Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The best brains in breast cancer research

I was going to call this blog “This IS the Big Society in action” but was worried that you might not read beyond the headline. Please continue – it is worth it.

One of the things I will miss very much is observing the meetings of our Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). It is an opportunity to learn about what is new and exciting in research and it is that stimulation that I will miss.

The meeting of the SAB is a gathering of some of the best brains in breast cancer research to advise the trustee board on how to allocate the funding so that only the best research is supported.

What isn’t generally recognised is that all of this is done on a voluntary basis – it isn’t part of the day job. I had the opportunity to talk to the Health Minister, Paul Burstow, about it earlier this year and he was surprised to learn the extent of the voluntary work that scientists do. This is not just for Breast Cancer Campaign – any charity that is a member of the Association of Medical Research Charities will have an independent peer review process and reviewers are not paid.

In our case each grant application is reviewed by between two and six experts in the field not only from the UK but also abroad. One review can take anything up to two hours. Members of our Scientific Advisory Board are each allocated several grants to review and spend the same amount of time per grant. They then travel to London for one to two days twice a year and present the grants to the full board who then discuss them. At the end of the meeting the final scores are added up and the decision made.

However excellent the services of the Travelodge where they stay are – it isn’t five-star luxury. A pasta or pizza in a local restaurant is hardly going to land us in trouble with the new bribery laws. So why do they give up all this spare time to do this? A passion for science and a determination to improve the lives of women with breast cancer!

I don’t see this reflected in statistics on volunteering – but that is what it is and we couldn’t do our work without it.

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