17. November 2022

EU project focuses on research ethics EU project focuses on research ethics

University of Bonn is conducting a pilot project with international partners. Funding in the amount of 4.5 million euros

From the CRISPR Cas9 gene scissors to artificial intelligence and reprogrammed cells: New technologies are always associated with ethical questions for research and application, to which there are no easy answers. irecs, the new collaborative project funded by the European Union, aims to strengthen principles of research ethics in as many disciplines as possible. Under the leadership of the University of Bonn, 17 partner organizations from Germany and abroad have joined forces to drive the project forward. The EU is funding the project with a total of 4.5 million euros over the next three years.

Prof. Dr. Dirk Lanzerath
Prof. Dr. Dirk Lanzerath - from the German Reference Center for Ethics in the Life Sciences at the University of Bonn coordinates the collaborative project irecs. © Photo: Christine Siefer
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"Issues of research ethics are already strongly anchored in the life sciences and medicine," says Prof. Dr. Dirk Lanzerath, director of the German Reference Center for Ethics in the Life Sciences (DRZE) at the University of Bonn. "But we need more discourse on research ethics and standards in other disciplines as well." This gap is to be filled by irecs (Improving Research Ethics Expertise and Competencies to Ensure Reliability and Trust in Science), which is integrated into the Transdisciplinary Research Area "Individuals, Institutions and Societies" at the University of Bonn. The EU project aims to show that ethically reflective research is the key to high-quality science and a prerequisite for earning the trust of the public.

"One important way to promote awareness of ethical requirements associated with new research fields and technologies is through innovative, state-of-the-art training programs for students, researchers and ethics committee members," Lanzerath says. Such training programs can also demonstrate that ethical review processes create a trust-building connection between science and society.

Lisa Diependaele, European Commission research ethics and integrity officer, adds: "Europe's green and digital transformation relies on a strong, dynamic and resilient research ecosystem." The European Commission's main goal, she explains, is to ensure that ethics and research integrity are fully integrated into research. "By strengthening ethics governance, irecs supports excellence and empowers researchers to do the right thing for our society."

Ethical values in the humanities and social sciences

irecs is also significant because it thinks deeply about ethical values that apply to the humanities and social sciences. "Because research with questionnaires and interviews, for example, can also be very invasive and hurtful. This is why research funding bodies are now increasingly requiring an ethics approval for these methods," explains Prof. Dr. Laura Palazzani, a legal scholar at LUMSA University in Rome and a member of irecs' Stakeholder Advisory Board.

"By involving different disciplines, global partners and research ethics networks, as well as the members of the Stakeholder Advisory Board, irecs will develop a new awareness of research ethics," says Prof. Dr. Andreas Zimmer, Vice Rector for Research and Early-Career Researchers at the University of Bonn.

Prof. Dr. Dirk Lanzerath coordinates the collaborative project irecs within the framework of the research funding program "Horizon Europe" of the European Commission. He initiated the project together with Prof. Dr. Dr. Jochen Sautermeister from the Department of Catholic Moral Theology, Prof. Dr. Dr. Tade Spranger from the Department of Law and Nadine Kollmeyer from Research and Innovation Services (all University of Bonn) and in cooperation with 16 other European and international partner institutions. Among the project participants is the European Network of Research Ethics Committees, EUREC (eurecnet.org), which emerged from an EU project at the University of Bonn.

An international advisory board accompanies the irecs project. Medical ethicist Prof. David R. Curry, MD, of NYU Medical School, will chair the advisory board. "This is a time of rapid advancement in many new technologies where conducting the underlying, enabling research presents unique ethical challenges," Curry says.

Participating institutions:

In addition to the University of Bonn as coordinating institution, irecs involves the European Network of Research Ethics Committees (EUREC), the European University Association (EUA), the European Association of Research Managers and Administrators (EARMA), Maastricht University (UM), University of Split School of Medicine (MEFST), Trilateral Research (TRI), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), University of Central Lancashire (UClan), VU Amsterdam Medical Centers (VUMC), National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), Radboud University (RU), University of Vilnius (VU), De Montfort University (DMU), the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), and Fudan University (FDU). 

Many participants
Many participants - were interested in the kickoff meeting of the collaborative project irecs at the University of Bonn. © Photo: Christine Siefer
Group picture:
Group picture: - Many researchers contribute to the collaborative project irecs. © Photo: Christine Siefer
Prof. Dr. Andreas Zimmer,
Prof. Dr. Andreas Zimmer, - Vice Rector for Research and Early-Career Researchers at the University of Bonn, welcomed the guests at the kickoff meeting. © Photo: Christine Siefer
Logo © irecs

Dorothee Güth
German Reference Center for Ethics in the Life Sciences (DRZE)
University of Bonn
Phone +49 228 738110
E-mail: gueth@drze.de

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