U of M hosting national conference to debate research on humans

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The testing of psychiatric drugs on humans has been a hot-button topic at the University of Minnesota this year, and it will stay that way right into December.

The U of M is hosting a conference next week called "Research with Human Participants: The National Debate." The Dec. 2 event at Coffman Theater will include researchers, policymakers, bioethicists, and patient advocates from around the country, the university says. It released the agenda and biographies of the speakers Monday.

Markingson case spawned criticism

Research on humans has been a turbulent topic at the U of M this year largely because of a 2004 incident that's been scrutinized in recent months.

The suicide of Dan Markingson that year, while he was enrolled in the clinical trial of an anti-psychotic drug, was the subject of two reports this spring that criticized the university for ethical lapses.

After the second report, which came from Minnesota's legislative auditor, the university suspended enrollment in psychiatric drug trials while it worked on improving protection of the people who took part in them.

The critics slamming the U of M included one of its own professors, bioethicist Carl Elliot, who argued in a New York Times article and opinion piece that the money available from the private companies that fund many drug trials creates incentives for researchers to take unethical steps – such as pressuring vulnerable people to enroll in studies and keeping patients in those studies even when they're not doing well.

Elliot argued U of M administrators had been more focused on covering up ethical breaches than on dealing with them. He will be among the speakers at next week's conference.

Changes in the works

U of M President Eric Kaler promised in April that the university would help lead change in the field of research involving human subjects.

The U of M's office of the Vice President of Research, which put together the Dec. 2 conference, oversees the Human Research Protection Program.

This summer the university's Board of Regents approved stricter rules aimed at doing more to protect patients and improve accountability and transparency.

Susan Wolf, who chaired the planning committee for next week's event, told the Minnesota Daily the conference will focus on gray areas regarding the consent of mental health patients, economic conflicts of interest, research involving vulnerable groups, and the community's role in the research process.

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