federal Wide Assurance applies does so only under an appropriate Federal assurance and/or satisfaction of UNI IRB requirements.

Research Involving More than One Institution

The University will ensure that all collaborating institutions (including subcontractors and subgrantees) engaged in the conduct of research involving human participants will have mechanisms to protect human subjects that are at least equivalent to those procedures provided for in the ethical principles to which this institution is committed.  Collaborating institutions are those engaged in human participants research by virtue of subject accrual, transfer of identifiable information, and/or in exchange of something of value, such as material support (e.g., money or identifiable materials), co-authorship, intellectual property, or credits. 

The University will comply with the requirements set forth in 45 CFR 46.114 regarding cooperative research projects.  When research covered by this institution’s Federal Wide Assurance (FWA) is conducted at or in cooperation with another entity, all provisions remain in effect for that research.

The UNI IRB may, at its discretion, enter into a joint review arrangement, rely upon the review of another qualified IRB that adheres to similar standards of human participant protections, or make similar arrangements for the purpose of meeting the IRB review requirements and avoiding duplication of effort.  These arrangements may be entered into on a case-by-case basis, if arrangement is needed for the review of a single research project.  Or, for ongoing cooperative research, a more formal arrangement may be entered into, such as a memorandum of understanding detailing the joint review mechanism(s).  Use of a single, consolidated informed consent form for such studies is strongly encouraged.  In addition, copies of all correlative protocols and consent documents required at collaborating institutions must be kept on file at the University of Northern Iowa.

Research Not Affiliated with UNI

When individuals from other institutions or organizations conduct research involving participants who are UNI students, staff, or faculty, the UNI IRB does not oversee that research unless the study is more than minimal risk.  In minimal risk research, external investigators are expected to seek the permission of the unit or administrative head that provides the closest oversight for the study sample (e.g., coach or department head), as appropriate, and notify the IRB of the intention to conduct the study.  If someone affiliated with the institution serves as a co-investigator, or otherwise performs study tasks (beyond simply forwarding or collecting anonymous study materials, or providing mailing lists), then the study must be reviewed at UNI as well. 

Research Begun Prior to Affiliation with UNI

When a faculty member, staff, or student comes to UNI with a research project already underway, the study must be reviewed by the UNI IRB prior to any further activities taking place on the project.  If all data collection is completed, and data analysis is the only activity still planned, then the review will be accomplished using the Application for Use of Existing Data.  If the only remaining activity is to write up the results of analysis already completed, then UNI IRB review is not necessary.

An exception to this general rule is that if the study was reviewed by an IRB at a prior institution and was found Exempt, the only requirement for transferring the study to UNI is that the Exempt approval/determination be provided to and accepted by the UNI IRB office.  In the event changes are subsequently needed in study procedures or other details, the investigator must request approval of the modifications from the IRB prior to implementing the changes (see Modifications). 

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Chapter 4.  Noncompliance

Non-compliance with IRB guidelines is a violation of UNI’s Federal Wide Assurance (FWA00002159) and federal regulations for the protection of human participants.  Any incident of serious or continuing non-compliance with IRB guidelines must be reported to the IRB Administrator or the Chair of the IRB immediately.  Incidents of non-compliance must be reported both to ensure the protection of the rights of human participants and to uphold UNI’s Assurance to the federal government. 


Non-compliance is defined as significant failure by an investigator to abide by Federal, State, or University regulations governing the protection of human participants in research, including the requirements or determinations of the IRB.

Serious Noncompliance. 

Serious non-compliance is defined as an action that potentially places participants at more than minimal risk and involves deliberate disregard for the regulations or the determinations of the IRB.  Examples may include, but are not limited to:

  • beginning or continuing more than minimal risk research without IRB approval;
  • serious misuse or non-use of approved consent forms;
  • failure to secure IRB approval before introducing changes in an on-going protocol, when those changes potentially constitute more than minimal risk to the participants;
  • not reporting Adverse Events or Unanticipated Problems consistent with UNI policy (see Chapter 16)

Continuing Noncompliance. In the event that an investigator engages in multiple occurrences of any level of noncompliance (serious or otherwise) and the IRB believes that the noncompliance involves deliberate disregard for IRB regulations, that will constitute Continuing noncompliance. 

