Determining risk in pediatric research with no prospect of direct benefit: time for a national consensus on the interpretation of federal regulations

Am J Bioeth. 2007 Mar;7(3):5-10. doi: 10.1080/15265160601171572.


United States federal regulations for pediatric research with no prospect of direct benefit restrict institutional review board (IRB) approval to procedures presenting: 1) no more than "minimal risk" ( section sign 45CFR46.404); or 2) no more than a "minor increase over minimal risk" if the research is commensurate with the subjects' previous or expected experiences and intended to gain vitally important information about the child's disorder or condition ( section sign 45CFR46.406) (DHHS 2001). During the 25 years since their adoption, these regulations have helped IRBs balance subject protections with the pursuit of scientific knowledge to advance children's welfare. At the same time, inconsistency in IRB application of these regulations to pediatric protocols has been widespread, in part because of the ambiguity of the regulatory language. During the past decade, three federally-charged committees have addressed these ambiguities: 1) the National Human Research Protections Advisory Committee (NHRPAC) (Washington, DC), 2) the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on the Ethical Conduct of Clinical Research Involving Children (Washington, DC); and 3) the United States Department of Health and Human Services Secretary's Advisory Committee for Human Research Protections (SACHRP) (Washington, DC). The committees have reached similar conclusions on interpretation of language within regulations section sign section sign 45CFR46.404 and 406; these conclusions are remarkably consistent with recent international recommendations and those of the original National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (1977) report from which current regulations are based. Drawing on the committees' public reports, this article identifies the ethical issues posed by ambiguities in regulatory language, summarizes the committees' deliberations, and calls for a national consensus on recommended criteria.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Advisory Committees
  • Biomedical Research / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Consensus
  • Ethics Committees, Research
  • Humans
  • Minors*
  • Nontherapeutic Human Experimentation / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Research Subjects*
  • Risk Assessment* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • United States
  • Vulnerable Populations*