Conflict of interest in a research setting is a serious issue as it can not only lead to possible injury or harm among study participants, but it could potentially cause damage to an entire research enterprise by lessening trust and confidence in the research.
A conflict of interest may involve abuse, whether actual or potential abuse or trust that people put into experts. The situation generally involves financial or other personal interests that have potential to bend professional judgment or compromise objectivity.
National Institutes of Health expands conflict of interest rules
In an attempt to avoid conflicts of interest amid concerns of financial involvement, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) created new rules to expand their definition, requiring more reporting and expanding its definitions.
The problem, according to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is that rewriting rules won’t help unless there is a way to enforce them. Research institutions, he says, tend to “look the other way” when it comes to conflicts of interest because they know that NIH will accept their word without question.
How some get around NIH rules
A training video posted on YouTube in 2011 revealed how university officials might help researchers from avoiding the disclosure of potential financial conflicts of interest to an agency funding their research.
It detailed an example of a University of California, Berkeley faculty member who was trying to access an NIH grant in order to help fund his startup business.
As that could be an issue, those who were in charge of complying with conflict of interest rules at the university came up with a solution: resubmit the application listing a different faculty member as the researcher. Instead, the application was withdrawn.
In another 2013 case, records show that a professor stated that it was “highly likely” his firm would license any technology that was produced from his NIH-funded research; university officials did not see a conflict.
There is another conflict with universities who are in charge of overseeing researchers, as they receive a portion of research dollars. Senator Grassley believes that more legislation may be required in order to better enforce the rules as the NIH doesn’t seem to be assertive enough on its own.