Leadership Spotlight: JASN Editor in Chief Josephine Briggs, MD

By Zach Cahill posted 03-12-2018 15:48

In February 2018 @Kelly Hyndman of ASN's Media and Communications Committee interviewed new JASN Editor in Chief Josephine Briggs, MD. Below is a transcript of their conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length. If you have other questions for Dr. Briggs, you can ask them here.

Kelly Hyndman, PhD
Dr. Briggs, you have been intimately involved in nephrology research for many years, in both academia and government at the NIH. What attracted you to a life in the lab and what would you tell potential young investigators about why they should pursue work in the nephrology sphere?

Josephine Briggs, MD
First, let me say, I am a fan of the ASN Communities. I belong to a couple - and quickly scan the Open Forum every morning. It is a great way to be connected.

I am delighted to have been selected to be the EIC (yes - we have an abbreviation for everything, even Journal publishing - that is Editor-In Chief) of JASN. I have been a reader and occasionally an author for all 29 years of the life of JASN. I care deeply about the quality of the Journal, and am very honored to have been selected as the next EIC.

Back to you question. Why nephrology? I liked kidney physiology as a student, and when I was an Internal Medicine Resident my subspecialty choices came down to a few - nephrology, endocrinology, ID. I think the final choice was partly driven by the people around me. Ruth Abramson, Marvin Levitt, both at Mount Sinai - were great mentors. I liked the challenge of thinking about the clinical problems. Nephrology was a discipline that was very much in the center of patient care. But, I always knew I wanted to do research. My research directions and interests evolved over the years.

Dr. Hyndman
JASN has been leading the publication of original research in nephrology for 29 years, what is your vision for the journal and are there any new features you plan on rolling out during your tenure?

Dr. Briggs
My vision for JASN places central focus on the publication of the best primary research in nephrology, basic and clinical. The core of the Journal is original research reports of the highest quality. That is number one.

The editorial team is thinking hard about how we all read. We live in an age of information overload. We are thinking about how to make the dense and often complex work more accessible. We are making a number of changes in the format of articles. We have added a requirement for a Significance Statement, published with each paper. This is a short statement - 120 words or less - written by the authors with some light editing by us. The goal is tell a reader - including one not expert in the topic at hand - the core message of the paper.

We know figures really matter. We are urging our authors to include a simple schematic drawing that illustrates the core concept of the work.
Beginning with the May issue, there will be a short Table of Contents on the cover, making it easier for a busy person to browse for studies of interest. Also in May, we are introducing structure to the abstracts and moving the methods section to follow the introduction. All these changes are ways we hope to make it easier for our busy readers to get to the core of the articles.

Another big change is the we are placing more emphasis on Perspectives. Perspectives are short essays - we call them nephrology Op Ed pieces. Sometimes Perspectives will provide two sides to a controversial topic. Last month, for example, we published two essays arguing the pros and cons of the CARDINAL bardoxolone trial. This controversy touches on the familiar issue to nephrologists on how much weight to give to short term drug effects on GFR, up and down.

Dr. Hyndman 
You touched on this question a bit above with your vision for JASN, but maybe you can expand on it a bit more. Physicians and researchers get information from dozens of different sources and Free Online Medical Education (FOMed) is becoming more popular. How are you positioning JASN to stand out in our information overload age and compete for the attention of nephrologists?

Dr. Briggs
Well - we try and reach both searchers and browsers. Many of our readers come to the Journal from literature searches, and publishing the highest impact work is the most important aspect of getting the scientific attention we care about. That is job #1.

But we are working on other strategies. A good portion of our readers are ASN members. JASN arrives in our mailboxes every month. The real paper version! We think our new cover design coming in May will help busy browsers. With the Table of Contents on the Cover, a quick glance will let you see what is there. We think this will help busy people find articles that speak to them.

Our highlights page - a feature we have continued from the previous editorial team -provides a thumbnail of six particularly important papers in each issue. We hope you are following @JASN_News on Twitter, which currently tells our followers when new papers appear in JASN Express. We expect to share important papers with ASN Communities. So, a variety of strategies.

In the next few months, we also expect to revise the website design. We are taking this on together with CJASN. The new website will show the highlighted articles in each issue, and hopefully help busy readers, whether they are searchers or browsers!

Dr. Hyndman 
You have written that these are wonderful times for the scientific research that matters to nephrology. What new breakthroughs or insights (basic biology of the kidney, disease pathogenies, translational research, biomarkers, etc.) do you anticipate making headlines in 2018?

Dr. Briggs
Well –some of the current excitement comes from new methods. We are planning a series on methods – hoping to bring to our readers short pieces that allow non-experts to understand how the newest methods work and what they can do for us.
A few examples of exciting methods: the ability of the latest gene expression sequencing methods to actually measure gene expression in single cells is, to my mind, a game changer. The kidney is the organ with fascinating cellular complexity, second only, I would say, to the brain. These methods will help us really understand what specific cell types do – in health and disease. The ability with modern proteomic methods to understand the targets of auto- immune disease – not just what proteins are targeted, but the actual domains within proteins that trigger antibodies, for example. This is fascinating stuff, and will continue to produce insights and ultimately therapeutic approaches.
But the new methods are not confined to the basic sciences. Nephrology has benefited from a very strong body of observational research on end stage care, but the information we have about care of patients before they require renal replacement therapies is not as robust. We are seeing good, new work on how to extract reliable information from electronic health records, and this is already strengthening our observational research, and may lead to more pragmatic trials.
Finally an important area is the strengthening of patient engagement in research. Just today – I see an article in Lancet on self-monitoring for BP management, one example of a strategy to engage patients in their care. I don't know if patients were part of the planning for this research study, but I know we have a lot to learn by engaging patients in the research process.

Dr. Hyndman 
What is the most significant controversy your editorial team will have to confront during your tenure? For example, you have mentioned reproducibility, statistical standards, data presentation, and data sharing as controversies you expect to weigh in on?

Dr. Briggs
You ask about controversy. Well - we welcome being a place where scientific controversies are aired. We recently published two perspectives on the CARDINAL trial - that is one example of a controversy. Dr. Baigent argues that the trial is too short to assess whether patients truly benefit, and that it could lead to drug approval without a firm answer. Dr. Toto, who is part of the DSMB, puts forth the counter arguments, and reminds us how hard it is to get definite answers about relatively uncommon diseases. So - a good example of a controversy we have welcomed.

We are starting a Letters to the Editor section to provide space for similar debates about papers we publish. And unlike a debate in social media - this becomes a permanent part of the peer reviewed literature.

In terms of controversy about Journal policies, such as data sharing expectations, review of conflict of interest, data quality assessment - I don't really expect much controversy. I think our authors and our readers expect JASN to set very high standards - and live by them.

We are interested in input, of course.