Federal regulations require that instances of serious or continuing noncompliance be reported to the Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP).  Sponsors, administrators, and others may also be notified.  Noncompliance involving no or minimal risk to participants or first occurrences that are believed to be the result of ignorance or misinterpretation of the IRB regulations will not result in a report to OHRP, although other sanctions or requirements for education may be applied.  Examples include: 

  • not submitting Continuing Review/Project Closure form as a final report on the study;
  • failure to secure IRB approval before beginning research or introducing protocol changes, when those changes constitute minimal or no risk to the participants.

OHRP does not require reporting on Exempt projects, but the IRB may choose to do so, depending on the circumstances. 

Procedures for Monitoring and Addressing Noncompliance

All faculty, staff, students, and administrators are responsible for supporting the ethical conduct of research involving human participants at UNI.  This includes reporting possible noncompliance promptly to the IRB Chair or IRB Administrator so that it can be addressed, and educational and other corrective actions taken, if needed.  In addition, IRB members and staff monitor the research that goes on at UNI, including the day to day conduct of research as well as the reporting and dissemination of results.  If a question arises as to whether a particular project was reviewed by the IRB or whether particular procedures were approved, the IRB Administrator informally inquires about it, as necessary, and reports any unresolved questions to the Chair.  A letter or email describing the IRB’s concern is then prepared by the IRB Chair and/or IRB Administrator offering the investigator an opportunity to respond via email, in writing, at an informal conference, or at an IRB meeting, and specifying a time period within which the response must be provided.  If the investigator offers a timely and satisfactory explanation for the concern, the process will be terminated and the researcher will be notified in writing.  If the investigator offers an explanation that fails to satisfy the complaint, or if the investigator fails to respond within the specified time period, the IRB Chair, in consultation with the IRB Administrator, will make a determination of whether the action appears to have involved deliberate disregard or lack of knowledge/awareness and whether the noncompliance is Serious and/or Continuing.  Consideration will be given to the length of time the individual has been engaged in research, the extent and nature of previous involvement with the IRB, and any previous communications with the IRB.  If a consensus determination cannot be reached, the matter will be discussed and voted on by the full IRB.  All instances of noncompliance will be kept confidential, except when reporting within the University, OHRP, and/or sponsors is necessary. 

Possible Actions by the IRB

Federal regulations (45 CFR 46.113) provide the IRB with the authority to suspend or terminate approval of research that is not being conducted in accordance with IRB requirements.  Depending upon the nature and seriousness of the non-compliance activity, the IRB may take the following actions: 

  1. Require a response from the investigator with a plan for corrective actions
  2. Require the investigator to complete additional human participants protection training
  3. Initiate audits of the active protocols
  4. Require that research participants previously enrolled in the study be contacted and provided with additional information and/or re-consented
  5. Suspend or terminate the study
  6. Freeze sponsored research grant account
  7. Determine that data collected during non-compliance cannot be used for publication
  8. Require that data collected during non-compliance be destroyed
  9. Require that a statement be included with all publications or research reports indicating that the research was not approved by the IRB
  10. Report to the sponsor, university officials, and governmental agencies, (e.g., NIH, OHRP)
  11. Disqualify the investigator from conducting research involving human participants at the university.

As noted above, the IRB is required by Federal Regulations to report incidents of Serious or Continuing noncompliance to the Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP), and in some cases, to the research sponsor.  All UNI projects are covered by these reporting requirements, regardless of funding source.  Initial reports to OHRP will be made as soon as possible, and at least within 4 weeks of the IRB making a determination as to the nature of the concern.  

In the case of serious or continuing non-compliance, the IRB and the University will address the question of the investigator's qualifications to conduct human participant research. The IRB will also take remedial action, as necessary, regarding the welfare of the participants and the research data gathered in non-compliance. Further, the IRB may refer instances of Serious or Continuing non-compliance to the Department Chair, Dean, and Provost who may decide whether to impose disciplinary sanctions.  Non-compliance may also be referred to the UNI Research Integrity Officer if it involves potential violations of the institutional policy on research misconduct.  The distinction between remedial action taken by the IRB and disciplinary action taken by an administrator is: Remedial action is action that the IRB takes or may require on behalf of present or future human participants in research.  Disciplinary action, in this context, is a penalty imposed by administrators on an investigator for non-compliance with human subjects or related research regulations.

