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UCLan to lead multi-million Euro project to set global research ethical standard

27 July 2015

Lyndsey Boardman

Three-year study will address the exploitation of low and middle income country participants for research purposes

Pic: Doris Schroeder with San leaders (from left to right) Andries Steenkamp, Jan Pietersen, Petrus Vaalbooi, South Africa

The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) will lead on an international €2.66 million Euro funded project to set a global ethical standard for research.

The EU Horizon 2020 Project, led by Professor Doris Schroeder from the UCLan Centre for Professional Ethics, will allow researchers and policy makers from around the world to work together to counteract the practice of “ethics dumping” or the application of double standards in research.

The TRUST Project study will look at ethics dumping; the purposeful exploitation of low and middle income country participants for research purposes, and ways to address this. For example ensuring DNA taken from indigenous people and used for research can be handled in an ethical manner; considering what benefits can be shared and addressing issues such as coercion and undue influence.

It will also address exploitation based on insufficient ethical awareness when researchers may not even realise that their methods of obtaining data is possibly exploiting vulnerable parties. Such risks can be person, institution or community based. Other examples include looking at how non‐medical research should be governed, for instance food research involving human participants, and setting guidelines to address cultural differences such as differing views on animal welfare.

“The goal of the TRUST Project is to catalyse a global collaborative effort to improve adherence to high ethical standards in research around the world.”

Professor Schroeder commented: “Achieving equity in international research is one of the pressing concerns of the 21st century. Many international groups and organisations are working on governance frameworks and standards to guide research activities after progressive globalisation. However, their efforts are disparate and lacking a guiding vision. The goal of the TRUST Project is to catalyse a global collaborative effort to improve adherence to high ethical standards in research around the world.”

The three-year project will bring together thirteen multi‐level ethics bodies, policy advisors, civil society organisations, funding organisations, industry and academic scholars from a range of disciplines. This includes UNESCO, the research arm of the French Health Ministry and two Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) which represent the San people of South Africa* and sex workers in Nairobi**, both of which have come under the spotlight due to the potential for exploitation in research.

By September 2018 the TRUST Project will have agreed a global code of conduct for ethical research in low and middle income countries; developed an on-line tool for vulnerable populations involved in research with no access to legal advice and created a compliance and follow-up tool for research funders.