In 2022, TLCR reviewers continue to make 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.
Yoshikane Yamauchi, Teikyo University, Japan
Petros Christopoulos, Heidelberg University, Germany
Yusuke Okuma, National Cancer Center Hospital, Japan
Giulio Metro, Santa Maria della Misericordia Hospital, Italy
Samir Hanash, MD Anderson Cancer Center, USA
John D. Minna, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, USA
María Rodríguez, Clinica Universidad de Navarra, Spain
Edyta Szurowska. Medical University of Gdansk, Poland
Hideki Terai, Keio University Hospital, Japan
Michael S. Ewer, MD Anderson Cancer Center, USA
Jianjun Zhang, MD Anderson Cancer Center, USA
Kozo Kuribayashi, Hyogo Medical University, Japan
Dohun Kim, Chungbuk National University, South Korea
Jorge Nieva, USC/Norris Cancer Center, USA
Dr. Yoshikane Yamauchi, MD, PhD, is a Senior Assistant Professor at Department of Surgery, Teikyo University School of Medicine, Tokyo, Japan. He currently focuses on minimally invasive thoracic surgery, especially robotic thoracic surgery. His research projects include optimal postoperative surveillance, percutaneous cryoablation with immunotherapy, tracheal cartilage regeneration, and bronchial model for structural and fluid dynamics analysis. The list of Dr. Yamauchi’s research work can be found here.
Today, evidence-based medicine is the basis of modern medicine. In Dr. Yamauchi’s opinion, the evidence is assured by the publication of articles, which are subject to peer review by a third party who is not involved in the research before publication so that the research can be refined. In other words, peer review is essential for the accumulation of correct evidence.
There are a couple of things that Dr. Yamauchi believes reviewers should bear in mind while reviewing papers. First of all, reviewers should make their reviews as critical as possible, considering that the success or failure of that study depends on the reviews. They should not leave only negative, but constructive opinions, in order to enhance the study. Besides, reviewers should submit their reviews within the deadline requested. Otherwise, research will be delayed in being presented to the world, which will become the disadvantage of the society.
From a reviewer’s perspective, Dr. Yamauchi stresses the importance for authors to follow reporting guidelines (e.g. STROBE, CARE) during preparation of their manuscripts. To him, these guidelines make it easier not only for readers to understand the research, but also for researchers to conduct follow-up studies, thus assuring the quality of the research. Besides, the indicated guidelines facilitate the application of research results to clinical practice.
“Thanks to someone’s gratuitous peer review of my research, not only did my research become more sophisticated, but it also gave shape to the final publication of my research. Now it is my turn to perform peer review, so as to make other researcher’s work better in the way they do for me,” says Dr. Yamauchi.
(By Brad Li, Eunice X. Xu)
Dr. Petros Christopoulos is Professor of Medicine at Heidelberg University and Head of Scientific Coordination for the Thoracic Oncology Program in the Thoraxklinik at Heidelberg University Hospital, Germany. He has served as Principal Investigator in several clinical and translational research studies and is responsible for the weekly thoracic molecular tumor board and the subsequent treatment of patients with thoracic malignancies using novel compounds off-label or within expanded access programs. After studying medicine in the University of Athens, Greece, he completed training in Internal Medicine, Emergency Medicine, Hematology, Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, Medical Oncology, Genetic Counseling, and Palliative Care at the University Hospitals of Freiburg in Breisgau and Würzburg in Germany. A major focus of his research lies in the systematic integration of clinical with genetic, pathologic, immunologic, and radiologic data to refine patient stratification, improve disease monitoring and identify novel therapeutic targets, which are subsequently translated into advanced preclinical models and investigator-initiated phase 2 clinical trials. Dr. Christopoulos’ page can be accessed here.
A healthy peer review system has constructive influence on submitted manuscripts, so that published material combines scientific validity with a clear presentation of implications for future research. However, to Dr. Christopoulos, one major problem of the current system is the increasing difficulty of individual editors and reviewers to handle the growing number of submitted works, while also maintaining depth and quality of the review process. One solution could come from closer cooperation between journals and scientific societies or academic institutions, in order to streamline the process and achieve a more efficient allocation of expertise and other resources.