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Chapter 5.  Roles and Responsibilities


Most of the functional tasks, roles, and responsibilities of the various individuals and components of the IRB system are based on guidance from the Office of Human Research Protection (OHRP), as outlined in the OHRP Human Subject Assurance Training. 

Role of the Institution

Consistent with federal regulations, the University as an institution is responsible for providing administrative oversight, support, and sufficient resources to maintain an effective IRB system.  This includes at a minimum designating individuals to serve as Institutional Official and IRB Administrator, promoting an ethical research culture at the institution, and providing space and adequate staff support to the IRB to support its functions and maintain institutional compliance with regulations. 

The University must provide the necessary resources so that the IRB Chairperson(s), IRB members, investigators, and relevant administrative personnel have access to and complete appropriate initial and continuing education related to the protection of human participants before reviewing or conducting research. 

The University encourages and promotes constructive communication among research investigators, the IRB, and human participants as a means of maintaining a high level of awareness regarding the safeguarding of the rights and welfare of the participants.

As put forth in the federal regulations, to assure independence, and to avoid potential administrative influence, the IRB as a committee functions independently of the administrative authority of the institution.  However, the institution may and should exercise appropriate administrative oversight to ensure that the procedures being implemented for the protection of the rights and welfare of human participants and records are in compliance with the requirements of 45 CFR 46 and the IRB’s own policies and procedures.  The IRB’s role is to exercise independent judgment in the review of research; the institution’s role is to ensure that the IRB follows the rules and has the resources it needs to function.

Federal regulations do allow that the institution may disapprove or terminate a project that an IRB has approved.  However, the institution may not approve projects or procedures for individual projects that have been disapproved by the IRB. 

Role of the Institutional Official

The Institutional Official (IO) is the individual authorized to act for the institution and obligates the institution to the Terms of the Assurance.  Responsibilities include: 

  •  Designating one or more IRBs that will review research covered by the institution's FWA;
  •  Providing sufficient resources, space, and staff to support the IRB's functions;
  •  Making available training and educational opportunities for the IRB and investigators;  
  •  Setting the "tone" for an institutional culture of respect for human participants;
  •  Ensuring effective institution-wide communication and guidance on human participants research; 
  •  Ensuring that all staff engaged in the conduct or oversight of human participant research receive training in human participants research ethics; and
  •  Serving as a knowledgeable point of contact for OHRP, or delegating this responsibility to the IRB Administrator or other appropriate individual.

The Institutional Official makes appointments to the IRB, based on consultation with the IRB Chair, Administrator, and members.  The latter receive suggestions from the campus and recommend possible members, based on the regulatory requirements for certain qualities and types of members, and their understanding of the expertise available at the institution and in the community.  Based on those recommendations, the IO then makes appointments to the Board for varying terms.  The IO may also elect not to renew an appointment for a member that is not contributing effectively to IRB activities, or in unusual circumstances, to withdraw an appointment if an individual is not participating appropriately.  The Institutional Official may not appoint a member over a formal vote by the IRB objecting to the appointment.

Roles and Responsibilities of the IRB Administrator

The IRB Administrator is an individual designated by the Institutional Official to oversee and manage the IRB system and its operations, including working in collaboration with the Board in the development and maintenance of appropriate policy, procedures, processes, and records. 

Communication & Education Responsibilities

  •  Promoting communication among research administrators, department heads, investigators, human participants, and institutional officials to maintain a high level of awareness regarding the ethical conduct of research and to safeguard the rights and welfare of participants.
  •  Maintaining access to the institution's Assurance, copies of pertinent Federal regulations, policies, and guidelines related to the involvement of human participants in research, and institutional policies and procedures.
  •  Educating the members of its research community in order to establish and maintain a culture of compliance with Federal regulations and institutional policies relevant to the protection of human participants.

