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Lesson 3: What are IRBs?


Please note: This lesson will take approximately 45 minutes to complete. Use the next and previous buttons to advance through the course. You will be able to print a completion certificate for your records at the end of this training. OHRP does not collect information about who accesses it.

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Purpose of this Lesson

This lesson will explain the purpose and membership requirements of Institutional Review Boards, or IRBs. This lesson focuses on the Revised Common Rule (or 2018 Requirements) that became effective in 2018.

Lesson Overview

This lesson contains four parts:

  • Part 1: Institutional Review Boards
  • Part 2: Human Research Protection Programs
  • Part 3: Single IRBs

You will answer quiz questions throughout each part to test your knowledge. A correct response is required to advance in the lesson.

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, you will be able to:

  1. Identify the purpose of IRBs.
  2. Describe the membership requirements of IRBs.
  3. Identify the role of human research protection program (HRPP) offices.
  4. Describe the importance of relying on single IRBs to approve research.

Part 1: Institutional Review Boards

Go to Section: Purpose of IRBs > Quiz Question > IRB Membership > Quiz Questions

Purpose of IRBs

Staff discussing in a meeting

Institutional Review Boards, or IRBs, review research studies to ensure that they comply with applicable regulations, meet commonly accepted ethical standards, follow institutional policies, and adequately protect research participants.

Some people may also call IRBs Independent Review Boards or refer to them as Ethics Review Committees.

IRB reviews help to ensure that research participants are protected from research-related risks and treated ethically, a necessary prerequisite for maintaining the public’s trust in the research enterprise and allowing science to advance for the common good.

Question 1

What are some important reasons for having IRBs?

IRB Membership

IRBs are made up of a diverse group of members.

Hospital staff in a meeting

The Common Rule requires at least five members with varying backgrounds on the IRB, so that research is reviewed from a collection of different perspectives.

At a minimum, members must include someone who provides the perspective of a scientist, someone who provides the perspective of a nonscientist, and someone who is not affiliated with the research institution.

The IRB, as a group, must be sufficiently qualified through the experience, expertise, and diversity of its members to be able to review the research activities commonly conducted by the institution. Relevant considerations may include training and education, race, gender, cultural background, and sensitivity to community attitudes.

Video: Membership Requirements for Institutional Review Boards (13:01)

Watch this video to learn about the specific membership requirements for IRBs.

Question 2

Under the Common Rule, what is the minimum number of members required for an IRB??

Question 3

The Common Rule requires that an IRB must have which of the following types of members? (Select all that apply)?

Question 4

Only people with a graduate degree can serve as an IRB member. True or False?

Part 2: Human Research Protection Programs

Go to Section: What are HRPPs? > Institutional Policies > Quiz Questions

What are HRPPs?

2 people discussing in front of a computer

Research institutions with sizeable human research portfolios often have a human research protection program (HRPP) office, part of whose job is to coordinate the administrative work needed to support their research studies, including IRB review.

IRB administrators working in HRPPs support the work of the IRBs. They may also serve as IRB members if they meet the requirements for membership. In addition, administrators provide a valuable resource for researchers involved in human subjects research because of their familiarity with relevant regulations and knowledge of institutional policies. Experienced IRB administrators often provide researchers with meaningful advice on how to better protect research participants in their studies.

Institutional Policies

Close-up of hands holding paper

Many institutions conducting human subjects research adopt the Common Rule’s provisions to protect research participants regardless of whether the research comes under the jurisdiction of the Common Rule. Institutions may do this by developing policies that are consistent with the Common Rule provisions. Some institutions may even choose to go beyond the Common Rule requirements by including institutional policies that provide more protections for research participants.

It is important that researchers familiarize themselves with the Common Rule and their institution’s policies and seek assistance from their institutions’ HRPP or IRB office.

Effective HRPPs or IRB offices establish efficient communication mechanisms with their investigators to promote a strong sense of collaboration toward the common goals of promoting ethical research and protecting research participants.

For additional information, please review the following resources:

Question 1

What are some of the characteristics of an effective HRPP or IRB office?

Question 2

When would an investigator want to reach out to their institution’s HRPP office?

Part 3: Single IRBs

Go to Section: Single IRBs >

Single IRBs
Medical staff having a discussion

In order to further facilitate the advancement of important research and increase the efficiency of IRB review of cooperative research, there has been a move toward relying on single IRBs to approve research. Since January 20, 2020, certain cooperative research that comes under the Common Rule must rely on a single IRB for approval of the portion of the research conducted in the U.S.

You can review the following resources to learn more:


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Lesson 3: What are IRBs?

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