From a reviewer’s perspective, Dr. Christopoulos believes that disclosing Conflict of Interest (COI) is very important in order to ensure transparency in the scientific community. It helps reviewers to evaluate potential external influences on the quality of submitted works, but also authors to defend themselves against possible accusations in the future.
Last but not least, Dr. Christopoulos would like to say a few words to encourage other reviewers who have been devoting themselves to advancing scientific progress behind the scene, “Besides advancing scientific progress in general, peer reviewing also broadens the horizons of referees, because they receive preferential, early access to novel data and concepts in their field. In addition, some journals are already publicizing recognition for this important activity, instead of leaving reviewers ‘behind the scenes’, as was usual in the past.”
(By Brad Li, Eunice X. Xu)
Dr. Yusuke Okuma is a thoracic oncologist at National Cancer Center Hospital (NCCH), Tokyo, Japan. He graduated from Faculty of Environment and Information Studies, Keio University in 2001 (Bioinformatics) and Tokai University School of Medicine in 2005. He completed his Internal Medicine, Respiratory Medicine, and Thoracic Oncology Residency Program during 2005-2010 at the Department of Thoracic Oncology and Respiratory Medicine, Tokyo Metropolitan Cancer and Infectious Diseases Center Komagome Hospital. He has worked at Komagome Hospital as a staff physician from 2010 to 2019. After that, he has been working at NCCH since 2019. He has a role as a Group Delegate Member of Japan Clinical Oncology Group (JCOG) Lung Cancer Study Group (2016-present) and as a member of JCOG Protocol Review Committee (PRC) (2015–2017, 2019-). He is also committed in the development of oncology guidelines as a member of Chemotherapy & Multidisciplinary Treatment of Guideline Control Committee (2016-present) and Thymic malignancies (2018-present) of The Japan Lung Cancer Society. His main research interests are conducting clinical trial and translational research (gut microbiome) in thoracic oncology.
“A constructive review is to improve or brush up on an article based on critical appraisal, whereas a destructive review will spoil an article based on prejudice. In my career, reviewers outside of my institutions were my mentors. As a reviewer myself, I hope to be someone else’s mentor as well in their early career. Also, I have my own goal to review at least twice the number of my previously published papers to contribute to my expertise. We need to be silent as scientific experts and push up our own specialized field via scientific review,” says Dr. Okuma.
(By Brad Li, Eunice X. Xu)
Dr. Giulio Metro works as a medical oncologist at the Santa Maria della Misericordia Hospital in Perugia, Italy. He is involved in the treatment of thoracic malignancies, while his clinical research focuses on the mechanisms of resistance/sensitivity to anticancer therapies in non-small cell lung cancer. Previously, he has worked as a consultant in the Regina Elena Cancer Institute in Rome and attended an internship in the Thoracic Oncology Clinical Research Program at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, USA. Dr. Metro is Professor of Medical Oncology either in degree course of biomedical laboratory techniques and in degree course of nursing at the University of Perugia. He also holds master degrees in “Preclinical and clinical drug development: scientific, regulatory and ethical aspects” and “Immuno-oncology”. Dr. Metro has authored several publications in peer-reviewed journals and has acted as principal investigator in a number of clinical trials on lung cancer.
Peer review is crucial, in Dr. Metro’s opinion, since it allows science to be objective and highly transparent in order to be broadly used by the community of readers. To do so, it is important to entrust peer review to experts in the field, who should have published on the same or similar topics. This is important as experts are more prone to identify critical aspects of the revision that may need to be improved and/or better addressed. Expertise and constructive criticism during the peer-review process can significantly contribute to gain of scientific knowledge. On the other hand, considering how rapidly science is evolving, especially in the field of oncology, experts may allow for expedite review, which facilitates the rapid spread of innovation.
To Dr. Metro, however, it is not easy to perform an objective review. First of all, one should not have any conflict of interests, for instance, not being involved in any way in the work he/she is reviewing, nor knowing the name of the authors. Another thing to consider is that the review process should be approached with the correct dose of criticism, trying to make a good balance between strengths and weaknesses of the work that is being revised. Personally, Dr. Metro appreciates when authors correctly pinpoint the flaws of their work as it helps him suggest the request of further data evaluation/clarification. In order to make an objective review, it is also important to imagine how the work would impact on current knowledge, whether it is a repetition of previously published data, the importance of the journal in relation to the scientific innovation conveyed by the work, and last but not least, how the broad readers would react to the work once published.