Record Keeping & Reporting Responsibilities

  •  Ensuring that IRB records are being maintained per federal regulations and that the records are accessible, upon request, to authorized federal officials.  The IRB Administrator shall oversee procedures for the retention of University IRB records and documents for at least three (3) years past completion of the research activity.
  •  Ensuring certification of IRB approval of research to the appropriate federal agency, as required.
  •  Ensuring that changes in approved research, during the period for which IRB approval has already been given, are not initiated without IRB review and approval, except when necessary to eliminate apparent, immediate hazards to the participant.
  •  Ensuring prompt reporting to the IRB of all proposed changes in a research activity.
  •  Ensuring the prompt reporting to the IRB, appropriate institutional officials, OHRP, and any sponsoring Federal department or agency head of:   a) any unanticipated problems involving risks to participants or others; b) any serious or continuing noncompliance with the regulations or requirements of the IRB, and c) any suspension or termination of IRB approval for research.

Monitoring & Oversight Responsibilities

  •  Ensuring that appropriate oversight mechanisms have been implemented to ensure compliance with the determinations of the IRB.
  •  Ensuring that all cooperating performance sites conducting research primarily under the direction of the institution have appropriate OHRP-approved assurances and provide certifications of IRB approval to the appropriate federal authorities.
  •  Ensuring that cooperative IRB review arrangements are documented in writing, in accordance with OHRP guidance.


Board (IRB) Responsibilities

  •  Reviewing proposed research at convened meetings at which a majority of the members are present, including at least one member whose primary concerns are in non-scientific areas, except when exemption or expedited review procedures are applicable.  In order for the research to be approved, it must receive the approval of a majority of those members present at the meeting.
  •  Reviewing, approving, requiring modifications in (to secure approval), or disapproving all research activities, including changes in previously approved human participants research.
  •  Requiring that information given to participants as part of the informed consent process is in accordance with 45 CFR 46.116. The IRB may require that information, in addition to those required elements specified in 45 CFR 46.116(a), be given to participants when in the IRB’s judgment the information would meaningfully add to the protection of the rights and welfare of the participants.
  •  Requiring documentation of informed consent or waiving documentation in accordance with 45 CFR 46.117.
  •  Notifying investigators in writing (via email or letter) through the IRB Administrator, of its decision to approve or disapprove the proposed research activity, or of modifications required to secure IRB approval of research activity.  If the IRB formally disapproves a research activity, it will include in its written notification a statement of the reasons for its decision and give the investigator an opportunity to respond in person or in writing.
  •  Certifying IRB review and approval for all Federally-sponsored research involving human participants that will be submitted by the IRB Administrator to the appropriate Federal department or agency, as required.  Compliance will occur within the time and manner prescribed for forwarding certifications or IRB review to DHHS or other Federal department or agency.
  •  As its discretion, inviting individuals with competence in special areas to assist in the review of issues that require expertise beyond, or in addition to, that available on the IRB.

IRB Member Responsibilities 

  •  Being familiar with the requirements of the Federal regulations, applicable state laws, the University’s Assurance, and institutional policies and procedures for the protection of human participants.
  •  Having effective knowledge of subject populations and other factors involved in determinations of risks and benefits to participants as well as informed consent.
  •  Being able to judge the adequacy and accuracy of information in the informed consent document, recruitment, advertising, and any other materials to be presented to participants.
  •  Having the professional competence necessary to review the specific research activities presented for approval.
  •  Preparing for and actively participating in the review processes in full board meetings as well as participating in expedited and exempt reviews as assigned.
  • Promoting positive communication and awareness on campus of the role of the IRB and ethical research principles in regard to human participant research.

IRB Chair Responsibilities 

The Chair of the IRB is designated by the Institutional Official, based on the recommendations of the IRB members and the IRB Administrator.  The Chair’s responsibilities include all of those listed for IRB members in general, and in addition, include:

  • Maintaining an in-depth knowledge of the regulations and regulatory guidance, and expertise in the review of human participants research.
  • Providing leadership and oversight, in partnership with the IRB Administrator, for the policies, procedures, practices, and functioning of the IRB and human participants research at the institution.
  • Designing and leading training for IRB members, and supporting orientation for new members.
  • Providing campus training and educational events coordinated by the IRB office for faculty, staff, and students.
  • Facilitating Board meetings and serving as the lead reviewer for full board reviews;
  • Serving as the lead reviewer for Expedited and Exempt reviews, in concert with the distributed review process involving other members of the IRB.
  • Appointing the individuals designated to serve in special roles, including for Continuing Review, Survey Reviews, and Reviews of Existing Data.  The Continuing Review appointment must be in writing and on file in the IRB office. 

