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1.1. What are the NIH Guidelines?

The NIH Guidelines detail safety practices and containment procedures for basic and clinical research involving recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules, including the creation and use of organisms and viruses containing recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules.

1.2. When must institutions follow the NIH Guidelines?

An institution must follow the NIH Guidelines if it receives any funding from the NIH for research involving recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules. Even if only one research project involving recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules at an institution benefits from NIH support, all such projects conducted at or sponsored by that institution must comply with the NIH Guidelines. Also, adherence to the NIH Guidelines may be a condition of support from other federal agencies, or even private funders of research. Finally, regardless of NIH funding, institutions may be subject to local ordinances, federal or state regulations, or agency guidelines that require compliance with the NIH Guidelines.

1.3. Why must institutions comply with the NIH Guidelines?

Compliance with the NIH Guidelines is important because it promotes the safe conduct of research involving recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules. Also, compliance with the NIH Guidelines is mandatory as a condition of receiving NIH funding. Institutions that fail to comply with the NIH Guidelines risk:

  • suspension, limitation, or termination of financial assistance for:
    • non-compliant NIH projects;
    • NIH funding for other research involving recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules at the institution;
  • having to obtain prior NIH approval for any research involving recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules.

Many institutions that do not receive any NIH funding for research involving recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules nonetheless choose voluntarily to comply. These institutions recognize that following the NIH Guidelines promotes the safe and responsible practice of this research and gives the public confidence that the institution is attending to important safety matters.

1.4. Are there reporting requirements if an institution or investigator is found to be out of compliance with the NIH Guidelines?

First and foremost, an institution should attempt to rectify the problem by conforming to the requirements of the NIH Guidelines. In addition, when an occurrence of non-compliance with the NIH Guidelines is identified, a complete report of the incident must be forwarded within 30 days, along with any recommended actions to NIH OBA. OBA staff will respond with comments on the incident and on the institutional response. In general, OBA will evaluate the adequacy of that response and make recommendations on any additional measures that should be taken.

1.5. How do the NIH Guidelines apply to the containment or release of plants and animals containing recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules (e.g. have been genetically modified or have had recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules administered to them)?

The NIH Guidelines require physical and biological containment for experiments involving the use of transgenic plants and animals, including insects. As with other research involving recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules, the appropriate level of containment is graded according to the potential risks of the experiment.

The NIH Guidelines do not permit experiments involving the deliberate release of transgenic animals and plants (or animals or plants that have had recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules administered to them) into the environment unless, as provided in Section I-A-1, another Federal agency has jurisdiction over the experiment and approves the proposed release. As part of overseeing adherence to the NIH Guidelines, IBCs should ensure that institutional policies and procedures prohibit the release of such animals and plants into the environment when not otherwise Federally authorized. Further, institutions should ensure that investigators are educated about proper containment and disposal, as well as other aspects of the NIH Guidelines.

1.6. Are there any experiments with recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules that are exempt from the NIH Guidelines?

Section III-F of the NIH Guidelines describes experiments that are exempt from the requirements. Details on certain other experiments that may be exempt, as well as exceptions to the exemptions, may be found in Appendix C of the NIH Guidelines. For additional information see this link.

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2.1. What is an IBC?

Institutional Biosafety Committees (IBCs) were established under the NIH Guidelines to provide local review and oversight of nearly all forms of research utilizing recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules. Over time, many institutions have chosen to assign their IBCs the responsibility of reviewing a variety of experimentation that involves biological materials (e.g., infectious agents) and other potentially hazardous agents (e.g., carcinogens). This additional responsibility is assigned entirely at the discretion of the institution.

