CPBS 7605:
Ethics for Bioinformatics

Every other Tuesdays from 10:00am - 12:00pm
RC-1 North Tower, Room P18-6107

Prof. Larry Hunter
Office: RC-1 S. Room L18-6100  
Phone: 303-724-3574  
E-mail: Larry.Hunter@ucdenver.edu  
Office hours by appointment  

Prof. Marilyn Coors  
Office: AO1 room L15 1417  
Phone: 303-724-3993  
E-mail: marilyn.coors@ucdenver.edu

Office hours by appointment 

Course meetings

August 30th

September 13th

September 27th

October 11th

October 25th

November 8th

November 22nd

Course description

The course will familiarize students with the ethical underpinnings of bioinformatics research. By the end of the course, students will have a vocabulary and framework by which to recognize, discuss and responsibly address ethics in computational biology research. This course is central to the educational mission of our Computational Bioscience PhD program.

Goals for the course: The course will familiarize students with the bright lines (that ought not to be crossed in the course of research), the big picture (that conceptualizes bioinformatics research in the wider world), and the deep questions (that our research activities could address). Specific learning objectives include:

  1. Become familiar with the major codes of ethics governing research in computational biology, and be cognizant of examples of major lapses in biomedical research ethics.
  2. Understand the broad national, international and social values that drive computational biology research priorities and activities.
  3. Explore some of the major questions in ethics and values generated by contemporary biomedical research with particular emphasis on those relevant to computational biology, such as the protection of privacy.
  4. Gain experience applying ethical principles, concepts and values to the conduct of research, particularly in computational biology and biomedical informatics.
  5. Create a strong foundation for one's own ethical behavior throughout a career.

This isn't a lecture course. Each of the two-hour sessions will involve the students directly in discussions, role-playing exercises and other active learning approaches. Students will also be involved in selecting the topics covered and the methods by which we investigate them.




This tentative syllabus will evolve as the course progresses. Please watch here for readings, activities, and other materials.

  1. Weaving ethics into your life as a researcher; the scientist's role.
  2. Basic ethical principles and guidelines for the ethical conduct of biomedical research.
    Readings: 45 CFR 46, The Nuremberg Code, The Belmont Report, and The Declaration of Helsinki; these are all available from the NIH Office of Human Subjects Research list of Regulations and Ethical Guidelines. We will put this in specific context by looking at how protection of human subjects is discussed in grants, protocols and consent forms. Please look at the COMIRB application process and the NIH policy for Human Subjects protection sections in grants.
  3. How research priorities are set: the roles of scientific, political and industrial actors. We will debate the role of patient advocacy groups in research.
  4. Discrimination against women in science.
  5. Using computation to solve bioethical problems.
  6. The ethics of cognitive neuroenhancement in a scientific context.
  7. Handling Authorship disputes. What are the standards? Where do problems arise, and how to deal with them.
  8. How can the benefits of computational biology (and other biomedical research) be shared fairly? What is the role of justice in biomedical research? Of charity and beneficence?
  9. Whistleblowing: How and to whom to report possible ethical problems, and how best to prepare yourself for the consequences.



You must successfully complete the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) tutorial and self-tests from the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative(CITI). Register for the CITI RCR courses, and complete the "Biomedical Sciences RCR Course." Choose "New Users Register Here" then select "University of Colorado at Colorado Health Sciences Center - COMIRB" from the Participating Institutions drop down list.

Your employee ID number is located in the header after you log into my.cu.edu. The institutional address is:

University of Colorado Computational Bioscience Program

12801 E. 17th Ave., Mail Stop 8303

Aurora, CO 80045

PH: 303-724-3399

Each student is expected to create an ethics portfolio, reflecting their reading, writing and thinking on ethical topics. The goal is for these portfolios to both allow the teachers to assess the students' work and to provide a vehicle to organize the student's ongoing ethical development.

You must also participate in classroom exercises and discussions. Unexcused absence from more than one course meeting is grounds for a failing grade.


Honor Code

The Graduate School requires that this honor code be included in all course syllabi.

Education at the Health Sciences Center is conducted under the honor system. All students who have entered health professional programs should have developed the qualities of honesty and integrity, and each student should apply these principles to his or her academic and subsequent professional career. All students are also expected to have achieved a level of maturity, which is reflected by appropriate conduct at all times.

Note that our educational mission statement includes even stronger goals for your professional behavior. Please feel free to raise issues related to those goals in class.

Computational Bioscience Program home page | Professor Hunter's home page