Ethics – Human Case Study (2010) - Iodine Deficiency

Mon, 2012-02-27 10:35 -- pwhippey

Description of the Project

The project will be a correlation study to attempt to determine any patterns between life style and iodine levels of the people in our community. The study will include approximately 30 subjects of whom will all be 18 years or older. The subjects will be selected based on word of mouth (the students have asked many acquaintances of their families to ask a couple of other people they know to participate if interested) Each person will fill out the informed consent document attached. Each subject will also fill out a short survey to determine their lifestyles. A drop of iodine will be placed on each of the subjects wrist at the hospital under the supervision of a medical doctor, who is the scientific supervisor. The subjects will then return to their regular daily activities with instructions for when the iodine has completely absorbed into the skin/blood, to contact the students who will record the data. The time it takes for the iodine to absorb into the skin/blood can be used to determine the amount of iodine the person has in their system.

Advice or Ruling


Thank you so much for taking the time and care to submit this proposal to the Youth Science Canada Ethics Committee, so that we can evaluate this project from an Ethics perspective well before the Science Fair.

This project raises some important issues.

The first is: Does the Iodine Absorption Test proposed actually measure the amount of Iodine in the body? This web site states clearly that it does not:

"The "test" of putting iodine on the skin to watch how fast it disappears is not an indicator of anything. The iodine disappearance rate is unrelated to thyroid disease or even iodine content of the body.(1-2) Meticulous research by Nyiri and Jannitti in 1932 showed clearly when iodine is applied to the skin in almost any form, 50% evaporates into the air within 2 hours and between 75 and 80 percent evaporates into the air within 24 hours. (1) A total of 88 percent evaporates within 3 days and it is at this point that the evaporation stops. The remaining 12 percent that is absorbed into the skin has several fates. Only 1-4% of the total iodine applied to the skin is absorbed into the blood stream within the first few hours. The rest of the iodine within the skin (8-11%) is slowly released from the skin into the blood stream. "

The second Issue is whether or not this proposed experiment involves Ingestion. Iodine placed on the skin is absorbed into the body, and so does violate our policy on ingestion projects. This states: "Ingestion projects are not allowed at the CWSF, unless carried out under professional supervision at a laboratory licensed to carry out such studies. These are projects in which humans are required to consume an item. Some measurements are then made. This complete ban has been instituted because there are rare cases of serious side effects from ingesting substances, including fatal interactions occurring between such items and other medications being taken by the Participant." While there is professional supervision of the project, it is not clear that this is being done in a research environment with the ethical reviews in place.

The information provided on the survey is extremely brief: "Each subject will also fill out a short survey to determine their lifestyles." It is hard to see how a short survey is going to measure a concept as undefined and difficult to measure as "lifestyle".

The decision of the Ethics Committee is the one you don't want. The Youth Science Canada Ethics Committee has ruled that this project is not eligible for participation in a science fair.

Your Project

If your proposed science fair project involves the participation of humans or the use of animals,

1. Visit the Ethics web page so as to become familiar with the policies.
2. Fill in the Request for Advice or a Ruling.
3. Submit it to the Ethics Committee of your Regional Science Fair.


These case studies summarize interesting examples of science fair projects involving humans or animals submitted to the Youth Science Canada National Ethics Committee for review. A brief description of the proposed project is given, along with the ruling given by the Ethics Committee. Some details may have been changed in the descriptions so that the original source cannot be identified. The ethical challenges described have not been changed.