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A Personal Stake in Cancer Research

Article date: December 2, 2008

Society Stakeholder Program Seeks Committed People to Help Choose Research Grants

Nancy Fox has a special interest in cancer research. She's not a doctor or a venture capitalist, or even a patient. She's someone who has seen too many people she loves lose their lives to this disease, and she wants to do something about it. So when she heard the American Cancer Society wanted people who weren't medical professionals to take part in reviewing research grants, she jumped at the chance.

"I thought I would be better suited to something like that as a way I could contribute," she says. "My mom, my dad, my stepdad and my first husband all died of cancer, so anything I can do to foster research…."

Nancy is what's known as a "stakeholder" -- a person without any medical training who helps decide which research projects the Society will fund. A couple of times a year, she joins researchers, clinicians, and other experts to discuss the merits of various proposals as part of the peer review process in the Society's Extramural Grants Division.

"Most of these folks are cancer survivors or have been a caregiver for someone in their family who has had cancer, so they understand the disease and they're committed to understanding how research works and can help fight the disease," explains David Ringer, PhD, MPH, managing director of operations in the Extramural Grants Division.

Stakeholder nominations are being accepted through Dec. 24, 2008. If you're interested in becoming a stakeholder, contact Sonia Pearce at sonia.pearce@cancer.org, or fax her at 404-321-4669.

Full participants

The goal of having lay people on the review committee, he says, is to make sure the research projects ACS funds are more than just strong science. They also need to be relevant to cancer patients and their families and really have an impact on people's lives.

"The reason you're there is to speak your mind and say 'I have a stake in this and my feeling about the appropriateness of this is -- or isn't -- there,' " Nancy Fox explains.

Stakeholders have an equal vote on which projects will be funded, Ringer says.

Training… and lots of reading

People chosen for the stakeholder program go through extensive training. Their first session, which takes place over a day and a half at the Society's National Home Office in Atlanta, explains the process of peer review and their role in it, as well as the American Cancer Society's mission and research goals. The stakeholders return a few weeks later to observe the peer review process, to get an idea of how stakeholders and scientists on the committees interact.

Once they are assigned to a specific committee, stakeholders are required to return twice a year for 2 years to take part in their own peer review assignments.

But before the meetings, they have a lot of reading to do at home. Each stakeholder is expected to review the grant proposals for their committee in advance, so they can come to the meeting prepared to discuss the cancer relevance of each. A stakeholder may get as many as 20 grants to review, Ringer says.

The work seems daunting at first, but Nancy Fox says the research staff quickly puts those fears to rest.

"The group of people in the research organization in Atlanta are just top caliber people, really helpful and really supportive," she says. "When we finished our initial training, everybody was a little leery, wondering if they have what it takes to do this, and everyone [at the Society] was very supportive."

Stakeholder nominations are being accepted through Dec. 24, 2008. If you're interested in becoming a stakeholder, contact Sonia Pearce at sonia.pearce@cancer.org, or fax her at 404-321-4669.



Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff

ACS News Center stories are provided as a source of cancer-related news and are not intended to be used as press releases.

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