Over the years, many CCO reviewers have made outstanding contributions to the peer review process. They demonstrated professional effort and enthusiasm in their reviews and provided comments that genuinely help the authors to enhance their work.
Hereby, we would like to highlight some of our outstanding reviewers, with a brief interview of their thoughts and insights as a reviewer. Allow us to express our heartfelt gratitude for their tremendous effort and valuable contributions to the scientific process.
Hans-Georg Wirsching, University of Zurich, Switzerland
John P. Neoptolemos, University of Heidelberg, Germany
Akhil Chawla, Northwestern University, USA
Hans-Georg Wirsching, MD, currently serves as a Researcher and Attending Physician at the Department of Neurology, University Hospital and University of Zurich, Switzerland. He was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA, USA during 2016-2018. His research is focused on clinical and preclinical neuro-oncology. Some current projects he is working on include socioeconomic burden and quality of life in meningioma patients, cooperation of oncolytic virotherapy with VEGF-neutralizing antibody treatment in IDH wildtype glioblastoma, correlations between arming oHSV with ULBP3 and abscopal immunity in lymphocyte-depleted glioblastoma. For more research works of Dr. Wirsching, please visit here.
As a reviewer, Dr. Wirsching thinks that many aspects of the common peer review systems are very robust, “At least two reviewers and considerations of the editors create diversity of opinions. Invitation of additional reviewers in cases where reviewer judgments diverge strongly should be practiced. There should be separate review by a biostatistician. For studies that involve several disciplines, these should be covered by the reviewer panel.”
On double-blind review practiced by some journals, Dr. Wirsching says, “Double-blind review is a useful measure especially in smaller research fields where researchers are more likely to know each other in person. Unblinding of reviewers after acceptance is practiced by some journals and may contribute to a constructive, rather collaborative role of peer reviewers. This practice could be combined with a double-blind review process in order to retain objectivity.”
Dr. Wirsching often asks himself one question during the review process: “Would I want to receive these comments?”. Even if a study is not suited for publication in the respective journal, he thinks reviewers should provide the authors with ideas and advice how to improve their paper and statements need to be polite and constructive throughout. For papers that may be suited for publication, reviewers should keep in mind whether or not the requested changes are feasible within a reasonable time. The question what changes are absolutely necessary to implement should also relate to the scope of the specific journal: does the journal exclusively publishing landmark papers that need to be as profound as possible, or does the journal publish smaller scope studies and results?
Lastly, on the significance of conflict of interest declaration, Dr. Wirsching says, “There is no doubt that potential conflicts of interest need to be declared and the form recommended by ICMJE is a pragmatic approach to assess conflicts of interest systematically. Whether or not there may be factual conflicts needs to be considered during the review process individually for each study. For example, the threshold to request the entire dataset for revision will be lower if the founders or employees of a company report compelling results related to their own product as compared to an academic researcher who declares no conflicts of interest.”
John P. Neoptolemos
Prof. John P. Neoptolemos is Professor of Surgery at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, and a leading pancreatic cancer specialist with over 78,000 scientific citations and £70m in competitive grants. At Liverpool University, he held the Chair of Surgery from 1996 until 2017. He was made a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences from 2007, a National Institutes Health Research Senior Fellow from 2011 and a Department of Health Platinum Award holder from 2004. He studied at the University of Cambridge obtaining a double degree in Natural Sciences and Philosophy followed by clinical training at Guy’s Hospital in London. As Chairman of ESPAC, he successfully led the ESPAC -1, 3, 4, and 5 trials, the results of which have been adopted as guidelines for the treatment of potentially curable pancreatic cancer around the world. As Director, he received the Freedom of the City of Liverpool in 2011 for the Liverpool Cancer Research UK Centre. In 2007, he established the NIHR Liverpool Pancreas Biomedical Research Unit (Scientific Director), the NIHR and Cancer research UK Liverpool Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (Deputy Director), and the Liverpool Clinical Trials and Cancer Research UK Cancer Trials Units (Director). He received a number of honors/awards, including a Life Time Achievement Award from the European Pancreatic Club, Hirschberg Award for Pancreatic Cancer by American Pancreatic Association, and the Ruth Brufsky Award for Pancreas Cancer Research, etc.
Prof. Neoptolemos deems peer review as an essential part of science since scientific progress is dependent on critical testing of hypotheses generated from empirical observations and investigations. Verifiable conclusions must be separated from personal viewpoints based on unverified and non-verifiable opinions. Thus, peer review plays a crucial role in ensuring a manuscript is verified and publishable.
To Prof. Neoptolemos, there are some basic rules reviewers should always comply to – Reviewers must only review material within their area of expertise and to their level of competence. Also, they must be polite and have uncompromising integrity. Even though peer reviewing is non-profitable, one must think in a way that it helps to advance science for the benefit of mankind.
From a reviewer’s perspective, Prof. Neoptolemos reckons that it is important for authors to follow reporting guidelines (such as STROBE and PRISMA) as far as possible. To him, nevertheless, these are only guidelines, one important objective being that articles should not be submitted unless the principles of these guidelines are followed.
Dr. Akhil Chawla is a Hepatopancreatobiliary and Gastrointestinal Surgical Oncologist at Northwestern Medicine, Clinical Assistant Professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and member of the Translational Research in Solid Tumors Program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, USA. He is actively involved in the design and implementation of multi-institutional clinical trials on a national level. He is a principal investigator of multiple oncology related clinical trials within Northwestern Medicine as well as nationally. He is director of the Northwestern Medicine Surgical Oncology Tumor Bank, Biorepository and Translational Research Laboratory. His primary areas of investigational focus include clinical trials, biomarker design, and response assessment of cytotoxic and immune systemic therapies in gastrointestinal malignancies. He completed a two-year National Institutes of Health funded research fellowship focusing on solid tumor Immunology at MD Anderson Cancer Center. He has completed his clinical residency training in Surgery at Case Western Reserve University, and fellowship training in the Harvard Combined Complex Surgical Oncology Fellowship Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Massachusetts General Hospital. Together, with his clinical and research efforts, he continues to dedicate his work to advancing the treatment of patients afflicted with cancer. You may connect with Dr. Chawla through Twitter @MDAkhilChawla.
Peer review is the cornerstone of evidence based science and medicine. With this process, in Dr. Chawla’s opinion, we are able to advance as a field with key endorsements and recommendations from experts within the field in order to enhance the reporting of novel findings.
It is, however, often found that biases are present in peer review. To minimize the biases, Dr. Chawla reckons that it is crucial for peer review to include a diverse contribution from clinician scientists from all backgrounds. This diversity should include gender and ethnic diversity, as well as diversity in terms of background and training. Diversity inherently decreases biases. In addition, it is important to keep the peer review process as clean as possible including review from those without existing scientific and professional relationships to those submitting the work.
As a reviewer, Dr. Chawla supports the idea of data sharing from original research, which he sees as a key fundamental to the reliability of submitted work. Not only does this process prevent submission of inaccurate or improperly analyzed results, but also adds to the integrity of the submitted work.
“My motivation for peer reviewing is to somehow enhance the work being brought forward into the existing body of literature. I find this process exciting with the hope to add my insights from the work that I am involved in,” says Dr. Chawla.