Investing in Bioethics Research to Inform Science Policy

I am a big believer in policies based on evidence. I am also a big fan of ensuring that all of the research that NIH funds upholds the highest ethical standards. Where those two interests collide is in the funding of bioethics research. To that end, NIH has published advanced notice of an upcoming funding opportunity announcement that will give NIH-funded researchers the opportunity to apply for administrative supplements that would advance our knowledge of bioethical issues, which could then be used to inform policy endeavors.

The scope of the funding opportunity announcement will be broad and would support expanding grants that already include bioethics research efforts. It would also allow for the addition of a bioethics component to a grant in which bioethics was not the primary focus. Potential research topics that may be funded through this opportunity include, but are not limited to, new and emerging technology development and use, clinical and non-clinical data sharing, and research privacy and security. Through this program, NIH intends to fund at least 10 awards.

While applications for this funding opportunity announcement are not currently being accepted, we wanted to provide the research community with plenty of notice of our plans so that they could begin thinking of ways and places where bioethics could substantially impact research and policy. We anticipate that NIH will publish the funding opportunity announcement in early 2019.

Supporting development of an evidence base to ensure that our ethical responsibilities are not outpaced by our science isn’t a novel idea. NIH has proudly supported bioethics-related projects and programs over the last two decades.  For example, NIH funded a robust literature survey on participant preferences for using deidentified biospecimens for future studies, and a large survey of prospective research participants views on broad consent. This research was cited in comments on the 2015 Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) to revise the Common Rule.

What are your ideas for research questions that can help deepen our understanding about bioethics and build the foundation for future policy considerations or discussions on ethical issues related to biomedical research? We are excited to see your innovative proposals.

Carrie D. Wolinetz, PhD
Former Associate Director for Science Policy, NIH