Institutional review board approval (IRB) is an essential part of good research practice to protect participants in clinical studies. In Dr. Metro’s opinion, researchers and IRB members must carefully inspect and bear in mind the details of research design protocol and assessment of its risks and benefits. Application for IRB approval is crucial in order to protect human research participants.
“I am motivated to do peer reviewing regardless of its being anonymous and non-profitable. First, it is due to the love for science and my work. I do not say that I accept all peer reviews that I am assigned to, rather I tend to select the ones that fall within my area of expertise and may enrich my scientific background. I think it is a way to keep myself updated with ongoing research. It also helps me gain knowledge on a specific topic. Of course, the prestige of the journal is another fact that motivates me to accept the task, as those reviews proposed by journals with a high impact factor are usually the most attractive and challenging ones,” says Dr. Metro.
(By Brad Li, Eunice X. Xu)
Dr. Samir Hanash leads the Center for Global Cancer Early Detection at MD Anderson Cancer Center, USA, with a focus on finding biomarkers for risk assessment and early detection of common cancers. As part of this effort, they have launched two cohorts. One for subjects undergoing low dose CT for lung cancer screening, and the other for women undergoing mammography for breast cancer screening. The goal of the cohorts is to improve these screening modalities through integration of biomarkers with imaging finding and subject characteristics.
In Dr. Hanash’s opinion, peer review is essential, first, to determine the overall relevance and significance of the study and, second, to make suggestions for improvements when indicated. To reviewers, the most common issue is to be conscience of making critical remarks and suggestions intended to make improvements in the paper that though minor would take a substantial amount of resources and time to accomplish. The reviewer has to be careful in this regard.
Speaking of the need to follow reporting guidelines (e.g. STROBE, TREND), Dr. Hanash comments that it is hard to be categorical about the need to follow all guidelines. Some are more relevant to certain papers than others, but overall it is a good idea.
“Even though peer reviewing is anonymous and non-profitable, I review due to the following reasons. One is to contribute my part to the field of study covered in the paper being reviewed. Second is to learn what others in the field are up to,” says Dr. Hanash.
(By Brad Li, Eunice X. Xu)
John D. Minna
Dr. John D. Minna is Director of the Hamon Center for Therapeutic Oncology Research, and Professor of Internal Medicine and Pharmacology at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (1991-present), USA. He holds the Max L. Thomas Distinguished Chair in Molecular Pulmonary Oncology and the Sarah M. and Charles E. Seay Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research. He graduated from Stanford Medical School (research under Leonard Herzenberg), was a resident at Massachusetts General Hospital, a Research Associate at the NIH (under Dr. Marshal Nirenberg), Chief of the Section of Somatic Cell Genetics, Chief of the NCI-VA and then NCI-Navy Medical Oncology Branches at the National Cancer Institute (1975-1991). His work focuses on understanding the molecular pathogenesis of lung cancer and translating this into the clinic. He has trained many investigators in lung cancer research. He has led a joint Lung Cancer NCI Special Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant between UTSW and the MDACC. More information about Dr. Minna’s lab and his published work can be found here and here.
TLCR: Why do we need peer review? What is so important about it?
Dr. Minna: A peer-reviewed scientific paper is many things and obviously important for the group that is publishing it. However, it is, at heart, a method of communicating back and forth with the scientific community. To do this communication effectively, your paper needs to be clearly written, with the data clearly presented, and your conclusions clearly stated. These may be “right” or “wrong” but we need to know what they are. Peer review plays a vitally important first step in all of these areas. It helps and forces the authors to be clear in all of these areas. It also provides feedback on what are usually obvious questions, problems with the work that need to be addressed. While some of these are “beyond the scope of the present work” – oh, how wishes rebuttals would never use this sentence – in most cases what is requested represents pretty reasonable stuff. In most cases, the authors can do the editing (however, they often get lazy about this straightforward point). Then, decide what are the actual new experimental data being requested by the reviewers. If this is something that can be done in less than 2 months and at a reasonable cost, they should probably do these requested studies. As I say, the key is to try to do the experiments well and then present what you find. In most cases, Editors should not expect the experiments to come out exactly a certain way. This is important, because if there is this bias towards always needing to have a “positive” experiment – we are leading ourselves towards lots of problems with research integrity. If you can’t do the experiments – then you should directly explain this in the rebuttal – acknowledging the experiments would be important but because of the following x, y, z reasons, you just can’t do them. Dealing directly with such requests rather than “handwaving” to try to get around the request is always more effective. It is then up to the Editor to be an arbiter about whether your rebuttal is reasonable or not.
