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Tribute to Dr. Ronald J. Heslegrave (Ron)

On June 30, 2020, the research ethics community lost Dr. Ronald J. Heslegrave (Ron), a great leader and mentor in the field who left behind a legacy of positive academic and professional achievements. 

Ron received his PhD in Psychology from the University of Toronto and was an Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry, Public Health, School of Graduate Studies and the Institute of Medical Sciences at the University of Toronto.  Over the last 25 years, Ron served in a number of academic and professional roles beginning as a Senior Defence Scientist with the Department of National Defence, Director of Research in Psychiatry at St. Michael’s Hospital and Wellesley Central teaching Hospitals.  Ron’s early research area focused on fatigue and shift work where he co-authored three reference guides on shift work issues including Fatigue Management: A Guide for Canadian Coast Guard Managers, Officers, and Crew. 

Throughout his career, Ron achieved over 200 scientific publications and presentations in a variety of areas and maintained international collaboration in several research disciplines.  In early 2000, Ron embarked on a new role as a Senior Scientist in Research Ethics at the University Health Network where his interest in new models of ethics review oversight evolved, leading to the development of new processes for protecting and informing research participants that are in practice today.

Ron further envisioned a streamlined ethics review by harmonizing all Research Ethics Board (REB) policies and procedures for nine academic teaching hospitals affiliated with the University of Toronto.  In 2001, Ron served as Chair for the Toronto Academic Health Sciences Committee for Research Ethics Board Harmonization (later known as “TAHSN”). Through his leadership, TAHSN standardized REB procedures and practices across the TAHSN community.  Other streamlining efforts include Ron’s work with the Joint Research Ethics Board consisting of West Park, Bridgepoint, and Toronto Central CCAC.

Ron continued his vision for a streamlined ethics review through the support of the Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation.  In 2011, Ron was appointed as the inaugural Executive Director of Clinical Trials Ontario (CTO).  The mandate of CTO was to reform the clinical trials infrastructure in the province to attract global research partners in biomedical clinical trials.  This model involved a centralized ethical review for multi-centre research, while ensuring the highest ethical standards for patient safety.  Through extraordinary efforts, Ron exceeded this mandate where he established a Board of Directors, governance structure, and 5-year strategic plan, as well as secured funding from the government to support future initiatives of CTO. 

As a passionate leader of research ethics, Ron held a number of appointments on the REB over a 27-year period at leading hospitals and academic institutions across Ontario.  As REB Chair, he provided ethical oversight for research on human participants in different areas, including oncology, cardiovascular, neurosurgical, organ transplantation, obstetrics and gynecology in specialized hospitals and institutions.

Ron’s influence and legacy lives on in many  healthcare organizations in Toronto where he also served as the inaugural REB Chair at the Ontario Cancer Research Ethics Board (OCREB) for a 7-year period and inaugural REB Chair  at the Women’s College Hospital REB for a 2-year period. From 1999, he also served as past REB Chair at the University Health Network (consisting of Toronto General, Toronto Western and Princess Margaret Hospitals) over an 11-year period, as well as past REB Chair at St. Michael’s and the Wellesley Hospital. Until his passing, Ron served as the REB Chair at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto for 20 years and at Baycrest Health Sciences for 16 years.

Furthermore, Ron held appointments on many advisory committees on research and integrity.   To name a few, these committees included the Canadian Council of Academies Expert Panel on Scientific Integrity;  CIHR President’s Advisory Committee on Clinical Trials; CIHR Ethics Delegate to the Institute of Cancer Research; Canadian Expert Panel on Scientific Integrity (member); and the  Canada Pakistan Research & Development Council (member).  Ron was an influential educator where he has received several regional and global conference  invitations as a keynote speaker on research integrity.  In addition, he was a Research Ethics Consultant to the Ontario Brain Institute, an International Consultant to NIH, Oxford University, Wellcome Trust, the Ministry of Health in Vietnam and a national consultant on streamlining the ethics review process in Canada.  Ron’s peer-reviewed publications on research ethics include: 

Zia, M., Heslegrave, R., & Newton, G. (2011). Post-trial period surveillance for randomised controlled cardiovascular studies: submitted protocols, consent forms and the role of the ethics board. Journal of Medical Ethics, 37(12), 762–765. https://doi.org/10.1136/jme.2011.043349

Tansey, C., Herridge, M., Heslegrave, R., Lavery, J., & Tansey, C. (2010). A framework for research ethics review during public emergencies. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal = Journal de l’Association Medicale Canadienne, 182(14), 1533–1537. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.090976

Saginur, R., Dent, S. F., Schwartz, L., Heslegrave, R., Stacey, S., & Manzo, J. (2008). Ontario Cancer Research Ethics Board: lessons learned from developing a multicenter regional institutional review board. Journal of clinical oncology : official journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, 26(9), 1479–1482. https://doi.org/10.1200/JCO.2007.12.6441

The quality of informed consent forms for oncology clinical trials

W. Y. Cheung, G. R. Pond, R. J. Heslegrave, L. Potanina, and L. L. Siu
Journal of Clinical Oncology 2008 26:15_suppl, 6544-6544

Despite his competing priorities and responsibilities, he always made time for anyone who wanted advice.  Ron will be missed, but will never be forgotten.  He will be remembered as a proud husband, father and grandfather, as well as a research ethics leader, to whom he has left a legacy to ensuring high-quality research to improve healthcare in Ontario, across Canada and the world.

Ron, may you Rest in Peace.