At Home Ethics During COVID-19

In my work at NWABR I often think about things with an ethics filter. The discipline of bioethics can sometimes seem like a hypothetical exercise, but this pandemic is the real deal and we need to listen to our ethicists. For me, the SARS-Cov-2 novel coronavirus pandemic highlights two key ethical dilemmas:

-How do we allocate scarce medical resources?
-How can everyone enact behaviors and choices that maximize the best outcomes for the most people?

I assert that there is an ethical imperative for each person to do their part to stretch resources and maximize positive outcomes. Many factors affect individual roles, therefore we all have different obligations to the ultimate outcome, and to one another, guided by our capacity. The ethical challenge here is that we have to examine our capacity to contribute honestly and with the sure knowledge that our contributions will not be cost free.

Here is my situation. I still have an income and live in a house with my three young kids. I am well-connected to a community and can work from home while I teach my three kids. I have asthma but otherwise we are healthy. I am hyper-aware that I have extra resources when many don’t have enough. How can I help others to maximize good outcomes?

My children and I are staying home. We aren’t out playing soccer with friends or touching playground equipment. When I get take out, groceries or packages delivered, I meticulously bring these items into my home. Everything seems to take more time during this season. I am doing my best to keep me and mine healthy so we do not have to use scarce resources; I even reduced my daughter’s dislocated kneecap to save mask use by first responders. We are supporting local restaurants and donating to non-profits.

Will it be enough if everyone does everything they can? I hope so.

Leaders and health providers across the globe right now are juggling these ethical issues on a huge scale. Who receives resource-depleting treatments? How much liberty do we need to forego for the common good? How do you balance the competing needs of the linked economic and health crises?

Biomedical ethicists have been dealing with such issues for millennia and have provided a range of ethical frameworks to help think through such constraints. Let us listen more to our ethicists as we continue to work through this pandemic.

Stay tuned for more on this topic!

Speak Up For Research Education Fund

How did science hook you?

Strawberry DNA extraction

Strawberry DNA extraction

Did you have a teacher whose lab was your favorite place to hang out in high school? Were you a biology graduate student who fought for better treatment of animals and found a calling in animal care or health ethics? Did you travel and see suffering that would be diminished with the right vaccination?

I got hooked as a member of the St John Ambulance Brigade in New Zealand where as a teenager I was able to volunteer in ambulances, hospitals and rest homes and saw evolving treatments driven by research.

I’m both excited about science and concerned about its future. I see a growing distrust in biomedical research, waning science literacy and an almost perverse celebration of anti-science sentiments; this all of course at a time when new biomedical research breakthroughs are occurring on a daily basis. Here at NWABR, we see the possibilities of science and are excited by the opportunities for young people to get hooked into fascinating and important science fields—but we also see a gap in the science education for the general public that results in twisted logic, misinformation, hijacked conversations and bad policy decisions.

NWABR bridges that gap, combats that misinformation, and leads spirited and informative conversations about complex issues related to biomedical research.  And we need your help.

Today, I’m asking readers you to join our newest fundraising initiative: the Speak Up For Research Education Fund.  Over the last two years more that 1,400 people have joined NWABR at a series of events:

  • Perhaps they volunteered for our popular Bio Expo that engaged close to 700 high school students;
  • Or they attended a Community Conversation on the ethics of end of life care, or vaccinations, or direct to consumer genetic testing.
  • Perhaps they are a professional dedicated to ethical protections for humans and animals in research and you attended one of our research conferences;
  • Or they attended our Security Conference and joined colleagues from across the country who are committed to keeping scientists, their facilities and their work safe.

This campaign to create a Speak Up For Research Education Fund is about protecting the belief and trust in biomedical research and ensuring that this work can continue robustly into the future.

Join the Speak Up For Research Education Fund and make a donation today by visiting:

Alternatively you can send a contribution to the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research, 2633 Eastlake Ave E., Suite 302, Seattle WA 98102.

All supporters will be thanked by name in our public materials, unless of course they request to make an anonymous contribution.  All contributions will also be acknowledged with a tax deduction receipt.

This is a vital time for science – with the support of the Speak Up For Research Education Fund we can continue and expand the work of engaging students, families and communities with science.  With the support of this fund then one student at a time, one family at a time, one community at a time we will build support for, and trust in, biomedical research.