Please refer to Chapter 6 for additional information on IRB composition and member qualifications. 


Investigator Responsibilities

All members of the UNI community are responsible for promoting good ethics in research.  Principal investigators are responsible for overseeing and maintaining ethical procedures in all projects under their purview. 

Researchers contemplating research involving human participants are required to submit an application to the IRB for review and approval before initiating each project. This requirement encompasses a variety of research activities that can range from the simple use of surveys or interview procedures to more complex activities such as treatment interventions. All research must be conducted in accordance with the following documents.

The Belmont Report. This report is a summary of the basic ethical principles identified by the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research.

Federalwide Assurance - FWA00002159. This contract between UNI and the Office of Human Research Protection (OHRP) of the Department of Health and Human Services assures that Investigators conducting human participant research at UNI will follow the ethical principles outlined in the Belmont report.

The Code of Federal Regulations for the Protection of Human Subjects, Title 45, Part 46, and Title 21 CFR Part 50 and Title 21 CFR Part 56. These are federal regulations that describe general standards for the composition, operation, and responsibility of an Institutional Review Board.  Compliance with these regulations is intended to protect the rights and welfare of human participants involved in research projects.

UNI IRB Policies and Procedures – This document outlines all of the requirements for human participants research at UNI, and is largely, although not exclusively, based on the three documents above. 

Faculty Advisor Responsibilities

Faculty Advisors are jointly responsible with student investigators for the conduct of student research projects.  This responsibility includes assisting students in becoming familiar with ethical principles and IRB rules and processes.  Advisors are expected to assist students in the design of their protocols, carefully review their applications for IRB review to ensure they are complete and appropriate, and help the student resolve any questions or concerns that arise during the review.  Subsequently, they are responsible for ensuring that the student complies with ethical principles and IRB requirements throughout the study.  This includes monitoring to ensure that the student submits modification requests to the IRB prior to initiating changes as well as the timely submission of renewal and/or closure forms.  Advisors are encouraged to instruct their students to submit a closure form for each completed study before they leave campus.   

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Chapter 6.  IRB Composition & Meetings


Compositional Requirements

The University has established its IRB in accordance with the compositional requirements of 45 CFR 46.107.  These regulations require that an IRB:

Must be comprised of at least 5 members from diverse backgrounds to promote complete and adequate review of research activities commonly conducted at the University;

Must be sufficiently qualified through the experience and expertise of its members, and the diversity of its members, including consideration of race, gender, and cultural backgrounds and sensitivity to such issues as community attitudes and issues related to vulnerable populations, to promote respect for its advice and counsel safeguarding the rights and welfare of human participants;

Must be able to ascertain the acceptability of proposed research in terms of institutional commitments and regulations, applicable law, and standards of professional conduct and practice and shall, therefore, include persons knowledgeable in these areas; and

Must include qualified persons of both genders so long as no selection is made on the basis of gender.

In addition:

At least one member must be someone whose primary concerns are in a non-scientific area and at least one member whose primary concerns are in a scientific area;

At least one member must be not otherwise affiliated with the University and who is not part of the immediate family of a person who is affiliated with the University;

Members may not participate in the IRB’s initial or continuing review of any project in which the member has a conflicting interest, except to provide information requested by the IRB;

The IRB may, at its discretion, invite individuals with competence in special areas to assist in the review of issues that require expertise beyond or in addition to that available on the IRB. These individuals may not vote; and

Studies that are more than minimal risk and propose to involve youth or adults confined or at risk for confinement in the correctional or involuntary mental health system may only be reviewed when a member designated as a “prisoner advocate” is present and eligible to vote.

A current membership roster for the UNI IRB is posted online.

Alternate Members

Individuals who are appointed to the IRB as alternates may not contribute to the quorum or vote on applications under review at a given IRB meeting unless s/he is replacing a regular member.  A nonscientist regular member can only be replaced by another nonscientist (because one must always be part of the quorum). 

Appointments to the IRB

The Institutional Official (IO), in consultation with the IRB Chair and IRB Administrator, makes formal appointments of full-time UNI faculty, staff, and community members to the IRB for terms not more than 3 years in length. Terms are renewable.

