An interview: What is does it take to review research proposals?
By Gail Whitehead
Like many women, Ann Mason's introduction to ovarian cancer came after unexplained symptoms continued to plague her.
"Even though doctors couldn't identify it, I knew I was sick" she said. "I knew something was going on due to my abdominal discomfort and expanding girth. These symptoms kept coming back and in 1994 we didn't know the symptoms for gynecologic cancers."
Mason became interested in research as soon as her physician identified she had a solid mass of unknown origin.
"When I went for the exploratory surgery, I knew about solid mass tumors because I'd read the research journals. I encouraged my engineer husband to read it all, too," Mason said. "Then we talked about it, so he could make decisions for me during surgery if the solid mass turned out to be a malignant tumor. That set the stage for when I was confirmed with ovarian cancer."
Once Mason completed her treatment, she decided that she wanted to give back to the ovarian cancer community. As an engaged participant, her passion focused on assisting others understand the symptoms and treatment for gynecologic cancers, like ovarian cancer. In 1995-1996 the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (OCNA) was organizing its advocacy core for more money to be spent on Ovarian Cancer research. Mason joined the OCNA's local partner member, the Ovarian and Gynecologic Cancer Coalition of Greater Washington, (also known as Rhonda's Club to honor one of its founders).
When funds were appropriated by Congress to the Department of Defense Ovarian Cancer Research Program (DoD OCRP), Mason celebrated with her friends who had worked hard to encourage Congress to make more funding available for ovarian cancer research. Then the Department of Defense reached out to the advocacy community and asked them to partner with DoD in a common goal of finding and funding the best research for ovarian cancer.
In 1998, OCNA nominated her to be a consumer reviewer of research proposals for the DoD OCRP and she was selected to reviews. She became a mentor/reviewer in 1999.
Since that time, Mason has worked within Rhonda's Club, her local organization, and with OCNA to encourage other women to consider being nominated as consumer reviewers for the DoD OCRP. Fewer than 10 women are chosen nationwide every year to serve as the program's consumer reviewers, and Mason uses her experience to find the right nominees.
"I seek women from ovarian cancer advocacy organizations who are interested in research, are respectful, willing to share the views of our community, engaged in advocacy, and unafraid to ask for information that will further the discussion," she said. "I look for candidates who have the interest, a willingness to work hard and who are unafraid to look at the data and to speak up. We want to nominate consumers who will actively participate in the panel discussions."
Since consumer reviewers are key to focusing the panel on priority topics, Mason said she looks for women who will share the viewpoints of her ovarian community and who will ask questions to clarify proposals. "Asking questions allows the scientific experts on the panel to provide their individual knowledge to fill any gaps for consumers as well as for other experts who may be unfamiliar with issues outside their disciplines," she said.
"It is quite an enriching experience because all of those participating in panel reviews -- the scientists, consumers, and CDMRP staff managing the process -- seek the same goal: the best research possible to eliminate and treat ovarian cancer."