Thank you for Speaking Up For Research.

Kind Regards


Ken Gordon – Executive Director

Northwest Association for Biomedical Research

(P) 206-957-3337 (C) 206-595-2450



People Not Paperwork: Perspectives from the 2015 Institutional Review Board Conference

On July 23rd in Seattle, WA co-presented by NWABR and Quorum Review IRB, the Revolutionizing Informed Consent Conference brought together scientists, researchers, ethicists and community members to discuss a way to create a better experience for participants in human clinical trials. The “consent document” is a confirmation of the consent process that explains the nature of the research and any risks and benefits to a participant to communication required throughout, but informed consent is an ongoing process. It starts before any forms are signed, and it continues through the completion of the subject’s involvement in the study. A copy of the consent document is reviewed by the IRB before it is presented to prospective participants.

With her daughter, Marie-Térèse Little, PhD, WIRB scholarship recipient.

With her daughter, Marie-Térèse Little, PhD, WIRB scholarship recipient.

Guest blogger and biomed community member Marie-Térèse highlights some of the presentations that were fascinating and thought provoking. We appreciate her contribution, each of the participants attending, our speakers, planning committee, our sponsor partners WIRB, CITI and Fred Hutch, and Boston University for supporting the important work of creating dialog among experts to discuss practical advocacy and compassion for human subjects.

People Not Paperwork

It is clear from the thought-provoking presentations from speakers across North America offered at this year’s conference of Revolutionizing Informed Consent that innovation and technology are indeed starting to revolutionize the informed consent process. These seminars challenged the status quo and how we contemplate this important process in the context of clinical research. Mr. Zachary Hallinan, Director of Patient Communication and Engagement Programs at the Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation, presented Barriers to Change in the Informed Consent Process – a Systematic Review, addressing the barriers to improving consent, general environmental factors affecting patient satisfaction in the informed consent process, instruments for measuring consent and how the current informed consent model impact enrollment in clinical trials.

Mr. Hallinan’s findings concerning the many environmental factors within the consent process affecting patient satisfaction include: limited time to deliberate, feeling overwhelmed by the initial diagnosis, being asked to produce a written consent (for patients with life-threating diagnoses), feeling responsible for their own treatment decision, the physician’s medical language and the structure of the consultation, not enough detail and conversely, and too much detail. It is interesting that some patients simply do not want to be responsible for their decision to enroll in a trial.

Satisfaction appears to result from the actual discussion rather than the document itself. Surprisingly, there is no real evidence to suggest that the informed consent document increases or decreases enrollment; however, there was a positive correlation between the informed consent discussion and enrollment rates. This research is valuable and practical because it reminds us in the research ethics community the value of the entire consent process complete with an open, dynamic discussion, not just a document or a signature. Hallinan’s important presentation was both in-depth and stimulating and culminated with a plea to re-focus on the primary goal of educating and informing participants about the trials so that the decisions they make are truly informed. From his comprehensive research, Hallinan recommends that IRB (and REB) policies and procedures be revised to facilitate collaboration between ethics review communities.

Marie-Térèse Little, PhD is a volunteer member of Island Health clinical research ethics board on Vancouver Island, B.C. She worked at the Fred Hutch developing novel strategies for reduced intensity bone marrow transplants and she now lives in Victoria, BC with her family. Marie-Térèse is the founder and chief consultant at 4th Dimension Biomedical Research Communications ( where complex bio-medical and scientific information is distilled into clear, meaningful and comprehensible communications. Stay tuned for additional speaker sessions featured this month.

Is it safe to study deadly viruses?

Good morning

There was a great story on NPR this morning from the wonderfully named Nell Greenfieldboyce.  The story discusses the work of Ralph Baric, who has been studying the MERS virus (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus).  A decision from the Whitehouse has stopped all work on MERS, SARS and influenza.  The moratorium was put in place because of a concern that in studying the viruses there was a chance that researchers could actually make the virus more dangerous.

Baric’s work was aimed at doing the exact opposite of making the virus more dangerous.  He was aiming to infect mice with the virus to test the efficacy of different vaccines and other options for stopping the spread and impact of this virus.  MERS is a potential pandemic virus as it is spread by air.  Knowing how to stop its spread is a pretty important thing.