TLCR: Biases are inevitable in peer review. How do you minimize any potential biases during review?
Dr. Minna: The important first thing is to recognize if you have any bias in reviewing the particular paper. These could be anything from competition in the area being reported, to feelings about the investigators or their institution, to disagreements about their ideas and hypotheses. Then, the most important thing is to “put yourself in their shoes” – what would you consider a fair review if this was your paper being reviewed. Likewise – “the Golden Rule” – review this paper as you would like yours to be reviewed. Finally, present the review in a constructive fashion – while you may be strict or harsh in your review, give specific things that the authors would need to do to make this a better piece of work. Sometimes it is editing and presentation, and sometimes it is different experiments. If additional experiments are called for, it is important to emphasize that the key is to do the experiment well and present the new data. They may be positive or negative – we just need to know what the results are. I think the best editors indicate that to authors when they make suggestions about providing a revised paper.
TLCR: The burden of being a scientist/doctor is heavy. How do you allocate time to do peer review?
Dr. Minna: Peer review is part of the responsibility and process of doing science and science communication. In addition, in most cases, we learn a lot about our own research and the field of research we are involved in by peer review. It makes us “think outside the box.” Now if you know from the first you really “don’t want to review” a particular paper, for any variety of reasons, it is incumbent on you not to accept the assignment, or return the assignment so it can be given to another reviewer. The review process already takes a large amount of time (months in most cases) so delays caused by reviewers not doing the job they agreed to needs to be avoided.
TLCR: Data sharing is prevalent in scientific writing in recent years. Do you think it is crucial for authors to share their research data? And why?
Dr. Minna: Well, the manuscript itself and the data presentation in figures and tables constitutes one form of “data sharing”. What has changed is the need and responsibility to share “datasets” that the research was based on. In many cases, the true value of the paper are the datasets (for example, detailed RNAseq, DNAseq data, and/or associated clinical/demographic data) and not necessarily the findings reported in the paper. In this manner, the datasets and data sharing represent a “resource” that the work represents – and we have all seen how important these deposited datasets are for stimulating research around the world. Just as important is the ability of others to “validate” findings by studying these shared data. We all know the problem of trying to replicate findings by other groups – this is a major problem for biomedical science and providing shared data is an important step in overcoming this problem. Equally important is providing clear methods and resource sharing to allow others to replicate your work.
(By Brad Li, Eunice X. Xu)
Dr. María Rodríguez is a thoracic surgeon currently serving at Thoracic Surgery Department at Clinica Universidad de Navarra in Madrid, Spain. She has a special interest in lung cancer, patient safety, minimally invasive surgery and lung sparing procedures. Her academic training includes a General Thoracic Surgery Residency in Salamanca University Hospital, where her interest for patient safety, quality in thoracic surgery and lung sparing procedures started, and a fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where she continued her training in robotic surgery. Recently, she continues to promote lung cancer screening, adequate preoperative patient selection, patient safety and minimally invasive surgery. You may connect with Dr. Rodríguez through Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.
Peer review aims not only to maintain the standards of the published research, but it has become a standard itself of quality work and research. To Dr. Rodríguez, peer review tries to assure the quality, originality and integrity of published research. On the other hand, published peer-reviewed research has become an indicator of quality research work and it is highly valued to improve in the hierarchy of high education and academia. Furthermore, although sometimes criticized, the ultimate goal of peer review should be to improve research. In her own experience, she cannot recall a sole manuscript that has not been improved by peer review.
As what Dr. Rodríguez has pointed out above, the ultimate goal of peer review should be to assure the quality improvement of research. For a review to be constructive, reviewers should aim at sharing ideas, accepting advice, and reviewing the data or the existing literature. She adds, “Having a manuscript rejected is not good news, but when you reflect about the reasons that motivated that decision, you always find a reasonable one.”
The scientific community has been making a great effort to promote transparency, and from Dr. Rodríguez’s perspective, data sharing is an important part of it. Although research data have been traditionally shared through the manuscripts themselves, raw datasets can help to reproduce and validate the results of a published study making it both more valuable for the scientific community and for the authors.
