Environmental Factor, November 2011, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Breast cancer panel moving forward, eyeing completion
By Ernie Hood
The 19-member IBCERCC panel is nearing completion of its report for the Secretary of HHS. (Photo courtesy of Arnold Greenwell)
NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., left, took advantage of the morning break to catch up with Forman. Forman chairs both the IBCERCC and its state-of-the-science subcommittee. (Photo courtesy of Arnold Greenwell)
Lively discussions were frequent and all voices were heard as the group reached consensus on several issues. Dale Sandler, Ph.D. from NIEHS, right, responds to a comment by Christine Ambrosone, Ph.D., from the Roswell Park Cancer Institute. (Photo courtesy of Arnold Greenwell)
Kenneth Portier, Ph.D., represents the American Cancer Society on the IBCERCC. (Photo courtesy of Arnold Greenwell)
When the 19-voting-member Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee (IBCERCC) meets in person, as it did for the third time Sept. 26-27 at NIEHS in Research Triangle Park, N.C., it focuses squarely on its congressionally mandated task-to prepare a comprehensive report on federal research in breast cancer and the environment for the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The committee has been empanelled since 2010 and is led by NIEHS in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Its three subcommittees, each charged with a section of the planned report, have met frequently by teleconference in recent months and brought chapter drafts to the meeting for comparison and review by the entire panel.
Identifying gaps in the research
Gwen Collman, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training and co-executive secretary of the IBCERCC, said it was a very productive meeting. “Everybody came prepared to do a lot of work,” she observed. “They had done quite a bit of preparation in their teleconferences to bring their ideas and documents to the meeting, and I think the time was spent very wisely going through all of the recommendations and ideas that the subcommittees had, critiquing each other, and looking for gaps and feedback.”
Now the members of the three subcommittees - state-of-the-science; research process; and research translation, dissemination, and policy implications - will fill those gaps and incorporate that feedback, to bring their individual chapters to completion.
Orchestrating a summary of group findings
As part of the process of synthesizing the various elements emerging from the subcommittees' drafts, the full committee also worked to identify the common threads and themes that will allow the report to speak in a single, unified voice to the many audiences it will reach beyond the Secretary's desk. An important step toward that goal was to begin to coalesce the report's recommendations into a cogent executive summary designed for maximum exposure and effect.
“We're hoping that the long-term impact is significant in filling the gaps in knowledge of the role of the environment in breast cancer, and also in setting a platform for more collaboration across federal agencies in not only the conduct and funding of the research, but also in the strategy for prevention policy,” said committee chair Michele Forman, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
Keeping different audiences in mind
Collman agreed that the committee had done some excellent work on the nuts and bolts of the report. “I think the biggest accomplishments were to have the committee members be thoughtful about what they wanted the report to look and feel like, to really talk about what kinds of things would go in the executive summary, and the idea that the report itself has many, many audiences and should be disseminated to many people,” she said.
The committee also set a timeline for completion and submission of the report. At this point, the plan is to send the completed report to the Secretary by the end of March 2012. As work on the executive summary and the individual chapters, along with extensive appendices, continues, committee members will also review a consensus study on breast cancer and the environment research currently being prepared by an Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee. The IOM report, which the committee anticipates will be complementary to its own, is expected to be released in December.
In late January 2012, the IBCERCC will gather in full committee mode once again at NIEHS.
(Ernie Hood is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)