The iRIMS-IRB team (top row, from left): Loo Shi Wei (OETU), Ooi Su Fen (OETU), Mandy Ng (OETU), Bernard Tang (NUS IT); (second row, from left) Seet Li Peng (OETU), Ng Jun Da (NUS IT), Katherine Ng (IRB), Jorene Teh (IRB); Tan Hui Cheng (not in photo)

Enhancing research administration

For research staff at the University, projects are fundamental to their work scope. From funding opportunities to research outcomes, the project lifecycle is an extensive process that may at times involve human subjects, human cells, tissue and data.

All human biomedical research conducted in Singapore is governed by the Human Biomedical Research Act, which mandates that any proposed human research should undergo review, and be approved or exempted by an Institutional Review Board (IRB). The NUS IRB manages the research development for about 1,600 staff, and serves as a central committee which reviews the ethical aspects of research projects at the University. Currently, there are over 3,000 ongoing research studies, and NUS IRB receives more than 600 new applications and 600 protocol amendments annually.

In June 2020, an IRB module of the Integrated Research Information Management Suite (iRIMS) system was launched to replace existing manual and paper-based ethics submissions to IRB. A one-stop platform for research administration, iRIMS enables researchers and administrators to manage and track their research projects effectively. Under iRIMS, the IRB module digitalises the ethics submission process and includes research compliance management to ensure that University and government regulatory requirements are met.

IRB Chairman Professor Paul Tambyah affirmed the board’s continual efforts to improve the services provided to researchers, while protecting human subjects. “This is the first step on our automation journey and although the road ahead is long and arduous, we hope that we will eventually make life a lot safer for researchers and research subjects,” said Prof Tambyah.

"For researchers, the iRIMS-IRB platform provides an intuitive, easy-to-navigate interface that guides users through various steps along the project review and approval process at the department and board levels,” shared Tan Hui Cheng, Associate Director at the Office of the Deputy President (Research & Technology). For example, the research protocol completion, submission, IRB review, approval and modifications, among others. Researchers can also leverage the platform’s central dashboard to track the status and progress of their applications.

Rayner Tan, a PhD student researcher from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health noted that the iRIMS-IRB system helps end-users to consolidate approvals from different departments. “The comments feature is particularly useful as it allows the user to add responses for specific sections of the submitted applications,” Rayner said. Assistant Professor Jean Liu from Yale-NUS College added that the ‘smart’ forms on the system which displays only relevant sections and fields based on applicant answers, helps to save time. Other features such as automatic routing to the departments for review and approval, as well as notifications of important tasks also improve the overall user experience.

As of early August 2020, 143 applications have been created and 41 applications have been approved in the iRIMS-IRB system. Upcoming iRIMS modules that the NUS research community can look forward to in September include the iRIMS-InfoReady (a central platform for disseminating grant call details) and the iRIMS-Fund Manager (a system displaying project financials). The iRIMS-Sponsored Project (Pre-Award and Post-Award) modules will be rolled out in phases from Q4 2020 onwards.


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