“I am motivated to peer review for the following reasons. First, I trust on its role to assure the quality of research. Second, it is a challenge to keep track of all innovations and advances in my main field of interest, and peer review motivates me to do so. Third, having the opportunity to participate in and trying to improve other scientists’ work is a great responsibility. Lastly, if we want to improve research and be part of the scientific community, we need to participate in it,” says Dr. Rodríguez.
(By Brad Li, Eunice X. Xu)
Edyta Szurowska is the Professor and Head of II Radiology Department & Vice-Rector for Clinical Affairs at Medical University of Gdansk, and Head of Radiology Department University Clinical Center, Gdansk, Poland. She is a radiology specialist with main scientific interests in oncological radiology (lung cancer, prostate cancer, etc.) and neuroimaging using advanced CT and MRI techniques (especially perfusion, diffusion, and spectroscopy). She is particularly interested in applied research and implementing new diagnostic algorithms as well as AI in the detection and characterization of colorectal, liver, and breast cancers (‘A European Cancer Image Platform Linked to Biological and Health Data for Next-Generation Artificial Intelligence and Precision Medicine in Oncology’, H2020). Dr. Szurowska participates in the Pilot National Program of Early Lung Cancer Detection in Poland and leads efforts to its broad implementation. Since 2022, she has been active in the international lung cancer policy network (LCPN). She participates in numerous scientific and research projects in Poland and abroad: Technology Silesian University, National Institute of Oncology, Technology Gdansk University, Milan University and European Institute of Oncology in Milan, Italy, University of Groningen, Utrecht University and Maastricht University, Netherlands, Mount Sinai Hospital, NYC, USA, University of Barcelona, Spain. She was a visiting professor at Milan University (2020). She is an author of over 200 articles and book chapters.
TLCR: What do you regard as a healthy peer review system?
Dr. Szurowska: In my opinion, a peer review is a system of quality control of published papers and scientific research. It is an ongoing effort/process to ensure the highest standards in science and to create a supportive environment that encourages and motivates scientists to continuously develop their fields of research. The peer review system is heavily dependent on the appropriate selection of reviewers, who should be experts in their field and have the ability to critically evaluate the work in a fair manner while respecting the principles of non-offensive expression of comments. The evaluation should be carried out by a highly competent professional ensuring scientific rigor and reliability of information, able to analyze the educational, clinical, implementational, and academic significance of the manuscript. The creation by publishers of a special protocol for reviewing a study while paying special attention to maintaining good ethical practices can allow reviewers to reduce the time spent evaluating publications.
There is no perfect review system, but I prefer a double-blind review that provides anonymity to both author and reviewer, allowing objective analysis. Although it is believed that anonymous reviewers can be more critical, on the other hand, each of us prefers to get an honest and truthful opinion about our work and realize what needs to be improved, rather than a biased compliment. The initial review of the manuscripts in many prestigious journals is carried out by editorial boards, that are rarely biased, and these should be used routinely. Everyone must be aware that the written review is not only an assessment of the conducted research but also the reliability, knowledge, personal culture, and ethical attitude of the reviewer.
TLCR: What are the limitations of the existing peer review system? What can be done to improve it?
Dr. Szurowska: An invitation to review an article in a prestigious journal proves the high position of the reviewer or the unit from which it originates, but it is not necessarily proof of the reviewer's reliability. Each review may be burdened with a subjective assessment and bias of the reviewers, as well as the attitude of the editors to the highest possible citation of articles, which may limit the chance of publishing groundbreaking discoveries, important for a smaller group. On the other hand, it is definitely easier to publish a paper having a "famous" name or presenting results that do not destroy current views and fit into the prevailing trends. It is harder to break through with innovative research or results that challenge previously established reports. It is not easy to get rid of excessive criticism when the reviewer cares about the scientific excellence of the journal or has little experience in reviewing articles and lacks the skills to formulate clear comments. Sometimes it is easier for an anonymous reviewer to criticize too openly, not considering the strengths of the work, and focusing on pointing out errors.
