Ethical conduct of clinical research involving children


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Volume 9 , Issue 2.

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Tools Request permission Export citation Add to favorites Track citation. Share Give access Share full text access. Share full text access. Please review our Terms and Conditions of Use and check box below to share full-text version of article. Volume 9 , Issue 2 June Pages Related Information. Close Figure Viewer. These risks include not only physical discomfort and inconveniences, but also psychological concerns like fright, separation from parents, and unfamiliar surroundings. With children, another important consideration is the effect on growth and development, a risk that may persist with children for longer.

Research in children that does not offer direct benefit has generated substantial controversy. Most guidelines draw a distinction between "therapeutic" with direct benefit and "non-therapeutic" with no direct benefit research 10, It is currently accepted that non-therapeutic research may be permitted if it presents "no greater than minimal risks" 7,10 , which may be defined as risks of daily life.

Although the assessment of risk is central to ethical review process, there seems to be no coherent criteria to measure risk and benefit. Even the definitions of "minimal risk" and "minor increment over minimal risk" are inconsistent and not uniformly agreed upon. A child is legally unable to provide informed consent. Informed consent must explain the purpose of research, the difference between treatment and research, and the potential risks and benefit. Consent must be voluntary, without coersion or financial inducement.


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The family must have enough time to think and respond. Refusal to give consent must not jeopardize the child's treatment in any way. It is often recognized that there are problems in asking the parents to consent 13, In India particularly, with literacy levels being so low parents may not understand the significance of the risks involved and give consent. Frequently, requests for consent are met with blank, uncomprehending stares and the comment, "You do what you think is right". One study showed that better educated parents were less likely to allow their children to participate in research Equally, if more time was given to parents to reflect on the proposal, they were less likely to consent Interestingly, a court ruling once said that "parents may be free to become martyrs themselves.

But it does not follow that they are free to make martyrs of their children" A determined refusal of an older child to participate in the study must be respected despite parental consent 5,7, The policy of overprotecting children from drug trials has a flip side: a There is a relative paucity of good medical research in children.

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In one review, there were only randomised, controlled trials in children published in one pediatrics journal over a 15 year period 17 , and even out of these a large percentage were underpowered. Many medications, that are widely used in children, are rarely first tested on children Without pediatric studies, labeling cannot include guidance about dosage and side effects. Seventy per cent of the current medications lack sufficient data in children The physician faces a dilemma either not to treat children with a potentially beneficial medication or to treat them empirically with educated guesses about doses, safety and effectiveness 10, One study estimated that almost half of all drug prescriptions for children were either "off label" indications or used unlicensed drugs I would reckon that the figure could be much higher in India.

Corrective measures have already been initiated and most countries need to follow suit. This mandates that pharmaceutical firms must recruit children in all their drug trials. If children are to be specifically excluded, the firm shall have to present acceptable justification for the same.

Ethical conduct of clinical research involving children

In return, the FDA shall allow a 6 months additional market exclusivity for data pertaining to the use of tested agents 9. We are currently in the midst of an onslaught of pharmaceutical company sponsored drug trials. There are in-numerable cases in which commercial interests have suppressed the results of clinical trials. This problem may be circumvented if clinical trials were to be registered centrally with a requirement for periodic reporting of progress and adverse reactions.

There is also a concerted move by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors ICMJE for drug trials to be registered at inception as a condition for later consideration for publication Research involving humans rests on trust and a general feeling of wanting to be of some use. In return for this trust that a patient places in the research process, the investigators have an obligation to conduct research ethically and to report it honestly Mind-boggling sums of money are at stake in industry sponsored drug research.

While the primary objective of the industry is to generate profits; the researcher should limit on self to scientific inquiry A marriage of the two agendas is possible. The foremost concern must be the safety and the well-being of the patient. National bodies must identify priority areas for research and direct funds to these areas. Externally sponsored research must also, by and large, conform to these national priorities.

This will minimize exploitation of the vulnerable, socio-economically weaker population and, also, maximize the benefit of research to the community. There is an urgent need to educate the medical fraternity in India in basic research methodology and ethical principles if the level of research has to improve. Thankappan 23 recommended that ethics should be a part of the medical curriculum. In addition, external sponsors of research from developed nations have an obligation to contribute to the training of staff in the methods and skills of conducting research The infra-structure and support for quality research needs to be strengthened.

The public and the media equally need to be sensitized on the urgent need to include children in clinical research. The fears of parents to let their wards be subjected to research need to be allayed compassionately, and the role of the primary family physician in developing this trust needs to be underscored. Negative media coverage must be proactively balanced with positive stories about the societal benefits of good clinical research 24 Public awareness campaigns would help achieve this goal.

Research ethics

The recently published ICMR guidelines remain recommendatory. They must be made mandatory in law. The recently revised schedule Y of the Drugs and Cosmetics Rule 4 that governs drug trials in India is a welcome step. These are mandatory for centers that conduct research, as per the ICMR guidelines. These committees must play the role of the watchdog.

Their primary responsibility is to protect the rights of the research subjects as envisaged in the Declaration of Helsinki. They are expected to monitor ongoing trials, especially for serious adverse events. They must also protect the vulnerable groups, such as children, from profit-driven pharmaceutical companies testing drugs essentially for the developed world Equally, the committees must ensure that consistent ethical standards are followed irrespective of the local settings so that participants from the developing world are safe from exploitation In a vast and diverse country such as ours, with limited resources, all attempts must be made to improve efficiency while reducing duplication of effort and costs.

Multicenter trials will help in recruiting a larger patient load in a shorter span of time. This will also enhance co-operation between institutions. Similarly, clearance of such multicenter trials and their periodic monitoring may be done by a central lRB.

Indian Pediatrics - Editorial

E-mail: anuragkrishna sgrh. Mudur G. Indian study of women with cervical lesions called unethical.

Ethical conduct of clinical research involving children Ethical conduct of clinical research involving children
Ethical conduct of clinical research involving children Ethical conduct of clinical research involving children
Ethical conduct of clinical research involving children Ethical conduct of clinical research involving children
Ethical conduct of clinical research involving children Ethical conduct of clinical research involving children
Ethical conduct of clinical research involving children Ethical conduct of clinical research involving children
Ethical conduct of clinical research involving children Ethical conduct of clinical research involving children
Ethical conduct of clinical research involving children Ethical conduct of clinical research involving children

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