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Saturday, May 25, 2013
We often hear the phrase "meet the team" before the start of a sports season. Here, we invite you to meet the research team. Research involves a lot of people who have different roles; much like a sports team has different coaches, players, referees and fans. Both on a sports team and in research each person plays a vital role and like a game, research can only be done with the all team members.
Let's start with the head coach. The Principal Investigator (PI) is like the head coach because he or she is an expert in the topic. They are most responsible for planning the research study and the work of the rest of the team. The head coach, researcher/PI has to follow a play book. This play book is called a "protocol". A protocol is a guide researchers must follow during the research study. Like sports, the guide must be in line with the rules of the game. The research study can only begin after the "protocol" has been reviewed by the IRB. The IRB tells the researcher/PI the rules that must be used before the study starts. Following the rules helps keep the volunteer safe during the study.
The research staff is like the assistant coaches. Why? Because the research staff handles most of the day-to-day activities and works closely with the head coach. The research staff is there for you when you or your family and friends have questions about the research study. You can call them if you have any questions or concerns about the study! Just as coaches and assistant coaches must complete special training before they are allowed to coach a game, the PI and research staff must also complete special training to ensure that they understand the rules of research.
Research volunteers are the MOST important members on the research team. Like a game can only be played with players, research can only be done with volunteers. Research studies need all kinds of people to volunteer. (In the same way that you don?t have a team without the players, researchers cannot learn about what works and what doesn?t without volunteers). For example, for a long time heart disease was thought to be a "man?s disease" and was only studied in men. Because women were not studied, little was known about the symptoms of heart attacks in women or what treatments were effective. Now we know women get heart disease, too, and their symptoms are often different from those that men have.
Research studies need volunteers of all ages, genders, races, and ethnicities. Volunteers can be tall or short, rich or poor, and thin or heavy. They are not always people with an illness. Healthy people can also volunteer to take part in research.
Volunteers from each of these groups are important for different reasons. For example, children volunteers are needed to learn more about childhood diseases such as childhood asthma. Elderly volunteers help researchers learn about concerns and conditions that effect only older people. Volunteers of different races and ethnicities are important to learn more about diseases that are more common among them and because some treatments work differently for different groups of people. For example, type-2 diabetes and asthma are more common in African Americans and Hispanics.
This is why it is so important that people of all ages, genders, races and ethnic groups take part in research studies. It is the only way that researchers can find treatments for all people and that researchers can know the different ways different people respond to different treatments.
Family, friends and personal support
Much like a sports team has fans to observe the game and cheer the team to victory, your family, friends and personal support are people you can talk with about taking part in the study. You may share with them what the study is about. They may have questions about the study. They may also help support you during the study. The final decision though, is yours, as to whether you will take part or not.
Like a sports team, the referees are the people that protect your safety. In research, there are national rule makers or regulators, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); local, Institutional Review Board (IRB); and institutional, research subject advocates (RSAs). The research rule makers:
Referees help teams follow certain rules. In sports these rules protect the safety of the players and depend on the game. In research, rules also protect the safety of volunteers and are different depending on the type of research.
At the national level, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has an official guide or set of rules that all researchers must follow. These rules are also called the "Common Rules." This means that these rules apply to or are "common" to all studies that involve humans.
Locally, IRBs help researchers follow those rules. IRB is a complex term. The B stands of BOARD. This means that it is a group of people that looks at the research study. R is for REVIEW, meaning that the study is checked closely to see that rules are followed. The I stands for INSTITUTIONAL, meaning that the study follows rules that apply to wherever the research will be done. Research goes on at hospitals, colleges, and other places, and the IRB is the local group that helps to keep volunteers safe by overseeing study activities at these locations.
There are other local referees whose job is to support volunteers more directly. These people are often called "participant advocates" or sometimes "research subject advocates." They are the insiders who can help you while you are in the study. They are there to support you. You can contact them at any time. If you have questions or need help with some aspect of your taking part.
This article is a NetWellness exclusive.
Last Reviewed: May 15, 2011
Nicole M Deming, JD, MA
Assistant Professor of Bioethics
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University
Mary Ellen Lawless, MA, RN
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University