Help guide research at Canadian Blood Services: Research Ethics Board seeks new member

Thursday, September 15, 2022 Abby Wolfe

Guiding the research that informs the future of transfusion, cellular therapy and transplantation

By engaging an extended network of partners, Canadian Blood Services’ research sparks discovery, informs the development of new products and processes, contributes to the sharing of knowledge, and guides best practices for the care of patients and donors connected to Canada’s lifeline. Recent R.E.D. blog posts demonstrate the impact of our research efforts on diverse issues, including supporting a more inclusive donor pool through changes to eligibility criteria and investigating a potential treatment for COVID-19. But even before this research could begin, each research application had to receive Research Ethics Board (REB) approval.

As a multidisciplinary board, the REB reviews all research applications involving human participants that are intended to be conducted by, or on behalf of, Canadian Blood Services. This includes research that proposes the use of personal information, like data about the donor pool, or biologics, like collected whole blood. The REB evaluates research applications and acts as a resource to support Canadian Blood Services in maintaining ethical integrity in its research activities.

New member opportunity

On the REB, members work together with the REB Chair and researchers to ensure that the rights and welfare of participants in research studies are adequately protected, and that the benefits of the research justify any potential risks to research participants.  

The REB is currently seeking a new member to contribute to the role of Volunteer Ethics Member. This role calls for a volunteer member of the Canadian Blood Services Research Ethics Board (REB) with the responsibilities to contribute to the REB on the ethical aspects of biomedical, social sciences and humanities research. Through this volunteer role, individuals with subject matter expertise in ethical issues related to biomedical research can play a significant role in advancing health research in the fields of transfusion, organs and tissues transplantation, and hematopoietic stem cells transplantation.  

The Volunteer Ethics Member role

To highlight more about the experience of contributing to the REB as a Volunteer Ethics Member, Dr. Michael McDonald joined us in conversation about the role and its impact.

Dr. Michael McDonald sitting down

Dr. Michael McDonald, Professor Emeritus of Applied Ethics, University of British Columbia, has held the role of Volunteer Ethics Member with the Canadian Blood Services Research Ethics Board since it was established in 2001. In 2017, he also became the Chair of the REB.

1) How does this Volunteer Ethics Member role contribute to the REB?

The Ethics Member helps the REB understand what the Tri-Council Policy Statement guidelines mean and how to put them into practice. It’s important because even though we have the guidelines available for Canadian researchers in the conduct of research involving humans, they don’t interpret themselves. For example, one of the core principles in the guidelines is concern for participants’ welfare. The Ethics Member looks at research applications and may call attention to non-obvious impacts on participant well-being.  

As the Ethics Member, from time to time I’ve also taken the lead on providing our comments when revisions to the Tri-Council Policy Statement are being made. By doing so, our insights can be used to shape national policy.

2) What drew you to take on this role?

In the 1990’s I played a major role in the creation of Canada’s national standards for human research ethics, and this led to my involvement in the REB. During the years I have been on the REB, I have been involved in research projects on governance of human research and how the experiences of health research participants are understood by researchers and REBs. This work helped me in my role on the REB, and at the same time, my work on the REB helped me develop research insights. The work of the REB is very important, for example, in ensuring informed consent. There are well-known historical instances of the misuse of human participants in research involving, for example, coercing racialized populations to participate in risky and dubious research.

With the REB, we always need to be asking: “What’s the contribution to knowledge this research could make and what’s the impact on participants?” We probe, we listen, and we work hard to understand. With the REB, we want to build trust, but you can’t build trust without understanding.

3) When you think about the rigorous & diligent work the REB does to assess research applications, what message do you think it sends to research participants?

When you’re invited to be a research participant, it is really reassuring to know that the REB looks out for your interests and your welfare and works to ensure that you are being treated with respect and gratitude. 

4) What has been the most meaningful or enriching aspect of your experience as a member of the REB?

I have to be careful with examples here because REB members can’t share specifics of the research applications we review, but I can say that being a member of the REB has been a rich and rewarding way to learn. It certainly has helped me in my work on improving Canadian standards for human research.

On this Board there’s this wonderful element of collegiality and willingness to be open to new insights. Every time we have a board meeting, we have an educational session on something relevant to the field, such as data privacy or stem cell research. This helps us keep up to date with rapidly evolving areas of research. 

5) What would your advice be to a prospective member for the REB?

To the person thinking about joining this REB, I can say you would be joining a group of really engaged members that perform an important role and really care about people. If you can fit into that type of environment and can inspire that kind of thing, well, there’s a great opportunity here.   

For me, serving on this REB has been a tremendous opportunity to work with so many extraordinary colleagues and learn so much from them. It has been one of my most satisfying volunteer roles in my fifty-three-year career as an ethicist. I’d also tell a new member to come eager to listen and to learn. As a member, you’ll have lots of chances to display your expertise but when you can, listen to others and get to know them because that can really enrich your experience.


For more information on the Canadian Blood Services Research Ethics Program, go to Canadian Blood Services Research Ethics Board.  

To learn more about the Volunteer Ethics Member role and the application process, visit Volunteer Ethics Member | Canadian Blood Services

Canadian Blood Services – Driving world-class innovation 

Through discovery, development and applied research, Canadian Blood Services drives world-class innovation in blood transfusion, cellular therapy and transplantation—bringing clarity and insight to an increasingly complex healthcare future. Our dedicated research team and extended network of partners engage in exploratory and applied research to create new knowledge, inform and enhance best practices, contribute to the development of new services and technologies, and build capacity through training and collaboration. Find out more about our research impact.  

The opinions reflected in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Canadian Blood Services nor do they reflect the views of Health Canada or any other funding agency. 


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