Though cancer research is focused on helping patients — improving their survival and quality of life — there is often a gap in communication between researchers and patients.

A patient-led initiative called Guiding Researchers and Advocates to Scientific Partnerships (GRASP) is aiming to narrow this gap by creating spaces for researchers and patients to discuss emerging topics in cancer research.

GRASP events take place at cancer conferences and are intended to bring researchers, clinicians, and patient advocates together for personalized discussions about scientific presentations.

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Several virtual GRASP sessions were offered at the 2021 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting. One of the sessions, Solid Tumors & Metastatic Breast Cancer — Immunotherapy & Health Disparities,” was led by Isaac Chan, MD, PhD, of UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Among other points of discussion, Dr Chan summarized the objectives, methods, and outcomes of the research presented, periodically checking in with participants to gauge their understanding of certain terms and translating them into more familiar terms when needed.

While the group was focused and engaged, the tone of the session was casual and friendly, with one participant noting how much she enjoyed the small group setting.

To learn more about GRASP from the patient perspective, we interviewed Marlena Murphy, a patient advocate who participated in several GRASP sessions at the 2021 ASCO Annual Meeting. A related interview with Julia Maués, co-founder of GRASP, can be read here.

From your perspective, what sets GRASP apart from other cancer research programs?

Murphy: GRASP conferences are set apart from other cancer research programs because they consider the most important people: the patients. Findings from the research are for the patient, yet patients are not considered in discussions about the science behind the research.

GRASP realizes that patients have so much to add to cancer research conferences because of the questions that may arise from patients that researchers would have never thought of. It is also an opportunity for patients to see what research is out there and to speak with scientists and researchers.

GRASP makes speaking with researchers and scientists easy, and the environment is comfortable. Patients are accustomed to speaking with their oncologist but often know nothing about research that an oncologist might be conducting or has conducted.

Patients want to know why certain medications work and why others don’t work, and those answers lie in the research. Attending a GRASP conference allows the patient to be their own advocate and advocate for others not in attendance.