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Human research ethics committees provide essential review of research projects to ensure the ethical conduct of human research. Several recent reports have highlighted a complex process for successful application for human research ethics committee approval, particularly for multi-centre studies. Limited resources are available for the execution of human clinical research in Australia and around the world.This report overviews the process of ethics approval for a National Health and Medical Research Council-funded multi-centre study in Australia, focussing on the time and resource implications of such applications in 2007 and 2008.Applications were submitted to 16 hospital and two university human research ethics committees. The total time to gain final approval from each committee ranged between 13 and 77 days (median = 46 days); the entire process took 16 months to complete and the research officer's time was estimated to cost $A34 143.Obstacles to timely human research ethics committee approval are reviewed, including recent, planned and potential initiatives that could improve the ethics approval of multi-centre research.