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Research Priorities & Practice

The Problem

The Disconnect

Today, there is a disconnect between research spending and healthcare needs. Up to half of all premature deaths in the United States are attributable to preventable factors, and similar trends are seen around the world.

Although everyone is susceptible to illness, structural inequities account for significant disparities in disease risk across different populations. Policymakers and researchers who set priorities in research may have conflicting interests, expectations, and priorities that worsen existing inequities.

The conduct by which knowledge is produced throughout the field of research has also been problematic. In 1974, following a painful record of unjust human research practices, the US Congress established the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, which published a document called the Belmont Report five years later.

At the time, the Belmont Report changed the conduct of human research and it led to informed consent requirements, mandatory assessments of the risks and benefits of research, and special protections for vulnerable populations.

Although there have been significant advances in human research practices, unscrupulous practices continue. These practices target particularly vulnerable populations, including children, people living in developing countries, those experiencing homelessness, and individuals with cognitive and psychiatric differences.

Today, some of the most problematic research practices also involve animals. Millions of animals—including dogs, cats, nonhuman primates, and many other species of small and large animals—are used in research each year. After being forcibly bred, caged, and isolated, most endure a lifetime of suffering, full of painful, arduous protocols and procedures that cause physical and mental illness. And then they are usually killed. Many animals are excluded from legal protections.

Some doctors, scientists, and policymakers question the validity and reliability of applying knowledge gained from animal experiments to human ailments, as well as the risks such poor science poses to particularly vulnerable human patients and populations. Fortunately, although they have yet to be fully implemented, there are more ethical, human-relevant tools that can be used to study disease and therapeutic interventions.

We can pursue research that is grounded in compassionate curiosity, innovation, ethics, and equity.

Toward Effective & Compassionate Solutions

Education, Advocacy, and Policy Change

We advocate for a Just One Health agenda, which emphasizes the importance of primary prevention and interdisciplinary collaboration in programs, policies, legislation, research, and institutions. Just One Health recognizes that sincere pursuits to achieve optimal health and wellbeing require inclusive, evidence-based approaches that advance justice. 

Fortunately, in education and the conduct of research, there have been important advancements, including attention to inclusion, equity, and diversity; the cross-cultural production of knowledge; community-based participatory research; the appropriate contextualization of new knowledge; critical thinking; and open dialogue. Our partnership with Project ECHO builds upon these advancements. Through the Phoenix Zones Initiative Project ECHO hub, we will provide open access to educational resources and technical expertise to advance holistic, inclusive, and evidence-based social and environmental justice interventions that serve the public health needs of vulnerable and marginalized communities.

As part of a commitment to more compassionate knowledge production, we also believe it is time to extend the ethical framework set forth in the Belmont Report to animals, and we are working toward this goal. Our efforts to reexamine the principles outlined in the Belmont Report and related documents also prompt a reevaluation of human research, including the need to enhance protections for those who are most vulnerable to exploitation.

We advocate for changes in funding mechanisms, journal publication practices, and incentive structures within academia that better represent a more ethical and just approach to the prioritization, conduct, and dissemination of research.

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