Beating bowel cancer together

How we make sure our research is of the highest quality

Thursday 17 August 2017

2017 is an exciting year for us! In July, we opened our first grant round, aiming to invest half a million pounds in research into bowel cancer.  Our Head of Research, Dr Julia Ambler, explains how we make sure the research we fund is of the highest possible quality.

We know that more lives could be saved if we diagnose people earlier, develop new and more effective treatments, and ensure people have access to high quality care. Investing in research is one of the best ways to do this.  It’s really important, however, that we make sure that any research we invest in is high quality with the potential to really benefit people affected by bowel cancer.  To do this we use a lengthy, and robust, process called peer review.  

Calling all researchers

The first step in the grant round, before we can start the peer review, is a call to action to researchers across the UK.  Through our policy and campaigning work and after consultation with researchers, clinicians and patients, we know that investing in certain areas of research could help us deliver real improvements for patients.  So, for our first grant round we are focusing on three areas:

  • Improving the bowel cancer screening programme and use of endoscopy resource so that more people are diagnosed at the earliest stage of the disease
  • Understanding  and improving the identification of people at high risk of bowel cancer, such as those with a strong family history or longstanding medical condition such as inflammatory bowel disease or type 2 diabetes
  • Furthering our knowledge of bowel cancer in the under 50s to better understand why bowel cancer in this age group is growing and to help ensure patients are diagnosed as quickly as possible

Interested researchers are asked to send us a very detailed description of their proposed project which gives us information on the work they intend to do, the costs and any ethical issues such as the use of animals or human samples.

Ask an expert

Next we need to find out if these proposed projects are really feasible and if their plans are achievable.  Are they doing the right experiments to answer the questions they are asking?   Have they asked for too much money or too little?   We find this out by asking other researchers to evaluate the applications, in a process called peer review

We ask expert researchers all over the world about whether they feel the proposed project is high quality and if we should consider funding it.  These expert reviewers give their time voluntarily to help us and other organisations that fund research.

We have also put together a group of leading researchers and clinicians, known as the ‘Scientific Advisory Board’ who meet in person to discuss the grant applications.  Using this two-pronged approach, we can be sure that the research projects that makes it through this strict process are of the highest quality.

Once they have discussed the applications, the Scientific Advisory Board makes a recommendation to our Board of Trustees who make the final decision on which research to fund. 

The patient voice

As well as listening to clinical experts about the scientific quality of any proposed project it’s really important for us to consider the patient point of view too - the best people to ask about this are the patients themselves!  To make sure we include the patient voice, we are putting together a ‘Lay Review Panel’ made up of people who have had bowel cancer themselves or who have experience through a family member.  

The Panel get a less detailed section of each application (written in plain English) that outlines what the researcher intends to do with a focus on how patients might be involved.  

The Lay Review Panel look at whether patients have been asked their views on the study early on, while the project was being designed, and how they might be involved if the project is given funding.  They may highlight barriers to participation that would make it difficult for the researchers to recruit participants to a study.  Finally, they will assess whether the project is actually meeting a patient need and if the project will be important and potentially have a benefit for patients.

Two members of our Lay Review Panel will sit on the Scientific Advisory Board, taking part in the discussion and helping to make the recommendation to our Board of Trustees.

Quality assurance

The whole process takes around eight months from start to finish, but this investment of time and drawing on the expertise of researchers, clinicians and patients  means we can be confident that the research we are funding has the potential to make a real impact on bowel cancer.

Our first awards will be announced in Spring 2018 and we look forward to sharing the details of these research projects with you!

How you can help


Your support helps save lives. Donate now and help us ensure a future where nobody dies of bowel cancer.
Your support helps save lives. Donate now and help us ensure a future where nobody dies of bowel cancer.

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