2.2. What are the responsibilities of institutions with regard to IBCs?

Each institution is responsible for ensuring that all research involving recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules conducted at or sponsored by that institution is conducted in compliance with the NIH Guidelines. Indeed, the NIH Guidelines place much of the authority, responsibility, and accountability for the safe conduct of the research at the local level. More specifically, each institution conducting or sponsoring research involving recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules that is covered by the NIH Guidelines is responsible for:

  • Establishing an IBC;
  • Ensuring that the IBC has adequate expertise and training (using ad hoc consultants as necessary);
  • Providing appropriate training for the IBC chair and members, Biological Safety Officer (BSO), principal investigators (PI), and laboratory staff;
  • Filing an annual report with the NIH OBA that includes (1) a roster of IBC members clearly indicating the chair, contact person and, as applicable, the BSO, plant expert, animal expert, and human gene transfer expert or ad hoc consultant; and (2) biographical sketches (e.g., curricula vitae or résumé) of all IBC members, including community members;
  • Establishing procedures that the IBC shall follow in its initial and continuing review and approval of applications, proposals, and activities; and making available to the public, upon request, all IBC meeting minutes and any documents submitted to or received from funding agencies that those agencies must make available to the public.

2.3. What are the general responsibilities of IBCs? What matters should they consider in their review of research involving recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules?

On behalf of the institution, IBCs review research involving recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules for compliance with the NIH Guidelines. This entails examination of a number of matters, including:

  • Containment levels; some useful resources to refer to when assessing containment levels are:
    • Appendices of the NIH Guidelines:
      • Appendix B - Table 1: Basis for the Classification of Biohazardous Agents by Risk Group
      • Appendix G – Physical Containment
      • Appendix I – Biological Containment
      • Appendix K – Physical Containment for Large Scale Uses of Organisms Containing Recombinant or Synthetic Nucleic Acid Molecules
      • Appendix P – Physical and Biological Containment for Recombinant or Synthetic Nucleic Acid Molecule Research Involving Plants
      • Appendix Q – Physical and Biological Containment for Recombinant or Synthetic Nucleic Acid Molecule Research Involving Animals
  • Facilities;
  • Institutional procedures and practices; and
  • Training and expertise of personnel

For human gene transfer experiments, IBCs also are responsible for ensuring that:

  • All aspects of Appendix M (requirements for human gene transfer experiments) of the NIH Guidelines have been addressed by the PI;
  • Final IBC approval is granted after the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC) review process is complete; and
  • Research projects are in compliance with the institution’s health surveillance requirements and data and adverse event reporting requirements.

IBCs should also:

  • Notify the PI of IBC review and approval.
  • Set containment levels and modify containment levels for ongoing experiments as warranted;
  • Implement contingency plans for handling accidental spills and personnel contamination resulting from research involving recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules; and
  • Report to OBA and institutional officials within 30 days any:
    • Substantial problems or violations of the NIH Guidelines; and
    • Significant research related accidents or illnesses.

2.4. What is the role of the IBC in human gene transfer research?

The IBC must review and approve all experiments subject to Section III-C of the NIH Guidelines. The IBC must ensure that the PI proposing this activity has submitted information on the source of the nucleic acid, the nature of the inserted nucleic acid sequences, the vectors to be used, information on whether an attempt will be made to obtain expression of a foreign gene (and if so, the protein that will be produced), and the containment conditions that will be implemented. The IBC must ensure that the PI has addressed all aspects of Appendix M of the NIH Guidelines.

The committee must also consider the issues raised and recommendations made during the course of RAC review, as applicable, along with any responses that the PI may have prepared. No research participants may be enrolled in the study until the RAC review process has been completed and the investigator has obtained IBC approval from the clinical trial site, Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, and all applicable regulatory authorizations.

2.5. The NIH Guidelines state that research subject to section III-E requires IBC notice simultaneous with initiation. Does this work require subsequent IBC review and approval?

Work covered under section III-E of the NIH Guidelines requires a registration document to be submitted to the IBC at the time the research is initiated. Review and approval prior to initiation of the experiments is not required.

Review and approval of the registration by the IBC is still required, but this review and approval does not need to take place before the experiment is initiated. This is in contrast to experiments which are covered under Sections III-A through III-D of the NIH Guidelines, where no work may commence until the IBC approval is given. 

Only experiments that are exempt from the NIH Guidelines (Section III-F) can be conducted without the approval of the IBC. All experiments that are not exempt from the NIH Guidelines must be reviewed and approved by the IBC.

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3.1. How many members are required on an IBC?

An IBC must consist of at least five members. There is no limit on the maximum number of members. Details on committee membership requirements may be found in Section IV-B-2-a of the NIH Guidelines.

