Mentoring at AACR’s Scientist Survivor Program

While I have written previously about participating in the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Scientist Survivor Program (SSP), I played a different role in the recent program that took place at the 2022 Annual Meeting in New Orleans. Since I have now been part of SSP twice, I applied and was accepted as an Advocate Mentor.

Working together to solve a group "challenge"

I was assigned to a group of five advocates who came from all different types of cancer backgrounds and diseases. Along with a Scientific Mentor, my role was to guide them in collaborating to answer our working group’s “challenge” question regarding clinical trials.

As a mentor, my job wasn’t to tell my fellow advocates what to do, but instead to provide suggestions, ideas, and resources so that they could work together effectively. There were six working groups who were part of SSP this year, five in-person at the Annual Meeting, and one that participated virtually. All of these groups were similarly structured but had different questions to investigate.

My group’s question centered on changes regarding clinical trials, including new models being used in addition to randomized clinical trials, the increased interest in patient-reported outcomes (PROs), and the ability of adaptive clinical trials to potentially transform how trials currently work. Since adaptive clinical trials are not currently being used yet in lung cancer, this was a learning opportunity for me as well.

What are adaptive clinical trials?

Adaptive clinical trials are more dynamic than other forms of clinical trials because they can use results that they gather from the trial to modify the trial design in certain ways while the trial is ongoing. This requires complex statistical methods, but can be very efficient, reducing costs and making successful drugs available more quickly.

In adaptive platform trials, multiple interventions can be evaluated at the same time, allowing patients to move between arms of the trial and not need to spend extra time qualifying for a new trial. Interventions can even be added and removed as trial arms as the clinical trial proceeds.1 It was very exciting to learn about this!

My experience being a mentor

One of the most challenging parts of participating in AACR’s SSP is balancing group interests and personal advocacy interests when attending the Annual Meeting. This is always an issue because exciting research is being presented at the same time as special SSP sessions and working group meetings. Since this was the first in-person Annual Meeting held by AACR since the pandemic began, time demands seemed more intense than in previous years — because we had all gotten used to less physically tiring virtual meetings and because the conference was a much-delayed chance to renew connections and meet in person with researchers only met before on Zoom!

Advantages and disadvantages of hybrid meetings

Since the Annual Meeting was a hybrid event this year, allowing attendees to participate either in New Orleans or from home, we did not have the traditional challenge question presentations from all the SSP working groups on the last day of the program. Instead, we gave these presentations a week later via Zoom, which I believe had both some advantages and disadvantages.

On the positive side, it certainly reduced the stress level of coordinating a seven-minute group presentation and making PowerPoint slides while at a busy conference! Since sessions were also available online, it allowed all of us to go back and watch any helpful sessions we missed the first time when we had more free time available, such as in the evenings or upon returning home. On the less positive side, I believe the changed presentation schedule reduced the usual emphasis on in-person collaboration within the working groups since the deadline was moved after the meeting. Once leaving the conference, it was difficult to get the working groups together via Zoom in less than a week’s time. Several people ended up missing the final presentation due to work and life conflicts.

If you are interested in learning more about the AACR SSP program, check out the AACR SSP program website. It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn from and connect with researchers and other cancer advocates!

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