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How — and when — should pregnant women participate in Zika research?

Berman Institute of Bioethics will co-lead £1.2 million study funded by the Wellcome Trust
Posted May 19, 2016
Ruth Faden, the Andreas C. Dracopoulos Director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics Ruth Faden, the Andreas C. Dracopoulos Director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics

With fresh reports about the Zika virus epidemic broadcast nearly every day, the pressure to create and test vaccines and other treatments is high. Yet the ethical dimensions of including pregnant women in medical research in the midst of a public health crisis have never been fully explored, much less codified into practical guidelines. The United Kingdom-based Wellcome Trust has tapped Ruth Faden, the Andreas C. Dracopoulos Director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, to co-lead an effort to examine and establish those guidelines as part of a research initiative funded by a £1.2 million grant.

"While the legal and ethical issues involved in testing new vaccines and drugs in this population are complex, that is not a justification for failing to generate evidence that is badly needed to meet the distinctive health needs of pregnant women, who are often at heightened risk during a public health crisis," says Faden, who also serves as the Philip Franklin Wagley Professor of Biomedical Ethics.

"We urgently need a new set of ethical guidelines to ensure pregnant women are included in, and able to benefit from, medical research wherever possible in a public health emergency," says Dan O’Connor, a former faculty member at the Berman Institute and current head of humanities and social science at the Wellcome Trust. The Trust, an independent, global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health through science, research, and engagement with society, will support the two-year study.