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UBC Reports | Vol. 52 | No. 8 | Aug. 3, 2006

Ethical Issues at the Heart of Research

By Hilary Thomson

Complex, controversial and sometimes confusing -- the realm of research ethics can be daunting for aspiring researchers.

That’s why the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences has proposed, and hopes to have approved by 2007, a graduate course in Scholarly Integrity and Research Ethics.

“Our graduate students come from educational backgrounds that range from science and medicine to engineering and economics,” says Helen Burt, the Faculty’s Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies. “We want to make sure they have consistent, comprehensive and practical information about scholarly integrity and ethical issues they are likely to encounter as researchers.”

The proposed mandatory course is unique in Canada because it is customized for graduate students in pharmaceutical sciences and deals with a broad range of ethical issues, says Burt.

Material will include principles of personal and professional ethics to help students recognize and analyze ethical dilemmas in a broad range of research situations. Proposed topics include: intellectual property; ethical use of animals; issues relating to human genetic and clinical research; role and authority of clinical research ethics boards; and relationships between researchers and society in areas such as academic freedom and conflict of interest.

“Ethical issues hit the heart of my research,” says 27-year-old Chiming Yang, a doctoral student exploring how to deliver stem cells into the body for bone regeneration. “This course will help grad students understand their responsibilities as researchers – now we rely on informal methods such as word-of-mouth or what is described in academic journals.”

Determining an ethical source of stem cells will be a key issue for him, Yang says. There are many ethical barriers for using human embryonic stem cells, but other sources such as bone marrow are very limited, he says.

Important elements will include instruction and practice in conflict resolution, using case studies and panel discussions on specific topics.

Instructors will be selected following approval of the course, and may be drawn from areas such as the University Industry Liaison Office, the Dept. of Philosophy in the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Law.

A version of the proposed course may be offered as an optional workshop in January 2007.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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