Since its beginning in 1946, the American Cancer Society's Research and Training Program has invested more than $4.3 billion in the fight against cancer and remains the largest private, non-profit source of cancer research funds in the United States. The American Cancer Society has played a role in most major cancer research breakthroughs in recent history, as exemplified by the 47 Society-funded investigators who have gone on to become Nobel Laureates.
At the core of this highly successful cancer research and training program is the peer review process. Cancer researchers and trainees at biomedical institutions throughout the United States submit approximately 1,600 grant applications each year to the American Cancer Society. They compete for funding as new research projects or training grants in a wide variety of scientific research and professional training areas critical to the effort of eliminating cancer as a major human disease.
Each application is evaluated for scientific merit and relevance to cancer by one of 20 peer review committees. These committees are composed of experts in a specific field or approach to understanding cancer and one or two Stakeholders. The role of the peer review committees is to identify the most outstanding applications for funding.
The most highly rated grant applications are reviewed by the Council for Extramural Grants, which is comprised of leaders from the scientific community and Stakeholders. The role of the Council is to decide which among the outstanding proposals will receive funding by the American Cancer Society.
The Role of Stakeholders in Peer Review
Stakeholders are individuals without formal science or oncology training who have a strong interest in cancer research. Stakeholders bring with them a personal experience with the disease as a survivor or as a family member or caregiver of a person with cancer.
The two main goals of stakeholder participation on peer review committees are to:
• Represent cancer patients and the community in the peer review process by evaluating the cancer relevance of each research and training grant application; and
• Provide an opportunity for members of the community to understand how the peer review process contributes to the development of new ideas and breakthroughs in cancer control, which ultimately lead to decreases in both new cancer cases and cancer deaths.
As a result of their participation, Stakeholders may become knowledgeable advocates for the role of the Research and Training Program in the American Cancer Society's effort to advance cancer control.
Desirable Characteristics of a Stakeholder
Potential Stakeholders should be willing to embrace the broad perspective of cancer research and training utilized by the ACS in its funding of grants. They should also have demonstrated effectiveness in interacting with committees/groups as a leader or participant in a managerial, professional, or educational capacity. And they should have a personal experience with cancer—as a survivor or as a family member or caregiver of a person with cancer—that will inform their assessment of the cancer relevance of grant applications.
Stakeholders typically do not have advanced formal training in the topics reviewed by the peer review committees on which they serve. In instances where stakeholders do have scientific professional credentials, they should not expect to participate on a peer review committee focused in areas directly related to their cancer research or health professional training. This is especially important for nurses and medical doctors with training in oncology or people with doctorate levels of education and expert training in the life sciences related to cancer research. Participation on peer review committees closely aligned with a stakeholder’s profession is viewed as a possible conflict with the role of stakeholder.
Employees of the American Cancer Society are not eligible to be stakeholders, nor are volunteer leaders, such as members of the Society’s National Board of Directors.
Stakeholder Time Commitment Requirements
Stakeholders serve a minimum two-year term of service and must be available to travel to Atlanta for one/two-day peer review committee meetings each January and June during this term. Additionally, prior to serving as a Stakeholder, they must complete a one-day training session in Atlanta and complete self-paced virtual training sessions.
Applications for Participation
The next cycle for nominations of individuals interested in being considered for the Stakeholder Program will begin in June 2016. Those interested in becoming stakeholders in the American Cancer Society peer review process should email nominations to Joseph Cotter of the American Cancer Society at firstname.lastname@example.org.