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Home No. 24: Should IACUC Members Recuse Themselves from Reviews Involving PIs With Whom They Have a Dispute?

Sep 20

No. 24: Should IACUC Members Recuse Themselves from Reviews Involving PIs With Whom They Have a Dispute?

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Should IACUC members recuse themselves from reviews involving PIs with whom they have a dispute?

Reader Question: An Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) member and I recently clashed over a personal matter after a faculty meeting. Now it appears to me that the IACUC member is unreasonably blocking my protocol. Can I demand that this member recuse himself from reviewing my proposal? Is there some threshold for recusal?

Expert comments: I am not aware of any IACUC that has a specific threshold for recusal in this situation. Regulations from the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) clearly state that if an IACUC member has either a financial interest or scholarly interest that represents a potential conflict of interest, they must recuse themselves from reviewing the protocol.

In this instance involving a personal matter, one would hope the member would recuse himself voluntarily. But there wouldn't be anything beyond the more formal (scholarly) involvement in the protocol or financial involvement with the program that would require him to step aside. We have not encountered this kind of situation in my experience as an IACUC coordinator.

There are certainly times when egos get in the way, but that's why you have a committee. It is highly unlikely that one individual could block the approval of a protocol. If the majority of the committee vote in favor, the protocol could still be approved with a minority opinion.

Some options to consider:

  1. See if the IACUC chair will help. Make an appointment and discuss your concerns. The chair may make inquiries and, if it's clear the protocol is being held up for personal reasons, he or she could ask the member to recuse himself or herself.
  2. If the member doesn't step aside, ask the department chair if you can get a fair hearing with the other members — enough to get your protocol approved. Potential downside: This may create more lasting hard feelings with the member.
  3. Talk to the IACUC chair and see if there's a way to resolve the conflict between you and the committee member. Sometimes the answer is to resolve the underlying problem first, and the chair may be willing and capable of mediating. You know your situation best: It may not be the IACUC chair you reach out to as mediator; it could be a mutual friend, fellow colleague, administrator, or another IACUC member.

Expert comments: Bill Moseley, Research Integrity & Compliance Review Officer and IACUC Senior Coordinator, Colorado State University.

Editor's note: A more detailed article on handling personal conflicts of interest between PIs and IACUC members is coming in the September issue of Laboratory Animal Welfare Compliance.

Additional Comments: We do have IACUC members who voluntarily recuse themselves from a vote. If there's a conflict of interest of almost any kind, a board member usually will recuse himself or herself voluntarily.

When a principal investigator is also a member of the IACUC, we ask them to leave the room when their protocol comes up on the agenda, and they return after the vote is taken.

Expert Comments by an anonymous Certified Professional IACUC Administrator (CPIA) from a midwestern research university.

Like this article? Get more in your FREE issue of Laboratory Animal Welfare Compliance.

Comments (3)
Professor Emeritus (Law & Technology)
written by Vince, September 23, 2010
That is an extremely narrow and dysfunctional view of conflict of interest. A review panel is essentially judging a matter. Judeges are held to the highest standards of avoiding even the appearance of impropriety e.g. from the canons

1) A judge should disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to instances where:

(a) the judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party
written by Neuroscientist, September 23, 2010
This is an area where the chair of the IACUC can be very helpful. With some applications, there may be a serious disagreement that a member of the committee considers an ethical issue. Similar to a member's role on an IRB, the member MUST act in what he/she perceives is the best interest of protection of human subjects (IRB) or animal subjects (IACUC). The fact that he/she disagrees with the PI and has a significant difference of opinion does not necessarily mean that the IACUC member should step aside from the responsibility of making a judgment. If there is a serious enough concern, the chair should see that the entire committee has the opportunity to hear both sides, and then render a judgment. If the disagreement appears to be personal or petty, rather than substantive, that is a reflection on the committee member and an issue that the chair needs to address with the committee member.
Personal bias by IACUC members.
written by Robert Hurst, September 23, 2010
I think it is very naive to believe that one member cannot prevent approval. Committees tend to honor working smoothly together, and I can almost guarantee that an objection could be found against almost any and every proposal. Therefore the member with the personal issue could find something minor and magnify its significance. Other members would be unlikely to challenge this, in my opinion, particularly lif the opinion is presented strongly.

Having said the above, it also is easy to blame a personal problem when there is a substantial and legitimate question raised, particularly if it is not easily handled. A careful examination, an independent opinion, and maybe a chat with the Chair might be in order.

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