3.2. When selecting members for an IBC, what qualifications or experience should be considered in potential candidates?

Collectively, the membership of an IBC should include:

  • Experience and expertise in:
    • Recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecule research; and
    • Biosafety and physical containment
  • Knowledge of:
    • Institutional commitments and policies;
    • Applicable laws;
    • Standards of professional conduct and practice;
    • Community attitudes; and
    • Environmental considerations
  • The capability to:
    • Assess the safety of research involving recombinant and synthetic nucleic acid molecules; and
    • Identify potential risks to public health and safety

3.3. What special expertise or perspectives are either required or recommended for the IBC?

Every committee is required to have two members not affiliated with the institution who represent the interest of the surrounding community with respect to health and protection of the environment. These may be officials of state or local public health or environmental protection agencies, members of other local governmental bodies, or persons active in medical, occupational health, or environmental concerns in the community. For further guidance on non-affiliated membership, see Question 3.5 below.

Depending on the kind of research conducted at your institution, you may also be required to have:

  • BSO: If your institution is conducting any high containment research involving recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules (BL 3 or 4) or research on a large scale (above 10 liters), you must have a BSO on your committee.
  • Plant Expert: If your institution is conducting research subject to Appendix P you must have a plant expert on your committee. This person should have expertise in plant, plant pathogen, or pest containment principals. Appendix P describes research involving recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecule-containing plants, plant-associated microorganisms, or plantassociated small animals (e.g. arthropods), whose size, quantity, or growth requirements prevent the use of standard laboratory containment conditions as described in Appendix G of the NIH Guidelines
  • Animal Expert: If your institution is conducting research subject to Appendix Q you must have an animal expert on your committee. This person should have expertise in animal containment principals. Appendix Q describes research involving whole animals in which the animal’s genome has been altered by the stable introduction of recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules or recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules are introduced into the germ-line (transgenic animals), or viable recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecule-modified microorganisms are being tested, and research animals’ sizes or growth requirements prevent the use of the physical containment procedures and practices listed in Appendix G of the NIH Guidelines.

It is also recommended that IBCs include:

  • Experts in biosafety and containment,
  • Persons knowledgeable in institutional policies and applicable laws,
  • Individuals reflecting community attitudes,
  • At least one representative member from the laboratory staff.

3.4. Who is responsible for ensuring that IBC members are adequately trained to fulfill their responsibilities under the NIH Guidelines?

Section IV-B-1-h of the NIH Guidelines states that the institution must ensure appropriate training for the IBC Chair and members, BSO and other containment experts regarding laboratory safety and implementation of the NIH Guidelines. The IBC Chair is responsible for ensuring that IBC members are appropriately trained. This training may be accomplished in a number of ways. One is to have the institution ‘train a trainer’ by sending someone to one of the training events conducted by staff from NIH OBA. This individual can, in turn, train IBC members utilizing OBA-produced materials along with institution-specific information. OBA training opportunities are posted on the OBA web site at: http://oba.od.nih.gov. OBA slide sets and FAQs are also available on these pages, and institutions should also feel free to download and use any of these training materials.

3.5. What kinds of individuals are appropriate as “non-affiliated members” of the IBC?

Section IV-B-2-a-(1) of the NIH Guidelines states that at least two members of the IBC shall not be affiliated with the institution. These individuals are supposed to represent the interests of the surrounding community with respect to the environment and public health. The NIH Guidelines suggest several possibilities for non-affiliated members including officials of state or local public health or environmental protection agencies, members of other local governmental bodies, or persons active in medical, occupational health, or environmental concerns in the community. Other possibilities are teachers from local schools, real estate agents, members of local churches, charitable organizations or local support groups. These are people who are often willing to volunteer their time and who generally have a broad perspective on the communities in which they live.

The NIH Guidelines state that unaffiliated members of the IBC should have no relationship with the institution other than their service on the IBC. The determination of whether an individual is unaffiliated is not always a straightforward matter, and good judgment is key.

If the individual under consideration works for an entity that has a business relationship with your institution, he or she would not be a suitable choice to serve on your IBC in an “unaffiliated” capacity. However, affiliation is not created by financial relationships alone. For example, visiting professors have an affiliation with the institution where they teach even if their salary comes from a source outside the institution.

