An IRB at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, has terminated a study of young people with high blood pressure after a youth camp last summer was plagued by multiple incidents of violence and sexual harassment.

In July 2017, the university closed Camp DASH early after a wave of incidents. The camp was part of a five-year federally funded study on the effect of salt reduction on the blood pressure of youth ages 11 to 15 years. Recurrent incidents raised concerns about the participants’ safety in the camp, which was in the second year of the study. The IRB reviewed the situation to determine whether the camp should continue, and rendered the termination in a letter on Nov. 22, 2017.

The IRB ruled that the study’s principle investigator, Connie Weaver, PhD, must submit a remediation plan and agree to additional scrutiny for future research at the university.

Weaver issued a statement in response, saying: “I am deeply saddened by the instances that caused Camp DASH to end early. As the principal investigator, I accept responsibility for events that occurred at Camp DASH. The safety and security of research participants always comes first. I have dedicated my career to nutrition science research, and our team’s work has led to better health and wellness for millions of people across the world. We will continue these important efforts to find solutions to the nation’s top health concerns for at-risk, diverse adolescents.”

An investigation commissioned by Purdue President Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr., found multiple incidents of violence, bullying, inappropriate touching, and sexual harassment among study participants. These incidents were compounded by the investigators’ failure to report them in a timely manner, with the suggestion in the investgation that the camp may have had insufficient staff to provide safe oversight.

In a letter announcing the decision, Daniels wrote, “Camp DASH was not a typical ‘camp’ of the kind held routinely on Purdue’s campus. It was unique in that it was a research study, which required the adolescent subjects to be in residence and to be monitored several times daily for diet and physiological response during a total of 10 weeks.”

The institutional assessment and the IRB investigation revealed “serious flaws in the study’s implementation, which led to the discipline and management issues that ultimately led to its closure,” Davis noted.

Similar residential research studies in the future will require the protocol to assign a qualified camp administrator to oversee “all aspects of camp operations — including screening and hiring of staff; scheduling and supervision of programs and activities; and managing living accommodations,” Davis said.