These problems do not result from the bad will of the reviewers but from the lack of well-conducted training on a larger scale. The first reviews of new reviewers should be supervised by an experienced researcher and access to the literature would be provided by the review panel. A gold standard of peer review and clear and simple guidelines on how to evaluate research papers should be established and followed by most publishers. This is crucial to creating a fair, transparent, and rectitudinous scientific environment that will allow for dissenting opinions and reduce inequalities in science and strengthen diversity.
TLCR: Why do you choose to review for TLCR?
Dr. Szurowska: TLCR is a valuable journal in the scope of my scientific interest. I appreciate it as a reviewer but also as a reader and an author. I like special series led by accomplished editors with a recognized scientific and clinical reputation that are dedicated to one main topic and are a compendium of knowledge, presenting the different experiences and points of view of the best experts in the field. The special edition brings together topical, responsible, accountable, and up-to-date opinions in one collection of high scientific integrity, making them easily accessible and intelligible. The journal plays an important role in exchanging scientific ideas and presenting the latest research results. Its high reputation is determined by the substantive quality of the articles. I have confidence in the quality of the TLCR journal content. Being a reviewer in a journal with a high scientific standard, I am constantly learning and expanding my knowledge in a field that is crucial to me.
TLCR: Is it important for authors to disclose Conflict of Interest (COI)? To what extent would a COI influence a research?
Dr. Szurowska: Disclosure of COI is very important and contributes to the transparency of scientific research. Theoretically, authors who have financially benefited from carrying out the study may be less critical of the presented results and only seek to approve their interpretation. Authors should inform the publisher of the role of the sponsor or funding organization in designing and conducting the research and their impact on the interpretation of the data collected, as well as the final version of the manuscript. Publication of information regarding COI allows readers to form their own opinion regarding potential author bias in the context of interpretation of research results, its merits, and benefits. It may also inspire scientists to look elsewhere for other sources on the subject. Conversely, concealing a significant COI could undermine the readers' trust in the published study and journal, which everyone would wish to avoid.
(By Brad Li, Eunice X. Xu)
Dr. Hideki Terai is a Medical Pulmonologist interested in lung cancer and developing new therapies. His PhD research at Keio University focused on drug resistance in lung cancer. He spent 3 years as a postdoctoral fellow at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, working on the involvement of the innate immune system in the mechanism of drug resistance to EGFR-TKIs. Currently, he works as an oncologist at Keio University Hospital, where he provides medical care to lung cancer patients and conduct translational research using clinical specimens. Learn more about Dr. Terai on his website.
Dr. Terai thinks that peer review is a fundamental aspect of the scientific process that promotes quality and reliability in scientific research. It plays an important role in maintaining the quality of the scientific and human knowledge.
Nevertheless, the current peer-review system is not without limitations, which include significant variations in the expertise and perspectives of reviewers, as well as the potential for overburdening highly qualified reviewers. Beyond merely submitting research papers, Dr. Terai believes that by actively and voluntarily contributing to the peer-review system, many scientists can help establish a more effective review system.
Given the limited capacity of reviewers, as mentioned earlier, Dr. Terai reckons that adhering to these guidelines in reporting format is essential not only to ensure the quality of research but also for efficiency. “I have received extremely valuable comments from reviewers in the past, which have deepened my understanding of my own research, and this has been a significant source of motivation for me,” says he.
(By Lareina Lim, Brad Li)
Michael S. Ewer
Michael S. Ewer, MD, JD, Ph.D, has been at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston Texas, USA for over 40 years. Initially, he joined the Cancer Center to study the effects of anthracyclines on the heart and performed over 2000 cardiac biopsies for both patient care and research applications. His observations that cardiac ultrasound changes were a late manifestation of anthracycline injury led to increased understanding of the clinical manifestations of the cardiac injury. Dr. Ewer was the first to observe that cardiac injury associated with trastuzumab, and later with other agents was different from that of anthracyclines and proposed that cardiotoxic agents be classified as Type I, those that directly destroyed myocytes, and Type II, agents that caused cardiac dysfunction indirectly. Dr. Ewer is an attorney who teaches health law at the University of Houston Health Law and Policy Institute where he is Director of the Advanced Degree (LL.M) program. He is the editor of the textbook “Cancer and the Heart”, now in its third Edition.
