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Research ethics policy

Garvan Institute of Medical Research operates under strict ethical guidelines.

Animals in research

Research using animals has made, and continues to make, a vital contribution to the understanding, treatment and cure of a range of major 21st century health problems including cancer, heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, autoimmune diseases, diabetes and mental illness.

While new methods have enabled scientists and medical researchers to reduce work involving animals, some work must continue for further fundamental advances to be made.

Garvan is committed to the principles of reduction, refinement and replacement; on each project it ensures that the number of animals used is minimised and that procedures, routines and husbandry are refined to maximise welfare. Garvan also ensures that those researchers working with animals are aware of their responsibilities and receive appropriate training. Garvan encourages the development of alternative and complementary research methods such as computer modelling, tissue culture, cell and molecular biology.

Garvan only uses animals in research programs that are of the highest quality and where no alternatives are available. All such work is carried out under licences issued by the Garvan/St Vincent’s Animal Ethics Committee (AEC). The AEC ensures that the use of animals is justified, taking into consideration the scientific or educational benefits and the potential effects on the welfare of the animals. The AEC fulfils all the requirements of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the NSW State Government.

The AEC, whose membership includes veterinary, animal welfare and lay representatives, also provides ethical advice on standards of animal care, welfare and housing. Veterinary and animal care staff who are actively involved in the care of animals provide ongoing advice and support to researchers where necessary.

Garvan is an inaugural signatory to the Animal Research Openness Agreement.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

Genetic manipulation of bacterial, cellular and animal genomes is a mainstay of modern biomedical research. The genetically modified organisms used at Garvan include: the bacterium E.coli, tissue cell lines grown in culture, replication defective viruses, and mice. How this technology helps us ask and answer questions about key diseases affecting today’s society is explained on Garvan’s research pages on the website.

All organisations that conduct genetic manipulation research are required to comply with the Gene Technology Act 2000 and Gene Technology Regulations 2001. The aim of the legislation is to protect the health and safety of Australians and the Australian environment by identifying risks posed by, or as a result of gene technology, and to manage these risks by regulating certain dealings with genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The Garvan Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) acts as an interface between organisations on the St Vincent's Research Precinct and the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR). It assists with professional advice on the GMO research-related risks, which includes measures for their containment and compliance with the gene technology legislation. The IBC also helps identify and manage these risks; approves Garvan applications to conduct research that involves GMOs; keeps records of all approved dealings; and inspects facilities where research work involving GMOs is conducted and contained.

Humans in research

Garvan’s research into the basis of disease and the clinical assessments of potential treatments necessitates the direct involvement of healthy volunteers and patients as well as the analysis of biological tissues, body fluids and DNA derived from patient and health cohorts, often stored and made available from biobanks. Research protocols involving human research participants and biological materials, as well as clinical research and clinical trials are carefully reviewed, approved and monitored by Human Research Ethics Committees, which operate in accordance with current NHMRC guidelines.

Stem cells

The Garvan Institute conducts research using adult stem cells, derived by a process that does not involve the creation or destruction of an embryo. Adult stem cells are non-specialised cells found in many tissues throughout the body that divide and differentiate to replenish dying cells and regenerate damaged tissues.'

Research governance and integrity

Research governance and integrity are essential components of responsible and ethical research conduct and impacts upon research quality. They encompass a framework and set of regulations and policies that guide and oversee research activities. These principles, guidelines and practices ensure research is conducted with integrity, transparency and adherence to ethical and regulatory standards. Garvan prioritises these principles to protect the interests of research participants, maintain public trust and advance the quality and credibility of research efforts.

Garvan has a dedicated human research ethics and governance office to protect the rights and well-being of research participants, including privacy and confidentiality, informed consent, conflict of interest disclosure, risk assessments and compliance with relevant laws and legislation. 

The Garvan Research Integrity Office nurtures our moral foundation and culture of research through promoting best practice and scientific professionalism as well as investigating reported practice breaches. The office is responsible for providing ongoing training and education to researchers on best practice and compliance, developing and communicating clear policies and procedures for research conduct, ethics and governance, establishing a robust human and animal research ethics review process and regular continuous monitoring of research protocols to ensure compliance, underpinned by whistleblower protection. 

Contact for any further information.