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Army Meets Challenge of Breast Cancer Research Program

Army Meets Challenge of Breast Cancer Research Program

WASHINGTON—The success of the US Army’s Breast Cancer Research Program (BRCP) stems from the intersection of research and advocacy, said participants in a press conference at the Department of Defense’s Era of Hope conference. More than 550 investigators who received awards from the BRCP from 1992 to 1995 were invited to present their research at the meeting. “My greatest joy and passion in this work is the partnerships among the medical community, the Department of Defense, and breast cancer survivors,” said Col. Irene Rich, DNSc, director of the U.S. Army’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program.

“The Army have been wonderful partners,” concurred Frances M. Visco, Esq, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition and a member of the panel that designs and oversees the program. “We—as a nation—gave the Army a mission, and they’ve carried out that mission.”

The BRCP is the only group in which nonscientists, including breast cancer survivors, have a say in how the money is spent, Ms. Visco said.

“This is a unique program in American health science,” added Dennis Slamon, MD, PhD, of the UCLA School of Medicine. “The public has joined in a very real way, not just by paying the bills or lobbying. Advocates have said they want the program to continue and want to participate. Not until the public got involved in an issue that involves 50% of the American population did Congress take notice and appropriate the funds.”

Radiologist E. James Potchen, MD, JD, MBA, of Michigan State University, agreed. “Patient advocacy is becoming as important as any technological advance,” he said. “Bringing patients to the table has made a major impact.”

Why the Army?

Col. Rich offered several reasons why the Army was a good choice for directing breast cancer research. “The Army has a good track record of managing peer reviewed medical research, although usually in combat,” she said. “And today there are also many women in the military.”

Army Col. Gaylord Lindsay explained that the Army is not doing research itself. “We simply administer the program by inviting proposals and screening them through two tiers of peer review. We try to complement existing programs in developing award categories.”

Funding levels have varied from $30 million to $210 million in the 6 years since the BCRP’s inception, Col. Rich said. In fiscal 1998, more than 500 scientists will receive $135 million in funding from the program.

The real payoff will come in the next couple of years, Dr. Slamon said, as current research in epidemiology, molecular biology, imaging, basic science, and the investment in training new investigators at the bedside and at the bench makes an impact.

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