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* Institutional Review Board Oversees Compliance Issues
Institutional Review Board Oversees Compliance Issues

Pop quiz: A first-year student wants to survey his classmates on their online spending habits for a term paper. Are there any regulations that govern such surveys?

The answer is yes. The survey might be asking for names, ethnographic information, or other personal data that must be properly collected, used, and disposed of. This is just one example of the broad array of issues students, faculty, and staff need to consider when conducting research.

To assure that surveys like this meet regulations for responsible and ethical use, students and others working with human subjects in their research projects must receive permission from the Rensselaer Institutional Review Board, overseen by the Office of Research. The Office of Research oversees four compliance committees to ensure that Rensselaer meets federal and state mandates for the responsible and ethical conduct of research.

The Institutional Review Board (IRB) reviews and approves protocols involving the use of human subjects in research projects. The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) reviews and approves the use of vertebrate animals in research and teaching. The Institutional Biosafety Committee oversees and approves all research and teaching activities involving recombinant DNA, toxins, viruses and human cells. And the Institutional Stem Cell Research Oversight Committee oversees and approves research projects involving human embryonic, pluripotent, or adult stem cells.

Before a research project involving humans, animals, recombinant DNA molecules, or stem cells can be performed — on campus or off — it must be reviewed and approved by the appropriate committee, said Wolf von Maltzahn, associate vice president for research. The protocol submission and review process may take several weeks or months. The committee membership includes Rensselaer faculty, professionals in medicine, ethics or veterinary practice, as needed, and non-scientist community members.

“Every institution that receives federal or state funds for research projects involving humans, animals, or biohazards must ensure that such research is done in a responsible and ethical way and complies with prevailing laws and regulations,” von Maltzahn said. “However, we as an institution have decided that these oversight activities should not only be applied to affected federal or state projects, but to all research projects carried out on campus.”

Responsible research begins in the lab, von Maltzahn said, with individual mentoring and good habits, departmental workshops and seminars, and outside or online training — such as training available through Rensselaer’s affiliation with the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative ( The Office of Research supports these efforts and is in the process of hiring a full-time compliance manager to coordinate a campuswide compliance program and to oversee these four committees.

“It’s not just training and compliance; it’s creating a culture of undergraduate/graduate research on campus that nurtures academic honesty and the responsible and ethical conduct of research. Most professors know this,” von Maltzahn said.

If your proposed research or teaching involves any of the following areas, contact the relevant committee chair(s) to determine if review and approval are required before the work is initiated. Information about each committee can be accessed via a link on the Office of Research website.

  • If your research involves the use of vertebrate animals, contact the Rensselaer Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee (IACUC) at or review the IACUC website at Chair: Glenn Monastersky.
  • If your research involves protocols that use human subjects, contact the Rensselaer Institutional Review Board (IRB) at or review the IRB website at Chair: Michael Kalsher.
  • If your research involves the purchase, acquisition, generation or use of human embryonic stem cells or gametes, contact the Rensselaer Institutional Stem Cell Research Oversight Committee (ISCRO) at or review the ISCRO website at Chair: Janet Paluh.
  • • If your research involves the use of recombinant DNA, recombinant RNA, human cells, bacteria, viruses or viral vectors, select agents or other pathogenic organisms, or toxins, contact the Rensselaer Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) at or review the IBC website at Chair: Glenn Monastersky.
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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 4, Number 16, October 22, 2010
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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