IRB Spotlight: Victor Reus, MD

Professor Emeritus and Parnassus IRB Chair Victor Reus, MD, has dedicated more than two decades to ensuring that UCSF meets its high standards for participant welfare, safety, and privacy. 

We asked Victor a few questions about his time on the IRB, recent innovations in protecting participants and supporting investigators, and the importance of the IRB in research. 

Please describe your work at UCSF and as part of the IRB.

I am currently a professor emeritus on recall, and I continue to chair the IRB and work on several different grants and some other professional activities. So even though I retired a couple of years ago, my professional engagement at UCSF continues.  

My tenure at UCSF began in 1978, focusing on mood disorders, including biomarkers and prediction of treatment response, and genetics of serious mental illness.  

I joined the IRB around 25 years ago, became a chair several years later, and I have happily been one ever since.

What have you found most fulfilling or impactful about serving on the IRB?

The core fulfillment comes from safeguarding our research participants. Their contributions are immense, helping us develop new knowledge, and they deserve the utmost protection and respect.  

It is most important to ensure that participant risks are acceptably small and that the participant is fully informed of all the circumstances that go along with a particular study. 

Being on the IRB also offers a continuous learning experience that has kept me informed about diverse medical specialties and fostering relationships with colleagues committed to ethical research. You get to learn from all the other experts on your committee and understand what's behind the curtain of each protocol that we’re looking at. So that’s been incredibly rewarding as well. It’s that type of continuing education and the sense of being on an academic team that is incredibly fulfilling in its own right. 

How does the IRB ensure UCSF research meets today's standards around participant welfare, safety, and privacy?

The IRB follows rigorous protocols rooted in historical mandates like the Belmont Report. Through constant self-examination, educational activities, and policy updates, we strive to uphold ethical standards. This commitment to excellence and innovation has an established track record at UCSF, which speaks to the effectiveness of our approach, ensuring participant safety without hindering research progress. 

In my discussion with other chairs of the IRB at UCSF, I think we're of the same mind that this track record over the decades has not been accidental. We have a value system and a process that has worked exceedingly well. That’s not to say that protocol violations or adverse events won’t occur, but we take pride in not having had any systemic or large-scale violations of human subject protection principles at UCSF.

How does the IRB continue to innovate in protecting participant welfare?

Research participant protection is a constant iterative process. We're always looking at the way in which we do reviews, including how we can expedite them, and we try to keep in mind that we have a constituency to serve in terms of the efficiency of our process. 

Recent innovations include increased engagement with investigators during protocol submission to expedite reviews, as part of the Clinical Trial Excellence Campaign (CTEC). Additionally, ongoing efforts to develop guidelines for handling sensitive issues like suicidal ideation in research surveys highlight our commitment to evolving ethical practices. 

I am also an advocate for innovation in our conflict-of-interest policies and the establishment of an institutional policy to guide engagements with for-profit entities. Such a policy would ensure transparent decision-making and safeguard against potential conflicts, further enhancing UCSF's ethical research standards. 

How would you describe the importance of the IRB within and throughout the UCSF community?

The IRB is a cornerstone of UCSF's research enterprise, ensuring ethical conduct and upholding our reputation. It plays a vital role in maintaining research integrity and has incredible responsibility and authority. 

If you are an investigator who has had difficulty with getting their proposal approved, the process, paperwork, and the hoops that you may have to go through may feel burdensome. But it’s important to remind people that that our committee is not just focused on dotting i’s and crossing t's, but also on the essential part of our mission, which is the protection of subjects and ensuring their informed consent. 

A robust IRB process fosters trust among investigators, protecting both participants and the institution's mission. 

If you would like to learn more about participating in the IRB, please contact [email protected].