Endocrine-Related Cancer: Present challenges and new opportunities
Matthew D Ringel | Opinion
It is an honour to be selected as the incoming Editor-in-Chief of Endocrine-Related Cancer (ERC). Following in the footsteps of Charis Eng is a daunting task. She and her team have done an outstanding job for the past 8 years in expanding ERC’s well-deserved reputation as a top flight and highly rigorous journal.
Having served previously as an ERC Associate Editor, as well as publishing in the journal and reading numerous outstanding, high-quality articles over the years, I am particularly excited to begin my new role. I am eager to work with the ERC Editorial Board, Bioscientifica, the Society for Endocrinology and the affiliated societies in continuing and expanding upon the work of my predecessors.
When I was asked to write this opinion piece for The Endocrinologist to begin my tenure, I thought deeply about the timing of this new role in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the international responses to current social and racial tensions in the USA.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its rapid spread throughout the world have impacted on our core social fabric. It has enabled new international collaborations, but also has exposed deep social divisions within our communities. At no time since the early days of the AIDS epidemic has biomedical research had such immediate impact on public policy and global public health. The critical importance of rigorous basic, translational, clinical and population science cannot be overstated.
Over the past 8 months, landmark studies have characterised key mechanistic elements behind SARS-CoV2 infection, enabled a deeper understanding of the molecular epidemiology of the disease, established preventive and life-saving clinical strategies, and developed new therapeutic compounds and vaccines with a joint goal to prevent and treat COVID-19. The pace of this work has been breathtaking, and its importance is crucial to control the virus. It is also clear that the impact of the research relies on successful implementation of the findings to the community. For example, vaccine effectiveness will depend not only on its efficacy in rigorous clinical trials, but also on production of adequate doses, cost management and individual adherence to vaccination recommendations.
There also have been important lessons to learn from errors that have slowed implementation of the best new science. These have included publication of manuscripts that were subsequently retracted and public policy decisions based on peer-reviewed but unconfirmed small data series, identified and popularised on social media. These experiences emphasise the crucial roles that scientific journals and peer review play as arbiters of rigorous science. Journals also can assist with communicating appropriate interpretations and conclusions to the general public.
The urgency of rapid translation of science in the current situation is clear, and clarifies the need for a timely, rigorous and fair peer review process. Be assured that the high scientific expectations and outstanding peer review maintained by ERC’s authors, peer reviewers and editors will be continued, with a renewed commitment to enhance accurate and timely communication of key results to the scientific and lay communities.
Outstanding science is necessary, but not sufficient, to ensure translation into clinical research and, eventually, public policy. As an international journal, ERC seeks to support research in all aspects of endocrine oncology, including fundamental basic science, translational studies and clinical research, with an ultimate goal to improve the health of diverse populations worldwide through new discovery.
Challenges for implementation of preventive, diagnostic and treatment measures to the community have been magnified in the COVID-19 pandemic, some of which have been highlighted by recent ERC publications. One example has been the difficulty in the consistency of mask-wearing due, in part, to shortages of materials, inadequate distribution systems, and cultural and social barriers. Simultaneously, social justice issues have also moved to the forefront of the public consciousness. The Black Lives Matter movement in the USA has energised the larger population against racial and ethnic inequalities following multiple well- documented tragedies.
‘Journals such as Endocrine-Related Cancer provide an opportunity to expand the scientific, racial, gender and ethnic diversity not only of research, but also of researchers in the field.’
One consequence of this social movement has been greater recognition that socially disadvantaged populations fare worse from COVID-19 and have unique barriers to implementation. Social determinants of health impact the outcomes from nearly all diseases worldwide, including diabetes and obesity, breast cancer, prostate cancer and others that are highly relevant to ERC. Several of these diseases disproportionately affect specific ethnic and racial minorities, independent of social disparities. ERC has an established interest in supporting research designed to understand the biological mechanisms for racial and ethnic differences in endocrine cancer frequencies and outcomes. Implementation and population science applied to diverse worldwide communities are areas of further emphasis for ERC.
Journals such as ERC provide an opportunity to expand the scientific, racial, gender and ethnic diversity not only of research, but also of researchers in the field. In addition to continuing to emphasise science relevant to healthcare disparities, we will be establishing early career pathways for peer reviewers and early career positions on the Editorial Board, with close attention paid to diversity.
The COVID pandemic and current social climate have served to emphasise the importance of the current strengths and future directions of ERC. Continued emphasis on high quality science, enabling communication to the community, and continued and expanded attention to diversity, will all be needed as we move our field forward together. I look forward to working with our editorial team and with all of you in achieving our mutual goal to improve the health of all individuals with endocrine cancers.
MATTHEW D RINGEL
Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, and Cancer Biology Program, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, and The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, Columbus, OH, USA