The Case for Human Subjects in Research and Teaching

Research on Humans

Research on human subjects is essential for developing new tests, treatments, and processes that save untold lives and reduce human suffering. For cases in which alternatives such as cell cultures, computer models, or research involving animals are insufficient, ethical and properly controlled studies with human subjects may shed light on important questions about normal physiology, mechanisms of disease, learning, behavior, or the effectiveness of treatments. Many participants consent to take part in research studies because they hope their participation may benefit society.

What Is Involved in Human Subject Research?

Most of the research employing human participants at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is non-invasive in nature. For example, some studies focus on investigating attitudes or beliefs while others aim to develop interventions or treatments to improve human health and well-being. Methods of data collection include surveys, interviews, focus groups, behavioral observations, and analysis of data that was previously collected for non-research purposes. Some research studies consist of behavioral tasks that involve problem-solving, performing exercise, or responding to visual or auditory stimuli. Researchers at UMass Amherst also conduct biomedical research that may include analysis of biospecimens or use of imaging techniques such as MRI. Typically, riskier invasive studies have been relatively rare on our campus. When high-risk studies are proposed, federal regulations mandate review and approval by the entire convened Institutional Review Board (IRB).

Ethical Considerations of Human Subject Research

Research involving human subjects at UMass Amherst is conducted with the utmost respect for research ethics and the rights and welfare of the participants. Participants in research studies at UMass have the right to be fully informed about the purpose of the research study, what the study entails, and any risks or expected benefits of the research prior to their participation. Research participation must be voluntary and as such, participants have the right to withdraw from a study at any time without penalty. Participants are informed about their rights via the informed consent process.

Rules and Regulations

Due to the valued findings that research with human subjects can provide, it is of the utmost importance that researchers and participants alike are knowledgeable about the rules and regulations involved in the research process. All research involving human subjects is overseen by the Institutional Review Board (IRB), a federally required committee responsible for ensuring that human research participants are not mistreated and that their rights are protected. The UMass Amherst IRB consists of 15 members from various disciplines and backgrounds, including a community member, a non-scientific member, two physicians, and several faculty members from a range of academic backgrounds.

For more information on human subjects research, protocols, and oversight, please visit the Human Subjects FAQ.