Virginia Tech Institutional Biosafety Committee Program (IBCP) staff Regina Allen and Ling Chen were invited to present about best practices in June at the Eagleson Institute’s conference on practical approaches for IBC members in Alexandria, Virginia.

“It was an opportunity to have others hear about Virginia Tech’s best practices and to compare our practices to other institutions,” said Allen, who is the Institutional Biosafety Committee Program director and Institutional Biosafety Committee administrator for Virginia Tech. The IBC Program forms a cornerstone of Virginia Tech’s oversight of biohazardous materials used in research.

Protocols for all of Virginia Tech’s projects involving biohazardous agents are discussed monthly by a committee composed of about 20 to 25 members appointed by the vice president for research and innovation. Membership is voluntary, and as Allen noted, it’s important to make sure that the meetings are facilitated well so that their time is used in the most productive way possible.  Likewise, it is equally important to use the time spent working with the researchers as efficiently as possible.

Chen, senior IBC program protocol coordinator, explained the best practices associated with communicating with PIs.

“We maintain active communication with PIs throughout the lifespan of a protocol," Chen said. "Before a protocol is ever submitted, we provide consultation on the scope and governance of the VT IBC, the information and documents necessary for establishing IBC protocols, the navigation and usage of the online system. During the protocol review stage, our office continues to communicate with PIs regarding protocol revisions, meeting information, and post-meeting updates. Once a protocol is approved, we follow up with PIs to ensure continuous compliance of the protocol through annual reviews, on-site visits, amendments, etc.” 

Allen and Chen make sure that the IBC protocol application and review processes run smoothly and efficiently, and much of their best practices is involved in ensuring that the burden of maintaining the compliance of biohazardous research on campus is taken off university researchers and IBC committee members. To that end, Allen and Chen take care of all the behind-the-scenes details, from getting a protocol started to the final approval of the protocol and the continuous review of approved protocols. 

Both Allen and Chen recognized that communication is one of the key elements for their work. “Role identification and communication are key,” Allen emphasized. “If everyone knows their role, then the communication during the meeting flows easily and we rarely run into an issue where tangent conversations occur.  As a result, the members are able to complete everything on the agenda. Additionally, we’re constantly communicating with the members before the meeting to make sure that everyone is following the same set of expectations and that the path is clear for the committee to follow.”

Chen reinforced how important communication is to best practices.

“Communicate early and often, understand the PIs’ needs and questions, be open and honest with your responses, and most importantly, always follow up are all key to successful interactions with PIs,” Chen said.

The foundation of communication is relationship. Both IBCP staff members strive to create successful working relationships with the IBC members and researchers. In that way, the IBC and the IBC Program continue to function smoothly, ensuring the best quality of research at Virginia Tech.

— Written by Tiffany Trent