Research Standards

Updated:Jun 4,2014

The American Heart Association is committed to maintaining research programs of the highest quality. That's why we've developed research program standards to ensure they remain at a uniformly high level. The most important of these written guides is our Standards for Research Programs, which contains policies, standards and guidelines to help ensure that our research programs are fairly and consistently conducted.

Peer Review of All Requests for Support

Since we began providing research funding in 1948, we've required that funds be awarded in strict accordance with peer review committee appraisals of scientific merit. Peer review is mandatory for all national and affiliate research applications.

The American Heart Association ensures that its peer review process provides a fair evaluation of each and every application submitted. Its review panels consist of scientific expert reviewers familiar with the science of the application and may also include lay reviewers.  Lay reviewers are individuals without formal training as a scientist who have a strong interest in the prevention and/or management of heart disease and stroke. In the AHA peer review process, lay reviewers will specifically help to evaluate the potential impact of research applications to the mission of the AHA through their scoring (evaluation) of the lay summary portion of an application. The score and assessment of scientific reviewers take into account all of the review criteria for the type of program being reviewed. The panel must maintain a quorum throughout discussion of each proposal's scientific merits.

Our peer review is also impartial. Each committee member assigns each application a priority score. Also, the conflict-of-interest policy prevents a reviewer with a professional or personal interest in an application from reviewing, discussing or scoring it.

Finally, while peer review committees evaluate the scientific merit of each application, they do not allocate funds. Each research committee, using the peer review committees' ranking of applications based on scientific merit, determines how funds will be allocated between the various research programs. It then makes a recommendation to the Board of Directors for final approval.

Research on Hazardous Materials

The American Heart Association mandates that any national or affiliate application meet strict requirements before it is considered for scientific review. If the research proposal involves biohazards (broadly defined to be any material that may be harmful to normal organisms upon uncontrolled exposure), the project must be approved by the applicant's institutional biohazards committee. In the case of radiation hazards, applicants must demonstrate Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensure of their institution.

Protection of Human Research Participants

Preventing and treating cardiovascular disease and stroke depends on accurate knowledge from a wide variety of sources, including experimentation on human subjects and animals. Any research involving humans requires review and approval by the applicant's institutional human subjects review board. Anyone who will be a subject in a research project must be given a clear explanation of what the experiment involves and any hazards that may result before being asked to participate.

Research Involving Animals

For research involving animals, the American Heart Association requires all awardees to provide proof of unqualified institutional accreditation by the American Association for Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care or accepted U.S. Public Health Service Animal Welfare Assurance.  The awardee must also have the approval of his institutional animal care and use committee.

Other Standards

The association has written guidelines regarding principal investigator conflict of interest, ethical standards for reporting research findings, policies for patents and intellectual property resulting from association-sponsored research, standards governing scientific misconduct, a policy on the collection and use of personal information, a policy on the types of stem cell research that the association will fund, policies on family, medical or military leave for awardees, and an investigator financial disclosure policy.