What is an Institutional Review Board?

What is an Institutional Review Board (IRB)?

An IRB is a federally required committee that is responsible for overseeing research involving human participants. The IRB is responsible for ensuring that human research participants are not mistreated and that their rights are protected. Our IRB consists of 15 members from various disciplines and backgrounds. The IRB consists of a community member, a non-scientific member, two physicians, and several faculty members from a range of academic backgrounds. We hope that the diverse makeup of our IRB will help provide a fair and thoughtful review of research and its social implications, not just institutional, legal, and scientific concerns. Our IRB is guided by the Belmont Report: Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects Researchfederal regulations, and institutional policies. Research is reviewed by one of three types of review depending on the nature of the study (See Types of Review).

Why is an IRB Necessary?

In the not-so-distant past, the burden of research lay heavily on vulnerable populations such as children, prisoners, the economically disadvantaged, the elderly, those with cognitive impairments, and minority groups. History is filled with examples of individuals and groups targeted for cruel and unethical research and experimentation. Unethical human experimentation such as that conducted during World War II and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study resulted in the creation of regulatory and ethical safeguards designed to protect the rights and dignity of participants in clinical trials and research studies. IRBs were the ultimate result and are in place to ensure research is conducted ethically and in accordance with federal regulations. IRBs serve as an objective third party, an oversight committee, governed by federal regulations to protect participants and manage risk to those involved in research. 

If you have any other questions, please contact humansubjects@ora.umass.edu.