Dr. Ewer believes that a healthy peer-review system must have several components. First, the system must identify a pool of knowledgeable reviewers from which an editor can select reviewers. Reviewers must be willing to perform the review in a timely manner and have the availability to scrutinize the submission as to suitability of the subject for the Journal, and assess the academic rigor, clarity, and the usefulness of tables, figures, and the appropriateness of references. Moreover, a healthy peer-review system should never invite reviewers, and un-invite them when a quota is met—the policy encourages casual acceptance without adequate deliberation and often is interpreted as insulting.
The reviewers’ commitment is essential to providing information that is useful for the editor. Dr. Ewer explains, “In giving an assessment, I try to provide a mini editorial—not one for publication, but one with sufficient information so that the editor can follow the thought process that I used in providing feedback. As reviewer, we are advisory to the editor and the more insight we provide, the easier it will be for the editor to make a decision that considers the suitability for that particular journal, the level of interest likely to be shown in the article after publication, and even the likelihood that the submission will be cited.”
Dr. Ewer reckons that, with very few exceptions, data should be available for review. He thinks questions referred to the editor in the form of letters or requests for the original data should be addressed with seriousness. “Our readers must understand that integrity in publication is paramount,” adds Dr. Ewer.
(By Lareina Lim, Brad Li)
Dr. Jianjun Zhang, MD, PhD, is a thoracic medical oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center, USA. His research has focused on elucidating the mechanisms and clinical implications of tumor heterogeneity; the impact of cancer molecular features on host anti-tumor immune surveillance during cancer evolution. His group has led a series of studies on the genomic, transcriptomic, methylation, and immune intratumor heterogeneity of lung cancers and demonstrated that complex molecular heterogeneity is associated with impaired T cell response and inferior survival of lung cancer patients. His group has also made critical contribution to understand the molecular/immune evolution during early lung carcinogenesis. He published over 150 peer-reviewed papers in high-impact journals including Nature, Science, Nature Methods, Nature Biotechnology, Lancet Oncology, Cancer Discovery, Journal of Clinical Oncology, Nature Communications, etc. More importantly, these pioneering studies have led to the development of two unique clinical trials targeting tumor immune microenvironment for lung cancer prevention. For more information, please visit Dr. Zhang’s LinkedIn.
A healthy peer review system, according to Dr. Zhang, is one with unbiased selection of reviewers, clear guidelines for the reviewing process and transparent editorial decision-making.
In Dr. Zhang’s view, a good reviewer should, most importantly, be fair and unbiased. With the rapid scientific advances, reviewers may not know certain aspects of the study. A good reviewer should acknowledge this and be willing to search the literature to learn the topic before giving her/his comments. Timely review is also important as the editorial team and authors depend on her/his comments to make decisions.
Speaking of the use of reporting guidelines, such as PRISMA and CARE, Dr. Zhang believes that it may be helpful for authors to be familiar with these guidelines to improve their presentations, but he does not think authors have to go with these guidelines. However, covering relevant topics and making their stories concise, complete and easy to understand will be essential for all manuscripts.
“I review because sharing scientific advances to the research community facilitates further progress and benefit our own research and eventually our patients,” says Dr. Zhang.
(By Brad Li, Eunice X. Xu)
Dr. Kozo Kuribayashi, MD, PhD, is a Professor of Respiratory Medicine and Hematology, School of Medicine, Hyogo Medical University, Nishinomiya, Hyogo, Japan. He has been working as a respiratory physician there over 20 years. His primary professional interests are translational research, immunotherapy, and clinical trials for thoracic malignancies, particularly malignant pleural mesothelioma. You can learn more about Dr. Kuribayashi through ResearchGate and his homepage.
At present, evidence-based medicine is the foundation of modern medicine, and these evidence is accumulated by the publication of articles. Therefore, to Dr. Kuribayashi, the “quality control” of these papers is extremely important, and peer review fulfils this crucial responsibility to refine and ensure the quality of research. In other words, peer review is considered essential for the accumulation of high-quality evidence.
There are a few things that Dr. Kuribayashi believes reviewers should keep in mind when reviewing papers: Review should be as critical as possible so that peer review ensures the validity, objectivity and fairness of the paper. At the same time, reviewers must not leave only negative opinions, but constructive ones, and contribute to the advancement of medicine by enhancing the research.
