Kresge Park

New Approaches to the Ethics of Biomedical Research

Working across the globe, the ethics of University of Michigan researchers have been tested. These banners set side-by-side symbols of Brazil and of the University of Michigan, suggesting that considerations of equity are a critical dimension of U-M’s approach to biomedical research.

There has been much controversy and debate about fieldwork among the Yanomami, a group of Amazonian Indians in Brazil and Venezuela, undertaken in the 1960s by U-M geneticist James Neel and others. Investigative journalist, Patrick Tierney, made several accusations against Neel’s work in his 2000 book “Darkness in El Dorado.” He claimed Neel made a measles epidemic worse among the South American tribe by injecting members with a virulent measles vaccine that sparked an epidemic which may have killed thousands, and that he could have done more to help them. While the most serious of these accusations have since been dismissed — it was later found that the measles outbreak predated Neel’s arrival in the region — this controversy helped raise awareness about the ethical issues involved in international biomedical research.

Today, U-M engages in research all over the globe. The Medical School has been cultivating thriving research partnerships in Brazil for more than a decade. In 2012, U-M signed a collaboration agreement with the State of São Paulo Research Foundation to stimulate collaboration between researchers across U-M and researchers throughout São Paulo.

Looking Ahead

“For a long time, Brazil was a research field for the University of Michigan. Today, Brazil is a research partner, collaborating with U-M scholars on the ethical, scientific and public good dimensions of every project.”

Jean Hébrard
Visiting Professor of History, Institute for the Humanities

“As we leave Ann Arbor to work with people around the world, we need always to keep in mind that our values may not be universally shared. We need to put hubris aside and search for common goals while trying to understand (rather than assume) what other people feel, want and believe.“

Joel Howell
Victor Vaughan Collegiate Professor of the History of Medicine, Professor of Internal Medicine, Professor of History, Professor of Honors Program, and Professor of Health Management and Policy

Media Gallery

U-M visits Brazil to forge collaborations in education and research.

Exhibit Highlights

Related Links

For more information on U-M’s partnerships in Brazil and biomedical ethics: