eLife and Medicine: Rigorous review and editorial oversight of clinical preprints

Research in many different areas of medicine will benefit from new approaches to peer review and publishing.

The urgent need to understand and control COVID-19, and to effectively treat people with the disease, has mobilized global scientific and medical communities like nothing in human history. It has also ushered in a new era in medical publishing. Notably, the desire to share results rapidly, widely and openly has led to an explosion of submissions to the preprint server medRxiv.

But even as the pandemic has demonstrated the potential for rapid, author-driven publication to democratize access and accelerate research, it has exposed the challenges of this model of scholarly communication. With intense public appetite for information about the virus and pandemic, there has been a real danger that individuals and institutions will act hastily on information about risks, mitigation strategies and treatments before it is adequately scrutinized. Such opportunities and challenges, best illustrated during the pandemic, lie ahead as medicine moves towards the goal of providing evidence-based care to patients no matter where they live. This trajectory also opens up real opportunities for speed, transparency and rich evaluation across peer review in medicine.

We are therefore excited to announce that eLife’s reinvigorated Medicine section will offer a whole new approach to publishing in medicine, including public health and health policy. We will apply our system of editorial oversight by practicing clinicians and clinician-investigators, and rigorous, consultative peer review to produce public reviews of preprints with significant potential to impact clinical practice. Our goal is to transform unrefereed manuscripts posted on medRxiv into refereed preprints that provide readers and potential users with a detailed assessment of the science, comments on its potential impact, and perspectives on its use. In essence, by providing rich and rapid evaluation of preprints, we hope that refereed preprints become a currency of trust in medicine.

We will continue to operate like a traditional journal, providing authors who submit their preprints to us with feedback from the reviewers and editors, and we will select a subset of papers for formal publication in eLife. Our scope is broad, covering all areas of the health sciences ranging from cellular and murine models of disease, to human genetics and genomic sciences, to therapeutic discovery, to all phases of clinical investigation, to population health outcomes, to health policy and clinical decision making.

eLife was launched in 2012 by three funders – Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Wellcome Trust and Max Planck Society, later joined by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation – who were eager to take a more active role in promoting best practices in scientific and medical publishing. Founding Editor-in-Chief Randy Schekman focused on improving the culture of peer review, pioneering a consultative approach in which reviewers and editors come together to discuss their assessments, reach a collective decision on whether the strengths of the work merit publication in eLife and which, if any, weaknesses need to be addressed before publication. The authors are then provided with a clear and concise decision letter that is free of the conflicting opinions and recommendations often found in reviews.

Since 2019, with one of us (MBE) as Editor-in-Chief, eLife has moved to embrace and encourage the growth of preprints even more strongly in all areas of science and medicine, and has developed a new concept of 'publish, then review' to serve readers and users, as well as authors (Eisen et al., 2020). This new system of creating public reviews of preprints, described briefly above, is the first major product of these efforts. The re-launch of eLife’s Medicine section is the second.

While eLife has traditionally focused on basic science, many of our editors are practicing clinicians who run research groups that cross the proverbial line between basic and clinical research. We have published papers in early translational research, but over the past few years have received many requests to bring our innovations in peer review and preprint review into the full spectrum of research in medicine.

To answer these calls, and to ensure we do so successfully, we have recruited two Deputy Editors in Medicine (DMH and MZ) and a group of Senior Editors that includes accomplished women and men from around the globe. These Senior Editors in turn have the responsibility of overseeing the review process through our Board of Reviewing Editors, which has also been greatly expanded (and will continue to expand) to include clinicians, public health specialists, and basic, translational and clinical researchers spanning a wide range of disciplines. In building the team, we have emphasized not only clinical expertise, scientific excellence and intellectual breadth, but also equity, diversity and inclusion, in order to ensure that we address patient-centered research for everyone.

The result is an editorial board that can truly aim to cover all areas of modern biology and medicine, with the ability to handle any paper in any discipline, especially those that span and knit together work from fields whose practitioners do not traditionally publish in or read the same journals. For example, we are now well equipped to evaluate all aspects of papers whose topics range from behavioral sciences and social determinants of health to clinical genetics, structural biology, drug discovery and early–stage efficacy studies. We are equally equipped to handle papers describing new COVID-19 virus mutations, their coverage by vaccines, and modeling future infections in different population settings.

In keeping with our desire to tackle the most difficult issues in publishing, we have also created a new Ethics Committee – a think tank of ethicists and individuals with long-standing experience in different aspects of science, medicine and publishing – to provide guidance on issues including, but not limited to, publishing, medical and animal ethics, biosecurity and biosafety, environmental justice, competing interests, data availability, and issues surrounding studies with minority populations in the developing world. These issues are of growing importance across both biology and medicine.

Over the past few years we have received many requests to bring our innovations in peer review and preprint review into the full spectrum of research in medicine.

We are also aware that the pipeline for the young physician-scientist is extremely leaky with most medical graduates who enter science being drawn into private medicine, whether or not they obtained a doctoral degree (Williams et al., 2018). We will leverage eLife’s expanded Medicine section to assist the careers of both laboratory-based physician-scientists and physicians whose interests lie in clinical investigation and health services research. In addition, we will encourage the STEM pipeline of women and underrepresented minorities in physician-scientist roles. eLife already has a program to encourage early-career researchers in all fields to become involved in the peer-review process, and we will also test novel processes for the mentorship, sponsorship and professional advancement of junior physician-scientists.

In all, eLife's ambitions in medicine are broader than just becoming a new open-access medical journal. This is a larger effort underscoring a cultural change to emphasize the importance of preprints and reviewing preprints; to focus on transparency, not just on open access but also on open data and open methods; and to encourage responsible behaviors in medical publishing – elements that are necessary for the translation of meaningful scientific investigation to the betterment of human health. Towards this aspiration, eLife’s reinvigorated Medicine section will cherish the support of the physician–scientist community around the globe.

References

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Mone Zaidi

    Mone Zaidi is a Deputy Editor of eLife

    For correspondence
    editorial@elifesciences.org
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-5911-9522
  2. Diane M Harper

    Diane M Harper is a Deputy Editor of eLife

    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-7648-883X
  3. Anna Akhmanova

    Anna Akhmanova is a Deputy Editor of eLife

    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-9048-8614
  4. Detlef Weigel

    Detlef Weigel is a Deputy Editor of eLife

    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-2114-7963
  5. Timothy E Behrens

    Timothy E Behrens is a Deputy Editor of eLife

    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-0048-1177
  6. Michael B Eisen

    Michael B Eisen is the Editor-in-Chief of eLife

    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-7528-738X

Publication history

  1. Version of Record published: June 16, 2021 (version 1)

Copyright

© 2021, Zaidi et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

Metrics

  • 3,764
    Page views
  • 94
    Downloads
  • 1
    Citations

Article citation count generated by polling the highest count across the following sources: Crossref, PubMed Central, Scopus.

Download links

A two-part list of links to download the article, or parts of the article, in various formats.

Downloads (link to download the article as PDF)

Open citations (links to open the citations from this article in various online reference manager services)

Cite this article (links to download the citations from this article in formats compatible with various reference manager tools)

  1. Mone Zaidi
  2. Diane M Harper
  3. Anna Akhmanova
  4. Detlef Weigel
  5. Timothy E Behrens
  6. Michael B Eisen
(2021)
eLife and Medicine: Rigorous review and editorial oversight of clinical preprints
eLife 10:e67528.
https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.67528

Further reading

    1. Medicine
    Shengjie Li, Jun Ren ... Wenjun Cao
    Research Article

    Background:

    Primary angle closure glaucoma (PACG) is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in Asia, and no reliable, effective diagnostic, and predictive biomarkers are used in clinical routines. A growing body of evidence shows metabolic alterations in patients with glaucoma. We aimed to develop and validate potential metabolite biomarkers to diagnose and predict the visual field progression of PACG.

    Methods:

    Here, we used a five-phase (discovery phase, validation phase 1, validation phase 2, supplementary phase, and cohort phase) multicenter (EENT hospital, Shanghai Xuhui Central Hospital), cross-sectional, prospective cohort study designed to perform widely targeted metabolomics and chemiluminescence immunoassay to determine candidate biomarkers. Five machine learning (random forest, support vector machine, lasso, K-nearest neighbor, and GaussianNaive Bayes [NB]) approaches were used to identify an optimal algorithm. The discrimination ability was evaluated using the area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC). Calibration was assessed by Hosmer-Lemeshow tests and calibration plots.

    Results:

    Studied serum samples were collected from 616 participants, and 1464 metabolites were identified. Machine learning algorithm determines that androstenedione exhibited excellent discrimination and acceptable calibration in discriminating PACG across the discovery phase (discovery set 1, AUCs=1.0 [95% CI, 1.00–1.00]; discovery set 2, AUCs = 0.85 [95% CI, 0.80–0.90]) and validation phases (internal validation, AUCs = 0.86 [95% CI, 0.81–0.91]; external validation, AUCs = 0.87 [95% CI, 0.80–0.95]). Androstenedione also exhibited a higher AUC (0.92–0.98) to discriminate the severity of PACG. In the supplemental phase, serum androstenedione levels were consistent with those in aqueous humor (r=0.82, p=0.038) and significantly (p=0.021) decreased after treatment. Further, cohort phase demonstrates that higher baseline androstenedione levels (hazard ratio = 2.71 [95% CI: 1.199–6.104], p=0.017) were associated with faster visual field progression.

    Conclusions:

    Our study identifies serum androstenedione as a potential biomarker for diagnosing PACG and indicating visual field progression.

    Funding:

    This work was supported by Youth Medical Talents – Clinical Laboratory Practitioner Program (2022-65), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (82302582), Shanghai Municipal Health Commission Project (20224Y0317), and Higher Education Industry-Academic-Research Innovation Fund of China (2023JQ006).

    1. Medicine
    Swee Sen Kwek, Eng Eong Ooi
    Insight

    Understanding the kinetics of dengue viruses in the bloodstream can provide insights into the clinical outcomes of the disease.