One of the objectives of the reporting guidelines is to facilitate researchers to conduct follow-up studies and to ensure the quality of research through the reporting checklist (e.g. STROBE, CONSORT, TREND, etc.). In other words, while sharing data with researchers in the field is a great idea, Dr. Kuribayashi thinks challenges remain in how accurate data can be shared in practice, especially in company-sponsored clinical trials.
“People in academia should view review work as routine work, not extra work. On the other hand, since we spend precious time, we should not be so easily involved in reviewing shoddy articles of predatory journals,” says Dr. Kuribayashi.
(By Brad Li, Eunice X. Xu)
Dr. Dohun Kim was a board-certified thoracic surgeon trained at Samsung Medical Center (2003-2007) and is currently an associate professor at the Chungbuk National University, South Korea. He received his M.D., B.S. (2002), and M.S. (2011) from Keimyung University and his Ph.D. (2015) degree from the department of medicine of Sungkyunkwan University. He has performed a lot of research on the macro- and micro-world of lung cancer. Recently, he has devoted himself to the fundamental cause of cancer initiation and progression, which inspired him that epigenetic factors could have considerable effects on cancer. Especially exosome, the messenger among cells and ECM fascinated him. He has been actively involved in the bioengineering lab at Brigham and Women's Hospital, working as a visiting scientist to explore the potential of exosomes as a novel form of gene therapy.
In Dr. Kim’s view, every research project has its own roles and significance. Even if the content or format may not be outstanding or elegant, peer review should aim to identify and appreciate its intrinsic value. In this regard, peer review can suggest ways to enhance the author's paper. In other words, a peer reviewer should not act as a judge but as an assistant.
Dr. Kim puts forward “4R”, which can be used as a guide for reviewers to review papers. 1) Read carefully to identify its key messages. 2) Review the logical consistency and supporting evidence. 3) Recommend constructively. Critiques without solutions may be useless. 4) Respect readers. The journal exists for the readers.
Seeing the prevalence of data sharing in science writing in recent years, Dr. Kim comments that data sharing is crucial as it can validate the findings of authors and, furthermore, accelerate scientific development. However, he reiterates that obtaining data from authors must require strict steps and qualifications due to the fact that the data represents the essence of authors’ long-term and challenging studies.
“I engage in peer review after completing heavy duties, including paper writing or major surgeries. During that time, I can fully concentrate on the review without any time constraints or a restless mind. Of course, sometimes I perform the review after checking follow-up emails from the editorial team,” says Dr. Kim.
(By Brad Li, Alisa Lu)
Dr. Jorge Nieva is the section head of solid tumors, division of medical oncology at the Keck School of Medicine and director of the lung cancer research program within the USC/Norris Cancer Center, USA. He serves as the chair of the Data and Safety Monitoring Committee at the cancer center, leads the internal advisory committee for the CARE2 Health Equity Center at USC and is a member of the FDA’s Oncology Drug Advisory Committee. Dr. Nieva is an expert in biomarker development and informatic approaches to the evaluation of patient health. He is a graduate of the University of California Irvine College of Medicine, trained internal medicine at the University of California, San Diego and in Oncology/Hematology at the Scripps Clinic. Connect with Dr. Nieva on Twitter.
A constructive review, in Dr. Nieva’s view, is one that points out errors in the work that need correction prior to publication. It focuses on tempering overstatements and ensuring that the conclusions are supported by data. He personally tries to ensure that the reader will not be misled by overgeneralizations, but it is essential to remember that reviewer judges the authors’ work instead of creating one’s own. A destructive review, on the contrary, is one that seeks to transform the work into a perfect work, often by asking new experiments to be conducted prior to publication or by requiring that the reviewer’s style or analytic methodology be applied. Dr. Nieva thinks such reviews are overstepping their role.
From a reviewer’s perspective, Dr. Nieva thinks reporting guidelines such as STROBE and PRISMA are helpful, but they should be viewed as guidelines rather than rules. For someone who is writing their first manuscript, the guidelines are great for organizing the essential elements of a paper. He adds, “We do not need to be so rigid as to compare each manuscript to a checklist, but the best manuscripts will be the ones that include all the elements described in these tools.”
“As a faculty member of a university, it is our mission to advance science. Reviewing manuscripts is part of fulfilling that mission. Also, someone made the effort to review my previous work before. I should be willing to do the same for others who want to publish theirs,” says Dr. Nieva.
(By Brad Li, Eunice X. Xu)