IRB staff can help you navigate the process for submitting research protocols to the Campus IRB. We provide 1:1 consultations to faculty and students, as well as training, seminars and workshops. 

Reach us via email or phone during normal business hours (M-F, 8am-5pm EST).

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Before You Begin

If your project meets the definition of research with human subjects, you need to submit a protocol to the Campus IRB.

However, defining research with human subjects is not always easy.

To meet the definition of research with human subjects, one or more of the following must be true:

  1. You are conducting a pilot study or other activities preliminary to research; or
  2. You have designed a study to collect information or biospecimens in a systematic way to answer a research question; or
  3. You intend to study, analyze, or otherwise use existing information or biospecimens to answer a research question.

And you must be doing one or more of the following:

  1. Interacting with people to gather data about them using methods such as interviews, focus groups, questionnaires, and participant observation; or
  2. Conducting interventions with people such as experiments or manipulations of subjects or subjects' environments; or
  3. Observing or recording behavior, whether in-person and captured in real time or in virtual spaces, like social media sites (e.g., Twitter) or online forums (e.g., Reddit); or
  4. Obtaining existing information about individuals, such as students’ school records or patients’ health records, or data sets provided by another researcher or organization.

Not all projects that meet the definition of research with human subjects need review by the Board. For example, projects that pose negligible risk to participants may be reviewed and recommended for approval by IRB staff; other projects may need to undergo review and approval by at least one member of the IRB committee or a quorum of the full board. Determination as to the need for review should always be made by the IRB staff.

For definitions found in the regulations and vignettes to see how they are applied, see the Guide to Defining Research with Human Subjects.

General Policy

The Campus IRB reviews research conducted by faculty, students, and staff in the Arts and Sciences, the Schools of Engineering, Law, Business, Divinity, and the Environment, as well as Campus institutes, centers, and programs, including the Duke Global Health Institute.

If a campus researcher plans to conduct research at a Duke Health facility, or plans to access Protected Health Information (PHI) held by Duke Health, the protocol must be submitted to a Duke Health IRB.

However, the Campus IRB may review some collaborative studies between Campus and Duke Health researchers and may review the collection of biological samples and data for studies in the social and behavioral sciences.

If the research is sponsored by Duke University Health Systems (DUHS) or a DUHS component, the protocol will need to be reviewed by the Health IRB.

Collaborative Studies

The Campus IRB can review collaborative research when:

  1. An investigator from a campus academic unit will collaborate with a Duke Health researcher to conduct a study in the social and behavioral sciences, provided the research not take place at a Duke Health facility or use PHI held by Duke Health.
  2. A graduate student or undergraduate student from a campus academic unit asks a researcher from Duke Medicine to serve as an advisor, provided the research will not take place at a Duke Health facility or use PHI held by Duke Health.
Collection of Biological Samples and Data

The Campus IRB may review a study in the social and behavioral sciences that will involve non-invasive procedures to collect biological samples and data. Examples of biological specimens include saliva, and hair and nail clippings. Physiological data collection includes measuring weight, testing sensory acuity, as well as the collection of data through galvanic skin response electrocardiography, electroencephalography, and thermography.  The Campus IRB may also review research involving moderate exercise activities. The full list of procedures can be found in Research Eligible for Expedited Review: Federal Register 1998.

Biological samples also include blood collection, as described in the list of research activities eligible for expedited review.

  • Note: If the biological samples are collected or analyzed in a lab that is part of a Duke Health facility, the protocol must be reviewed by a Duke Health IRB.

If you are collaborating with researchers at other institutions or organizations in the US or abroad, please contact IRB staff before you begin writing your protocol.

If you plan to hire individuals or firms to help you conduct the research, please contact us.

Why? We don’t want you to spend time preparing material the IRB doesn’t need, omit information that should be included in the protocol, or delay your research due to agreements or contracts with other institutions or individuals that must be put in place.

If your proposed research will be physically conducted outside the U.S. or you plan to collaborate with a foreign entity please contact the Duke University Office of Export Controls for approval.


Information is considered individually identifiable if it could reveal the identity of a participant, either directly (e.g. name) or through deductive disclosure (e.g. a combination of unique characteristics, such as a student's gender, year in school, major, and athletic affiliation).

Information is sensitive if an inadvertent release of that information could cause potential risk of harm to the participant. Some examples of sensitive information include a subjects' mental health, sexual behavior, or illegal behavior, such as underage drinking or drug use.

Also note that the University has determined any research studies that collect or use direct (e.g., names) or indirect (e.g., demographics) data about Duke students meets the "sensitive" data classification, because the data must be protected to mitigate institutional risk.

What you need to do

If you are collecting individually identifiable information about participants that is sensitive:

  1. Your protocol will need to include a data security plan. The IRB staff will pre-review the plan and forward it to Duke’s Information Technology Security Office (ITSO). The IRB staff have worked with ITSO to create guidelines for acceptable and recommended data protection procedures, including a list of approved servers for storing sensitive data.
  2. You may also need a Certificate of Confidentiality (CoC). Contact the IRB to determine whether you will need a CoC.

The protocol can be reviewed by the IRB, but final approval cannot be issued until ITSO has reviewed the data security plan.

Obtaining a CoC and ITSO review will add to the time needed to secure IRB approval.

Please note the undergraduate students may not be able to collect or access identifiable sensitive information about other Duke undergraduate students.

These things happen, and that is all right. We hope you do not get too distressed.

If you have not already, please review our guide on Subject Complaints, Setbacks and Other Problems & Issues, and our policy on Reporting Problems. We provide more information and some possible next steps.

If you are a student researcher, please get in touch with your faculty advisor as soon as possible.

Also you can always (and probably should) contact us.