Research leaders from across the University of Michigan have developed protocols and procedures to safely re-engage in-person human research activity.

U-M paused a majority of its in-person human research March 14 to protect employees’ health and safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the university’s strategic process to safely re-engage research and scholarship, in-person human research can begin ramping up next week through carefully managed tiers, in accordance with state regulations.

Meanwhile, U-M will host a virtual town hall June 25 to answer questions and provide guidance on in-person human research amid COVID-19.

“Strong collaboration across our three campuses has already allowed for more than 4,000 researchers to safely resume activity in their labs, studios and in the field,” said Rebecca Cunningham, vice president for research. “In-person human research is another critical component of our research enterprise, and so we’re excited to ramp up this important activity.”

As with resuming other types of work, human research procedures must be adapted to minimize risk of COVID-19 transmission. This includes implementing plans for social distancing, requiring face coverings for researchers and study participants, prescreening participants for COVID-19 risk, and promoting increased hand hygiene and disinfection of common equipment.

Researchers resuming activity also are required to complete a daily health screen before entering their workplace.

The order and timing of in-person human research activation tiers is based on the proposed research benefits to individual participants, balanced with the risk for COVID-19 community transmission. The Office of the Vice President for Research developed a framework to help researchers identify which tier their study falls under.

Human research that does not require in-person interaction, such as analysis, computational or dry laboratory office work, will remain remote, consistent with state regulations.

Studies classified as Tier 0 or Tier 1 can address the necessary COVID-19 risk modifications and apply for reactivation through the OVPR-charged Human Research Activation Committees. Within one week of submitting an application, teams should be notified as to whether they can safely proceed with in-person human research.

Applications for studies classified as Tier 2 will be accepted July 13. OVPR updated its Research Re-engagement webpage to include important resources related to in-person human research, including the COVID-19 risk stratification process, human research activation checklist, human research training module and more than 20 new frequently asked questions.

“Our research community has done a tremendous job throughout this pandemic of practicing social distancing, wearing face coverings and adhering to important public health recommendations,” Cunningham said. “We must remain vigilant so that we can continue serving the world through research and scholarship, while also ensuring the university can proceed with a public health-informed fall academic semester.”

Research town hall

Faculty, staff and students are encouraged to participate in the June 25 town hall from 2:30-3:30 p.m. to learn more about how U-M is safely ramping up in-person human research through carefully managed tiers, in accordance with state regulations.

The town hall will be conducted via the Zoom videoconferencing platform. A U-M uniqname and password will be required. Faculty, staff and students are encouraged to submit questions prior to the event.

Cunningham will moderate a panel that includes:

  • Judy Birk, director of IRBMED.
  • Tabbye Chavous, associate vice president for research – social sciences, humanities and the arts; professor of psychology, and education; director of the National Center for Institutional Diversity.
  • Anna Lok, Dame Sheila Sherlock Distinguished University Professor of Hepatology and Internal Medicine; Alice Lohrman Andrews Research Professor of Hepatology; professor of internal medicine; assistant dean for clinical research at the Medical School.
  • Julie Lumeng, Thomas P. Borders Family Research Professor of Child Behavior and Development; professor of pediatrics, and nutritional sciences.
  • Srijan Sen, associate vice president for research – health sciences; Frances and Kenneth Eisenberg Professor of Depression and Neurosciences; professor of psychiatry; research professor at the Michigan Neuroscience Institute; research associate professor at the Michigan Institute for Data Science; adjunct associate professor of psychology.
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