Virologist Ralph Baric in one of his labs at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Ralph Baric

The administration’s moratorium on this research was put in place to ensure that this research is safe, you can’t help but feel that the world is a little more dangerous though when the leading researcher on this virus is no longer allowed to work to find ways to mitigate its impacts.

Have a safe day!

Ken Gordon

Executive Director


Community Conversation – 23andMe – What Can Your Genes Tell You

Last evening (Tuesday March 18, 2014) the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research (NWABR) hosted a Community Conversation that explored the issues around Direct-To-Consumer Genetic Testing.

These Community Conversations are a partnership between NWABR and the Institute for Translational Health Sciences at the University of Washington.  The purpose of these Community Conversations is to enable members of the public to become engaged with emerging issues in the bioscience realm.  Our hope is that an engaged public will be better placed to think through complex scientific and ethical issues, make informed contributions, build relations with experts in the field – and most importantly – provide those same experts with feedback from a community perspective on these issues.

At the Community Conversation hosted yesterday evening around 35 people gathered to discuss direct-to-consumer genetic testing services.  The company 23andMe has been providing this service to customers and approximately 650,000 people have both had their DNA tested and agreed to share their records to help build a DNA database that will, hopefully, in the future improve the accuracy of the findings that 23andMe can report to their customers.

The FDA has asked 23andMe to stop marketing the health benefits of this testing service and to no longer provide direct findings to customers about any health implications arising from the genetic tests that they perform.  The FDA is concerned that a consumer may misinterpret the results that they receive from 23andMe and subsequently make poorly informed health care decisions.

Yesterday’s Community Conversation was held at Kakao Chocolate + Coffee in Westlake.  The Conversation was facilitated by Sarah Nelson and Lorelei Walker, who are MPH and PhD candidates in Public Health Genetics at the University of Washington.  Following the presentations from Ms. Nelson and Ms. Walker the participants had a wide ranging discussion that touched on: privacy, trust, potential commercializing of DNA, the need for access to this information. the need for help in interpreting the information, resistance from some members of the medical community, the current lack of diversity in the 23andMe database, support for and frustration with the FDA and much more.

As we the staff at NWABR watched the conversation progress we were amazed that such a great group had come out on a Tuesday evening, given up their own time, and dived so eagerly into this complex area.  We were again reminded of just how rich discussions can be when these two sometimes diverse worlds come together.


Ken Gordon

Executive Director

Northwest Association for Biomedical Research

Student Research Fellows East Day 8!

From heath care policy to commercialization to P4 medicine–it was a full day!

Some student quotes:

“I didn’t know how hard it is to start your own business, or patent your inventions. It costs a lot. It was really nice to know that we have foundations to help people get started.”

“If you push yourself to find out, you can find a whole realm of possibilities through the science field.”

“I really enjoyed having Dr. Oliver come talk to us about P4 medicine, and “the cloud” which you can have your medical information looked at by others doctors that you go see.”

View more information on the Summer Student Research Fellows program at NWABR.

This program was supported by a Collaborations to Understand Research and Ethics (CURE), 1R25RR0251131, a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Center for Research Resources. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Center for Research Resources or the National Institutes of Health.

Collaborations to Understand Research and Ethics, a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Center for Research Resources at the National Institutes of Health

Northwest Association for Biomedical Research -- logo

Student Research Fellows East Day 7!

Today we were hosted by the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist program at Sacred Heart Hospital, then toured PAML, a diagnostics lab.

Some student quotes:

“Today we learned about how there is a lot to learn when putting someone to sleep for surgery. You have to measure your oxygen levels and blood pressure. It was very interesting especially when we made students’ muscles twitch without them doing it.”

“Today I learned how scientists test for STDs and that machines now do most of the testing.”

“There is more to nursing than meets the eye!”


View more information on the Summer Student Research Fellows program at NWABR.

This program was supported by a Collaborations to Understand Research and Ethics (CURE), 1R25RR0251131, a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Center for Research Resources. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Center for Research Resources or the National Institutes of Health.

Collaborations to Understand Research and Ethics, a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Center for Research Resources at the National Institutes of Health

Northwest Association for Biomedical Research -- logo