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Ethical approval for research involving geographically dispersed subjects: unsuitability of the UK MREC/LREC system and relevance to uncommon genetic disorders
  1. Julia C Lewis,
  2. Susan Tomkins,
  3. Julian R Sampson
  1. University of Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff


    Objectives—To assess the process involved in obtaining ethical approval for a single-centre study involving geographically dispersed subjects with an uncommon genetic disorder.

    Design—Observational data of the application process to 53 local research ethics committees (LRECs) throughout Wales, England and Scotland. The Multicentre Research Ethics Committee (MREC) for Wales had already granted approval.

    Results—Application to the 53 LRECs required 24,552 sheets of paper and took two months of the researcher's time. The median time taken for approval was 39 days with only seven (13%) of committees responding within the recommended 21 days. In at least nineteen cases (36%) a subcommittee considered the application. Thirty-three committees (62%) accepted the proposal without amendments but, of the remainder, four (8%) requested changes outside of the remit of LRECs.

    Discussion—Difficulties still exist with the system for obtaining ethical approval for studies involving a single centre but with patients at multiple sites, as is often required for genetic observational research. As such studies differ from true multicentre studies, it may be advantageous to develop a separate and specific process of application to ensure that resources are not unnecessarily expended in the quest for ethical approval.

    • Research ethics
    • MREC
    • LREC

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    • Julia C Lewis, BSc, MBBS, MRCGP, MRCPsych, MSc, is Clinical Research Fellow and Honorary Specialist Registrar in Psychiatry in the Institute of Medical Genetics, University of Wales College of Medicine, Heath Park, Cardiff. Susan Tomkins MB, ChB, MRCP, is currently Consultant in Medical Genetics in the Department of Clinical Genetics, St James' University Hospital, Leeds and Julian R Sampson, DM, FRCP, is Professor of Medical Genetics in the Institute of Medical Genetics, University of Wales College of Medicine, Heath Park, Cardiff.