When I moved to Fort Worth in 2007 to continue my team’s research at UNT Health Science Center into HIV-related dementia, we tried to recruit study participants from a clinic that was treating patients with the disease.
But I was stymied by a bureaucratic thicket and a blizzard of red tape.
Though I started with the intent of recruiting patients, I eventually settled for simply introducing our research study to potential participants. It took nine months to get permission just to put a flier in the clinic — and all we were permitted to include was contact information for the study.
Clinical and translational research, in particular studies involving people, is too often rife with these sorts of delays and setbacks. This is why a new and little-noticed agreement between UNT Health Science Center and JPS Health Network will have such a big impact on Tarrant County patients and anyone interested in new treatments for challenging diseases.
The graduate university in the Cultural District and the hospital in the Medical District have teamed up to establish the North Texas Regional Institutional Review Board, which cuts through the red tape requiring clinical studies involving humans to go through multiple approval processes by different institutions.
Under the North Texas Regional IRB, researchers and physicians at UNTHSC can more easily and efficiently work with the researchers and physicians at JPS — hopefully without having to wait nine months for approval on a recruitment flier.
Standing to benefit the most are Tarrant County patients, who get enhanced access to cutting-edge medical research and will help physicians and scientists open the door to new discoveries that make us healthier. It will take medical research from “bench to bedside” faster, because today’s research leads to tomorrow’s treatments and cures.
Make no mistake: Institutional review boards, or IRBs, provide critical safeguards for people who participate in research studies. These committees examine proposals involving human subjects, and they have the authority to approve, disapprove or require modifications to such studies, ensuring federal research regulations are followed and we are protecting our patients.
UNTHSC had its own institutional review board, as did JPS. Now the two will operate under the unified North Texas Regional IRB.
Roadblocks arise when institutions collaborate with one another on research but maintain their own IRBs that must review each study separately. Getting a project started can be challenging, as I experienced when I first moved to Fort Worth.
Uniting multiple institutions under a single institutional review board is rare and difficult to achieve — but an example of the Fort Worth approach to solving problems with extraordinary teamwork. This city has long known we are stronger when we work together.
We think this is just the beginning. Our hope and expectation is that other universities, hospitals and health care systems will join UNTHSC and JPS in the North Texas Regional IRB, making citywide clinical research more common, effective and efficient.
Everything we have to offer patients today — every drug, every treatment — exists because of past research. With the North Texas Regional IRB, we will pair scientific rigor with the cooperative spirit shared by UNTHSC and JPS, and turn research into results more quickly for our community.
Anuja Ghorpade, Ph.D., is the vice president of research at UNT Health Science Center.