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4.1 How do institutions register a new IBC with NIH OBA?

NIH encourages entities wishing to register a new IBC to utilize the Web-based Institutional Biosafety Committee Registration Management System (IBC-RMS). IBC-RMS can be accessed here

(For entities wishing to submit registrations through mail, fax, or email please see FAQ 4.4)

4.2. What subsequent reports must be made to NIH OBA about the IBC?

The institution must file an annual report that includes:

  • An updated committee roster indicating the role of each committee member (e.g., chairperson, contact person, non-institutional members, special experts as relevant, etc.), and
  • Biosketches (curricula vitae, résumé) for each new member on the committee

The easiest way to file your annual report is electronically by utilizing IBC-RMS.

In addition to utilizing IBC-RMS to submit an annual report, the system can be used to notify us of membership changes that may occur on the IBC throughout the course of the year.

4.3. What is the deadline for an IBC’s annual report?

You must report at least annually on your IBC's membership. Thus, the deadline for your next update is one year after the receipt date of your last report. If you are unclear on when your next IBC membership update is due, you may view your registration information on IBC-RMS or contact OBA directly to obtain this information. 

Entities that register their IBC’s via IBC-RMS will be sent email reminders 15 days prior to their IBC registration due date and 15 days after the due date has past (if the entity has not yet filed their report)

4.4. Where should paper-based IBC submissions be sent?

NIH encourages entities to register and update IBC documentation via IBC-RMS. However, registrations will still be accepted through mail, fax, or email.

The following information should be submitted to OBA.

A complete roster listing all members of the IBC; your roster should contain complete contact information for each person, including:

  • Name
  • Title
  • Business mailing address
  • Phone number
  • Fax number
  • Email
  • The role of each member, e.g., chairperson, contact person, non-institutional member, special experts as relevant, etc.
  • Biosketches (e.g., curricula vitae, résumé) for every member on the committee

A cover letter indicating your intent to establish a new IBC, or update an existing IBC should be included with this information.

Listed below are various options for submitting information on IBCs to OBA:

Mail:

Michelle Johnson-Lancaster
IBC Coordinator
National Institutes of Health
Office of Biotechnology Activities
6705 Rockledge Dr., Suite 750
Bethesda, MD 20892-7985

(Non-USPS, FedEx, UPS, etc.): 

Michelle Johnson-Lancaster
IBC Coordinator
National Institutes of Health
Office of Biotechnology Activities
6705 Rockledge Dr., Suite 750
Bethesda, MD 20817-1814

Fax:

(301) 496-9839
ATTN: Michelle Johnson-Lancaster

Email:

JohnsoM1@od.nih.gov


4.5. If an institution does not receive NIH support for research involving recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules; can it voluntarily register its IBC?

There are a number of reasons why entities not subject to the NIH Guidelines choose nonetheless to comply voluntarily. First, it demonstrates the entity adheres to high standards of safety in conducting recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid research. Second, adherence to the NIH Guidelines has been adopted as a requirement by other Federal agencies, so even if an institution does receive NIH funding, it may still be expected to adhere to the NIH Guidelines if it receives funding from certain other agencies. Finally, if the institution adheres to the NIH Guidelines voluntarily, it will be poised to be compliant with this key requirement should it ever seek NIH funding for recombinant DNA research.

It is important to note that, under voluntary compliance, we do expect full adherence to all pertinent requirements. If an institution were to adhere only to certain elements of the NIH Guidelines, the NIH would not be in a position to say that the entity was compliant with the NIH Guidelines.

As part of full compliance, we would expect the entity to release its minutes to the public upon request. The entity may redact information that is private or proprietary; however, redaction should be done judiciously and consistently. Some examples of information that may be redacted include trade secret information, the home telephone numbers or home addresses of IBC members, and specific information whose disclosure would directly compromise institutional or national security.

4.6. Can an IBC registration be deactivated?

Entities that utilize IBC-RMS may request to deactivate their IBC registration online.

Entities who choose not to utilize IBC-RMS, must request deactivation of their IBC in writing to OBA. Deactivation requests may be mailed or emailed to the address above.

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 Updated 8/26/15