<i>Convergent Science Physical Oncology</i>

While studies in physical oncology have progressed rapidly over the last five or six years, there has been no obvious home for publishing the research papers generated from these endeavours. One key shortfall was the lack of a multi-disciplinary review mechanism suitable for such multi-disciplinary research. To address this, IOP Publishing has launched a new journal: Convergent Science Physical Oncology (CSPO). The aim is to bring together all researchers working within the physics of cancer and create a new forum for this exciting field of research.

"It's the physical properties of the body that enable the dissemination of cancer through the body," explained Peter Kuhn, Dean's Professor of Biological Sciences at USC Dornsife and one of CSPO's four Founding Editors. "Cancer cells interact with one another, they bump against walls, break through vessels and travel through the blood. There is both biology and physics at play at the same time."

"Several years ago, it became apparent that there was a need to look at cancer in a new and different way," added Carole Baas, lead patient advocate for the National Cancer Institute's Physical Sciences-Oncology Centers (PS-OC). "There was a lot of research being done that wasn't traditional cancer research, with people in different areas of science taking a look at cancer."

Baas, another of CSPO's Founding Editors, described one example target area for such research: the tumour microenvironment. Studying the physical properties of tissue surrounding a tumour, for instance, could reveal whether certain aspects of the microenvironment make it conducive to cancer cells, providing information that could be exploited therapeutically.

"Right now, we don't know why cancers metastasize and why they decide to go where they do. If we are able to draw together many different areas of science and look at this from a really broad perspective – not just the biology – maybe that can give us insight into what's going on," Baas explained. "Physiology is one of the most complicated systems out there, so we need all voices to come together to solve this great question."

A new journal emerges

So how can all these disparate groups of researchers work together in an effective way? Previously, physical oncology research was scattered among many different types of journals. Research papers would be reviewed and published in a journal in one specific field, but few outside of that particular area were likely to read it. "One of the missing pieces was how to actually communicate with one another," explained Kuhn. "And that is really how CSPO was born. The idea was that during the peer review process, you have to have as equal partners the patient research advocate, the pathologist, the oncologist and the physicist."

As such, IOP Publishing launched the journal with four Founding Editors. Along with Kuhn and Baas, Kelly Bethel from Scripps Clinic and Jorge Nieva from the University of Southern California complete the line-up, representing the pathologist and oncologist, respectively. "If the four of us can talk to one another and understand one another, then all of a sudden we have brought together very distant fields to look at this problem, which seems so obviously influenced by these four disciplines," said Kuhn. "Then we might actually be able to make progress."

Encompassing such a wide range of subjects can prove tricky when it comes to peer review of the submitted papers. To tackle this challenge, the CSPO team plans to implement a new type of review process, in which reviewers from different fields are actively encouraged to discuss a paper amongst themselves.

"Typically, a paper in, say, mathematics and cancer might get sent to a mathematician and a cancer biologist. But the biologist can only judge the biology and the mathematician can only judge the maths," explained Kuhn. "If that work is truly built in a convergent framework, then the separate reviewers have to have a conversation otherwise they can't evaluate the total value of that manuscript. I think it will streamline the refereeing process and make it way more fun."

The patient voice

There are other ways in which CSPO is not your everyday scientific journal. One key differentiator is the inclusion of a novel section currently under the working title of "OUTCOMES". The exact content remit is still being discussed, but the section will likely include patient-authored perspectives, commentaries on topical issues, and cutting-edge science presented at a lay level. A clinical oncologist may, for example, write about how their research will impact patients; or a mathematician could explain how their modelling work will change the way that drugs are delivered.

"I am absolutely delighted that they have chosen to do this," said Baas. "It's pretty much unheard of to have a patient voice in a journal that is this technical." She explained that in her role as the lead advocate for the PS-OCs, she visited all 12 centres and talked to researchers, all of whom were really keen to hear patients' thoughts on their work. "In some cases, the researchers had never even talked to a patient with the type of cancer that they were studying," she noted. "The opportunity to connect with patients is not so easy if, for example, you're a mathematician working in this space."

In parallel, patient groups are excited about the new journal and this novel section, and are eager to learn more about research being performed. It will also provide a unique outlet for non-scientists to share their ideas. "At one event, a research advocate presented a great analysis of quality-of-life parameters," said Kuhn. "What was really interesting was the way she put together and analysed the data in a way I've never seen. I thought this would be great for my students to read, but there was no place for her to publish this."

Ultimately, the aim is to create a section that will be relevant to the entire readership. Patients, caregivers and other interested parties who don't traditionally read technical journals should be able to pick up this journal and find something that sparks their interest and that they can understand. "Hopefully this breaking down of barriers will increase interest, and subsequently funding, in this area," said Baas.

Looking forward, Kuhn predicts that CSPO could "play a true leadership role" in publishing manuscripts from the many high-ranking groups worldwide working in physical oncology. "I think it will enable not just communication, but the application of outcomes and will really propel the field forward," he said. "Everyone finds convergence a really attractive process, but doing it is brutally hard because we all have different perspectives. The question we are raising with CSPO is 'can we understand the physical aspects of cancer in the human and can we bring that data together so we better understand the human body?' The only way to do this is for all of us to participate equally."

"As a patient advocate, I see all different types of cancer research going on, but this is the one that truly excites me," Baas told medicalphysicsweb. "I want to go out and tell the world what's happening in this space and this journal is my way of doing it."

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