Kirchhoff Continues in Oversight Role

Louis V. Kirchhoff, MD, MPH, Professor of Internal Medicine, Infectious Diseases, will continue to serve as Chair of the University of Iowa Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) for FY2018-19. Dr. Kirchhoff has held this position since 1991.

The IBC is a governing body that must review and approve experiments involving biomaterials, particularly recombinant DNA, before the work begins. The committee’s charge is to understand and make sure the myriad of safety, legal, and ethical regulations within the framework of the federal NIH Guidelines and related documents are applied. The 10 IBC members use their expertise in a variety of fields—genetics, public health, microbiology, immunology, environmental health and safety, and animal care and use—to fulfill the committee’s responsibility to researchers as well as to the local community.

Recognition of the need for oversight and regulation of DNA research began to grow in the late 1960s, particularly with the advent of recombinant DNA technology, which posed a number of potential biohazards if left ungoverned. By 1975, voluntary guidelines ensuring the safe use of this new technology emerged from the Asilomar Conference, bringing an awareness of the research into the public domain. In the decades since, federal regulations have evolved to mandate oversight of experiments involving recombinant DNA technology by local IBCs at all institutions that receive federal funding.

As he nears the end of his third decade as IBC Chair, Dr. Kirchhoff says he is pleased that the committee has succeeded in fulfilling the broad goals of its charter in the context of rapidly evolving methods for biological research. “With the amazing pace of the development of recombinant DNA technology and the accompanying regulatory challenges, we have been able to keep everybody safe without stifling the creativity of our researchers who pursue studies that have the potential for benefiting the scientific community and the population as a whole.”

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