U.S. Food and Drug Administration website includes FAQs about Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)
1. What is an Institutional Review Board (IRB)?
Under FDA regulations, an IRB is an appropriately constituted group that has been formally designated to review and monitor biomedical research involving human subjects. In accordance with FDA regulations, an IRB has the authority to approve, require modifications in (to secure approval), or disapprove research. This group review serves an important role in the protection of the rights and welfare of human research subjects.
The purpose of IRB review is to assure, both in advance and by periodic review, that appropriate steps are taken to protect the rights and welfare of humans participating as subjects in the research. To accomplish this purpose, IRBs use a group process to review research protocols and related materials (e.g., informed consent documents and investigator brochures) to ensure protection of the rights and welfare of human subjects of research.
(for more information, refer to the Institutional Review Boards Frequently Asked Questions.
More on IRBs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.