Increase in DOD Breast Cancer Research Funding

Fran Visco Health Guide
  • We recently got the great news that some of our hard work has paid off. Earlier this month the Senate and the House approved $138 million in FY 2008 funding for the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program (DOD BCRP) -$10.5 million more than last year.


    Created in 1991 as a result of the National Breast Cancer Coalition's advocacy, the DOD BCRP has grown into a far-reaching, influential program that has changed the way breast cancer research is done. It has expedited progress in the field and has become a model that other research programs have sought to replicate, with more than $2 billion new federal dollars for breast cancer research since its inception. Each year we take the lead in the fight for funding. This most recent increase is a direct result of the persistent efforts of NBCC's network, working in conjunction with strong bipartisan support from both chambers of Congress, especially Reps. Nita Lowey (D-NY), Tom Davis (R-VA), James McGovern (D-MA) and Judy Biggert (R-IL) in the House, and Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) in the Senate.

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    When we came up with the idea for this program 16 years ago, we created what was then, and remains, an innovative model: consumers working side-by-side with researchers and having an equal say in the proposal review and funding decisions. Of course, we were then faced with a "be careful what you wish for" situation. How would we find a sufficient number of advocates versed in the science who could participate? We expanded our science training program (Project LEAD®) for advocates so they could assume this challenging role in research.


    Getting the funding is only half the battle, though. You can't just throw money at a problem, which is why the review process (and training advocates to participate) is so important. Research proposals must be grounded in sound science and not only demonstrate they hold significant merit, but that they meet the vision and goals of the Breast Cancer Research Program.


    So, while Congress was approving an increase to the DOD BCRP, I was at the DOD's BCRP programmatic review, along with NBCC Executive Vice President Carolina Hinestrosa. Programmatic review brings together scientists, clinicians and consumer advocates who read and weigh grant proposals made to the BCRP after they have been screened for scientific merit, a process that also includes trained advocates. At this level of review, we see which ones meet the goals of the program and hold the best promise for advancing our knowledge about breast cancer and its causes and possible prevention and cure. Through this programmatic review process, advocates play an important role in setting the priorities of the DOD BCRP and choosing which proposals will receive funding from the program.


    Because the advice this panel gives will shape the future and direction of the DOD BCRP, and by extension the larger work to end breast cancer, it is crucial that consumer advocates have a voice in the process. We fought right from the start to get a seat at this table and ensure a transparent system rooted in sound, yet innovative, science. These opportunities offer us a chance to remind doctors, researchers, pharmaceutical companies, lawmakers and policymakers that we, the survivors, have the biggest stake in breast cancer research.


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    As participants in the program, Carolina and I have made it our mission to put the interests and rights of consumers first and foremost. Getting the DOD BCRP started in the first place was a wonderful success for breast cancer advocates and NBCC. But in order to take full advantage of it, we must continue to fight for it every year, and make sure that the research that receives funding through it is the best and most promising - original and outside the box, but with a strong foundation in good science. It is tiring, often frustrating, work. But the alternatives are unacceptable.


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Published On: November 20, 2007