Contact: Debra Thompson
Director, RMH Corporate Communications
| Teresa Boshart Yoder, RN, left, and Meg Shrader, RN, of RMH Women's Health Focus, were among 116 consumer advocates this past summer who reviewed breast cancer research funding proposals for the Breast Cancer Research Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense.
RMH breast health navigator Meg Shrader, RN, and Director of Women’s Services Teresa Boshart Yoder, RN, recently participated in the evaluation of research proposals submitted to the Breast Cancer Research Program (BCRP), sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense.
As consumer reviewers, they were full voting members, along with prominent scientists, at meetings to determine how the remainder of Congress’ Fiscal Year 2008 appropriation of $138 million would be spent on future breast cancer research.
According to the DoD, consumer reviewers are asked to represent the collective view of breast cancer survivors and patients, family members, and persons at risk for the disease when they prepare comments on the impact of research on issues such as disease prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment, and quality of life after treatment. Shrader and Yoder were among 116 consumer advocates who participated in the July-August 2008 peer review meetings and provided comments and scores for research proposals.
“Being a consumer reviewer was one of the most amazing and worthwhile things I’ve ever done,” says Yoder. “I feel it is work that will make a difference for survivors of breast cancer.”
Consumer advocates and scientists have worked together in this unique partnership to evaluate the scientific merit of breast cancer research proposals since 1995, according to the DoD. To date, more than 550 consumer reviewers have served on breast cancer panels alongside scientists in the review process.
“I was in the room with three other advocates and 20 scientists from all over the United States,” Shrader says. “The amazing thing is the scientists are as intimidated by us as we are by them! We put a face on the disease. We find out what they do and why they need so much money.”
To be a consumer reviewer, a person has to have had breast cancer or have a family member who did, Yoder notes. Both she and Shrader are breast cancer survivors. Captain Melissa D. Kaine, MD, director of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs, noted that consumer reviewers “have provided valuable insight into funding decisions and helped scientists understand the consumers’ perspective of innovative research. Likewise, consumer advocates have been enriched by learning more about breast cancer through discussing proposed research with scientists and seeing the future hopes of successful research.”
More than 3,000 breast cancer research proposals have been reviewed for FY08 funds, according to the DoD. Scientists applying propose to conduct innovative breast cancer research aimed at the elimination of breast cancer. Proposals were solicited across all disciplines, including basic, clinical, social and psychosocial sciences, as well as public health, economics, quality of life, alternative therapies, occupational health, nursing research, and environmental concerns.
The reviewers’ work begins two to three weeks before they head to Washington to participate in the panels, Yoder explains. The reviewer reads, critiques and scores eight to 10 formal grant proposals for impact on the breast cancer community in such areas as treatment or eradication. In addition, the reviewer reads and reviews another eight to 10 proposals in preparation for discussing them with others on the panel. Each critique takes two to three hours, Yoder notes.
Once in Washington, the reviewer joins other consumer reviewers and scientists on panels that discuss each proposal and select or reject them. There are six to seven panels reviewing proposals. Shrader and Yoder sat on different panels, and each panel had around 64 proposals to review. “You spend two to two and a half days, and it’s intense,” Yoder says. “The opinions of the consumer reviewer are respected and valued by the scientists. I have had scientists alter their scores because of something I’ve said.”
Yoder, who has participated on the panels for two years, notes that the consumer reviewers take their responsibility very seriously. “We have a critical role as consumer advocates. Also, we are talking about people’s careers and livelihoods as we review these proposals. We look at budgets and the caliber of the researchers. It’s an amazing process.”
Shrader and Yoder believe that their participation as consumer reviewers helps them not only as advocates, but also as educators for their patients about breast cancer research.
“Because of our participation we are extremely up-to-date on what is being done in breast cancer research—what’s being studied, what’s coming down the pike,” Shrader notes. “As consumer reviewers we can bridge the gap between reality and research. When a patient asks why there isn’t a good biomarker, I can say, it is very complex, and they are working on it! We can tell consumers that we really do have the brightest and the best working on this and if anyone can fix it, they can. When we go to the Hill (to lobby Congress for funding), we can say, this process works well, don’t mess with it.”
In addition, consumer reviewers are focused on ensuring research addresses current needs and brings results to bear on patients sooner rather than later. And when the results are visible, the many hours of work are worthwhile.
“It’s a labor of love,” Yoder says. “It’s probably one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done.”
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