April 24, 2013

For more information and interview opportunities, contact Kimberly Hensle Lowrance, Managing Director, PRIM&R, at or 617.423.4112, ext. 119

Joan Rachlin, Research Ethics Pioneer, to Depart after Nearly 40 Years at Helm

Joan RachlinBoston, MA: Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PRIM&R), an organization at the forefront of educating and engaging the public and the research community on the ethics of biomedical, social science, and behavioral research, announced today that its founding executive director, Joan Rachlin, will be stepping down in early 2014 from the position she has held since 1975.

Since its founding in 1974, PRIM&R has grown to be among the most respected and valued voices for keeping ethics and scientific responsibility at the center of biomedical and behavioral research. During Ms. Rachlin’s nearly 40-year tenure, PRIM&R has become a globally respected organization with 4,000 members from around the world.  

"Joan’s matchless leadership transformed the dream of several Boston-area researchers to advance ethical research into an inspiring reality. For more than 38 years, her steady guidance has been a beacon in the field, and her personal dedication and warmth have made PRIM&R the essential venue in research ethics,” said Alexander Capron, LLB, Chair of PRIM&R’s Board of Directors and the Scott H. Bice Chair in Healthcare Law, Policy, and Ethics at the University of Southern California. 

Under Ms. Rachlin’s stewardship, PRIM&R has become a forum in which all stakeholders can gather to discuss ethical issues and best practices, and address the controversies in the ever-changing field of research with human beings and animals. In addition, PRIM&R’s innovative and consistently high quality educational programs have prepared researchers and research ethics committee members and staff for the difficult task of ensuring that ethical considerations are integrated into the review of all protocols.

“Leaving such a best-of-all-possible-worlds job will not be easy, but now seems like the right time for both PRIM&R and me to take this step in our respective journeys. I have such confidence in PRIM&R’s strength and its ongoing critical role in the future of research, largely because our Board is wise and hardworking, our staff incomparable, and our community strong and committed,” Ms. Rachlin wrote in a letter that was sent to members of the PRIM&R community. 

A health lawyer by training, Ms. Rachlin developed programs on the ethical oversight of biomedical, social, and behavioral research that have provided critical information and skill-building tools to tens of thousands of researchers and research oversight professionals in the United States and abroad. She established a mentoring initiative so that those in the field are able to receive the guidance and support required for their high-stakes jobs, and she created a website that will serve as a repository for the voices and stories of the research ethics community. Among the topics she helped bring to audiences around the world were the treatment of vulnerable populations in research, HIV/AIDS studies, scientific misconduct, conflicts of interest, organ transplantation, new reproductive technologies, privacy and confidentiality, the competencies of institutional review boards and institutional animal care and use committees, and the application of HIPAA to research.

“Largely because of Joan’s passion, commitment, and hard work, PRIM&R has become a unique and respected resource for the individuals and institutions responsible for the ethical conduct of research,” said Joseph Byrne, Associate Provost for Research Emeritus at Tufts University, and one of PRIM&R’s founders who first hired Ms. Rachlin in 1975. “Joan will be greatly missed, but she leaves a lasting legacy for a strong and important organization that will continue to be successful because of the groundwork she has laid.” 

The Board of Directors has initiated a search for Ms. Rachlin’s successor. The Search Committee, chaired by Board member Dr. Cynthia A. Gómez, Director of the Heath Equity Institute at San Francisco State University, will announce further details of the selection process in early May.

Read Joan's reflection piece on PRIM&R's blog, Ampersand - "Looking forward, and looking back."