The review meetings for the Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Annual Research Competition took place last week, with the research department firing on all cylinders to oversee the review of over 150 MS research grant and award applications. Every year, the MS Society convenes research and clinical experts from a wide variety of backgrounds – including imaging, molecular biology, neuroimmunology, and rehabilitation, to name a few – as well as community members who are affected by MS to carefully dissect each application to assess scientific merit, feasibility and potential impact of the research on treatment and quality of life. Together, these individuals form what we call “review committees”.
Update: Bios for the 2016 community representatives are now online.
There are three review committees, each one focused on a different research area. The rigorous process that we have implemented allows the review committees to pick out outstanding research that has the greatest potential to advance our understanding of MS – its mechanisms, risk factors, and targets for therapy – and will yield the most significant outcomes for people affected by MS. The process also ensures that funding entrusted to the MS Society from donors, sponsors and fundraisers is allocated towards the highest quality research in MS.
The grant applications we receive every year cover an enormous range of topics, such as understanding immune cells involved in driving the autoimmune response in MS, to studying use of health care services among people living with MS and the quality of those services. As a result of this diversity, we ask leading scientists and clinicians from each of the committees to review a specific group of grants based on their knowledge and expertise. Reviewers on the Biomedical Research Review Committee assess grants concerned with uncovering fundamental, biological aspects about the development, progression, and treatment of MS disease. On the other hand, reviewers on the Clinical and Population Health Research Review Committee look at grants which focus on symptom management, lifestyle, rehabilitation, health economics, risk factors, population health, and social aspects of MS.
Those who sit on the Personnel Awards Review Committee review applications for Master’s and Doctoral Studentships, and Postdoctoral Fellowships. These awards are vital for training the next generation of MS researchers and retaining the brightest young minds in the field.
Each reviewer is assigned a certain number of applications ahead of time to review on their own time. This is an opportunity for reviewers to go through applications in extraordinary depth, assign scores and provide detailed comments. During the review meeting, the committee meets to deliberate and rank the applications based on a set of criteria. The committee Chair – a veteran reviewer who presides over the meeting – then steers the committee towards a consensus score. Once the applications in each committee are ranked based on their scores, the committee determines which studies will be recommended for funding. These recommendations are passed along to the MS Society’s Medical Advisory Committee (MAC), followed by the National Board of Directors, for approval.
While going through so many applications might sound like a drab affair, the meetings last week were enlivened by enthusiastic exchanges about the merits of each candidate and their proposed research project. You would think that with so many experts coming from different research backgrounds in the same room, it would be difficult to agree on how to score each application – a classic case of “too many chefs in the kitchen ruin the broth”.
On the contrary, I found that with the steady guidance from the skilled committee Chairs, the reviewers were able to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of each application and come to a consensus. I was especially struck by the time and energy that went into discussing each project despite the long list of applications, reminding me that everyone sitting in the committee room wanted to make sure that the dollars raised for research are allocated towards projects that meet the highest standards and would yield outcomes with the most impact.
An extra special thank you goes out to this year’s community representatives. It’s through their hard work and dedication that the voice of people affected by MS were conveyed to the researchers and clinicians who served on the committees. Their feedback will also be shared with all of the applicants, in hopes that it will provide them with a personal perspective on the impact of their research and whether the research was communicated effectively to a lay audience. Feedback from the community representatives helps to shape the research proposals and ensure that any knowledge generated is translated meaningfully into clinical or real-world practice, programs and/or policies. Visit our website to learn more about this year’s amazing community representatives.
For more information about our review process, including how the committees are selected, how applications are assigned and evaluated, and how the final list of funded grants and awards is determined, check out the Review Process and Criteria section of the MS Society’s research website.
Stay tuned for funding announcements to come in the Spring!
Do you have questions about the Annual Research Competition review process? Leave them below.