Where and how to apply for ethical review

Click on the relevant area of the chart for more information (text version available below)

Important: If any human tissue will be used in your study, please read the separate guidance (below) on when and where to apply for ethical review before you work through this chart.

Ethical review process decision diagram

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Check the definition of research.

All research involving human participants, human tissue and/or personal data1 requires ethical review. 

If the research involves only previously collected, fully anonymised, non-NHS data3 that cannot be traced back to an individual by the researcher and collaborators, and involves no biological samples, ethical approval is not required. 

If you are based in the Social Sciences Division, Humanities Division or the Department of Computer Science, apply to your DREC or to SSH IDREC.

  • clinical trial (CTIMP) or administration of an unlicensed drug
  • ionising radiation
  • cellular tissue samples stored for use in research
  • DNA/RNA used in a new study without donor consent
  • use of certain medical devices
  • participants recruited by virtue of being UK National Health Service (NHS) patients
  • NHS staff2 or NHS data3
  • class A invasive procedure (defined in CUREC glossary)

If the research involves any of these, it will require sponsorship review.
Research involving healthy volunteers only (and no tissue) and/or NHS staff will then be considered by the relevant CUREC subcommittee.
Other research will be subject to other appropriate national approvals (for example the Health Research Authority).

If the research doesn't involve any of these, apply to MS IDREC.

CUREC subcommittees

Social Sciences departments without a departmental research ethics committee (DREC) should apply to SSH IDREC.

The 16 DRECs should be the first point of contact for their departments' applications.

For research funded by US National Institutes of Health or other US federal agencies, and medical or health-related research, including CTIMPs, carried out solely outside the UK and the EU, apply to OxTREC.

Medical Sciences Division and MPLS departments (except Computer Science) should apply to MS IDREC.


1 Personal data are data that relate to a living individual who can be identified either from those data or from those data and other information that is in the possession of, or is likely to come into the possession of, the data controller (for example through the use of a code devised by, or accessible to, the researchers). 

NHS staff are considered people recruited to research by virtue of their status as current or former employees of the NHS.

NHS data means data generated by an NHS clinical service, or held in NHS databases or behind NHS firewalls, or owned by the NHS in any other capacity. It does not matter whether the data contain identifying personal information or whether they are anonymised.