The Institutional Official, with input from the IRB Administrator and IRB members, appoints the Chair of the IRB for a 3-year renewable term.

Special roles that may be established by the IRB, such as Continuing Reviewer, Survey Reviewer, and/or Advocate for Children with Special Needs, are assigned by the IRB Chair, in consultation with the IRB Administrator.  The Continuing Reviewer role will be documented in writing, as required by regulation. 

Member Files and Qualifications

The names and affiliations of all regular and alternate members of the IRB shall be on file with the U.S. Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP), in accordance with the requirements of the University/PHS Federal Wide Assurance, and in the IRB Office in East Bartlett Hall.  All changes in IRB membership are reported to OHRP as appropriate.

Member files include: 1) a letter of appointment showing the specific term of appointment, 2) curriculum vitae, and 3) documentation of human protections training. 

The following are some of the characteristics that are given consideration in identifying and recruiting new Board members and renewing appointments of existing members. 

  1. Commitment to regular monthly meeting attendance
  2. Availability of at least 8-10 hours/month for monthly meetings, training in protocol review and regulations, and protocol reviews as appropriate
  3. Interest and willingness to learn regulations and guidelines
  4. Experience in research involving human participants and oversight of student research
  5. Recognition of the value in and need for institutional oversight and support of research
  6. Interest in ethics and ethical decision-making in research
  7. Cross-campus representation and membership diversity 

Meeting Minutes

Minutes are taken at each IRB Committee review meeting.  Minutes include a list of all studies that were voted on at the meeting, and include separate deliberations, actions, and votes for each protocol undergoing initial or continuing review by the convened IRB.  The vote on all IRB actions include the number of persons voting for, against, and abstaining, in order to document the continued existence of a quorum.  The minutes include the documentation of risk as well as the names of any members not participating in the review due to actual or perceived conflicts of interest.  The minutes also include documentation of all expedited and exempt applications that were reviewed since the last meeting, and their current status (e.g., approved, pending).

Meeting Schedule

The UNI IRB meets monthly on the 2nd Thursday of the month in East Bartlett Hall.  The agenda includes approval of minutes, announcements, review of protocol applications requiring full board review, review of any expedited, exempt, or continuing protocols that members believe need full board discussion, education/training activities for Board members, special topic discussions, and IRB operational business.  If no protocols are pending review by the full IRB and no other pressing business is on the agenda, the Chair and IRB Administrator may elect to cancel a meeting.  Special meetings may also be called as needed to attend to urgent matters. 

Investigator and Visitor Attendance

Protocol reviews are considered confidential, but visitors who wish to address the Board or discuss a particular issue should notify the IRB Administrator of their desire and request to be placed on the agenda for a specific time.  Investigators with applications under review by the Board are very welcome and encouraged to attend their portion of the meeting.  They should likewise inform the IRB Administrator of their intention to attend the meeting.  Attendance by the PI often moves the review along more quickly and increases the likelihood that the protocol can be approved following minor adjustments (rather than needing to be taken up again at the next monthly meeting).  Investigators or visitors arriving to participate in a discussion of their application or issue should be seated in the reception area and wait to be called into the meeting at the appropriate time.  In the event that the PI chooses not to attend, the IRB member facilitating that review (typically the Chair) will send an email to the PI following the meeting, outlining the discussion and any requests made by the IRB for edits or procedural adjustments.


A quorum is required in order to take formal action on a given application in a convened IRB meeting (voting to approve or disapprove).  Quorum is comprised of a simple majority of members eligible to participate in that particular review.  All regular members count towards the quorum unless they have a conflict of interest with a particular application, in which case they are requested to leave the room during final discussions and voting.  If there is no regular nonscientist present and eligible to participate, an alternate nonscientist may be considered in the quorum count.  Similarly, scientist alternates may substitute for scientist regular members.  If the study requires the presence of a prisoner advocate, the individual designated to serve in that capacity will be counted in the quorum, whether s/he is a regular or alternate member.

Timing of Submissions

A meeting schedule is posted for the convenience of the campus which shows the IRB meeting dates, along with the dates by which a protocol should be submitted to the IRB office in order to leave sufficient time for IRB members to consider it before the meeting date.  Minimal risk protocols may be submitted at any time during the month. 

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