Headshots of Lisa Benson and Grace Wentzel, organizers of the 2024 Pediatrics Clinical Trials Conference

2024 Pediatric Clinical Trials Conference Preview: A Conversation with Conference Co-Chairs Lisa Benson & Grace Wentzel

Grace Wentzel (GW)


Lisa Benson (LB)


We’re thrilled to announce the 11th annual Pediatric Clinical Trials Conference, which is set to take place February 22-23, 2024, in San Diego, CA. To uncover the vision, evolution, and passion behind the upcoming event, we sat down with conference organizers Lisa Benson, BS, CRCP (LB), and Grace Wentzel, CCRP, CHRC (GW). Join us as we share their insights and reflect on the impact this critical event continues to have on pediatric clinical research. 

Q: Could you tell us about your work and why it means so much to you?

LB: With 40 years of experience in the clinical research field, spanning private practice, public institutions, and academia, I’ve had the privilege to focus on what stirs my heart the most—pediatric oncology. I started as a clinical research associate deeply involved with a children’s cancer study group and grew through the ranks, propelled by the support of a mentor. Today, as a consultant, I help organizations develop and improve their pediatric clinical trials units. My passion is as alive today as it was on day one; it’s about children and the hope we can offer through our work. 

GW: At Javara, my work involves integrating clinical research as a care option in community-based practices and smaller hospitals. My background includes over 30 years at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, focusing on the research infrastructure of clinical and administrative sides, primarily in pediatrics. There’s something about the resilience of children that motivates me every day, especially in the realm of rare diseases. It’s about providing hope and advanced treatment to these young individuals and their families. 

Q: What sparked the idea for this conference, and how has it evolved?

LB: The concept for this conference was born from a casual yet profound conversation with former conference co-organizer Susan Devine. We recognized a critical gap in the availability of educational programs tailored for pediatric research and collaborated with SOCRA to make it a reality. Now, more than a decade later, the Pediatric Clinical Trials Conference has expanded into a highly anticipated event, continuously adapting to include hot topics and compelling speakers to advance the field of pediatric clinical research. 

GW: The opportunity to co-organize the conference with Lisa was an invitation I gladly accepted. As an attendee, I recognized the significant influence of the conference, and I was eager to take a more active role. Together with Lisa, our goal has been to ensure that the conference content remains responsive to the changing field of pediatric clinical trials.  

An aspect I like the most is that the agenda evolves in response to participant input, guaranteeing that the sessions are pertinent and practically applicable. This approach creates a dynamic, collaborative atmosphere where learning is mutual, drawing on both the deep knowledge of seasoned professionals and the shared experiences of our peers. 

LB: With the help of this community feedback, Grace and I strive to infuse fresh perspectives into the conference, ensuring we cover a broad spectrum of specialties within pediatric research. A particularly exciting addition has been the introduction of a half-day pre-conference workshop tailored explicitly for current and aspiring leaders in the field, such as managers, team leads, and directors.

Q: Can you explain the goals of this year’s event and how it benefits attendees? 

GW: The conference aims to build on what we know about adult clinical trials but with tailored content unique to the distinct challenges of pediatrics. It offers in-depth discussions on topics like family-focused consent processes, patient care management, and the nuances of critical care conversations. Attendees are equipped with practical strategies to boost compliance, streamline operations, and manage budgets tailored to pediatric research environments. This year, with a spotlight on rare diseases and oncology, the event promises to be incredibly impactful. 

LB: With the recent staff turnover trends, many professionals have had to navigate their roles independently. This conference offers a valuable opportunity for seasoned pediatric experts and newcomers to connect. Attendees can gain practical knowledge to apply in their practices, and the chance to build a network of contacts for future challenges is invaluable. 

Not to mention, the conference’s location in San Diego promises more than just insight—it offers beautiful weather that will be particularly appealing to those from colder regions. A mid-winter escape to coastal California can be a delightful bonus.

Q: Which elements of this year’s conference are you most excited about, and can you share some agenda highlights? 

LB: This year, our agenda is full of engaging presentations. We’re excited to welcome Dr. Gregory Reaman from the National Cancer Institute to discuss the Childhood Cancer Data Initiative, and we look forward to Leah Johnson, MSN, RN, shedding light on the future of gene therapy. Returning speakers like David Staley from Seattle Children’s will offer expertise on informed consent and assent documents.

Additionally, we’ll delve into essential topics like audit preparation for sponsors, the FDA, and the Children’s Oncology Group (COG). I’m particularly eager for Mary Short, MSN, RN, from Lilly’s session, which will provide valuable information about what sponsors look for in pediatric clinical trial sites. Emphasizing the collaborative nature of site and sponsor relationships, her talk aims to cultivate an open dialogue and shared understanding. 

GW: I’m especially thrilled to welcome two speakers this year – Kandice Roush, RN, BSN, CCRC, a highly acclaimed clinical research nurse from Nationwide Children’s Hospital, who will return this year after delivering her praised presentation, “Tales of a Pediatric Clinical Research Nurse” at the SOCRA Annual Conference. She will guide attendees through a comprehensive journey of pediatric rare disease treatment — from concept to FDA approval — offering insights on initiating trials and instilling hope throughout the process. Additionally, Leah Johnson will share her experience as a clinical research nurse managing Gene Therapy Trials in the pediatric population which will help us understand the complexity as well as the transformative nature of these trials. There’s a lot to look forward to.

Q: Could you elaborate on your roles in the conference and why you feel motivated to be a part of it? 

LB: I’m involved in several capacities, primarily focusing on budgeting, contracting, and financial compliance—areas I am deeply passionate about. Grace and I lead an interactive session where attendees can practice developing study budgets, which is a perennial favorite due to its practicality and immediate applicability. 

GW: Yes, everyone loves the building budgets and contracts activity because many teams struggle with this. Beyond that session, my roles span discussing team building, site quality plans, performance metrics, and navigating pediatric consent regulations. We emphasize quality and compliance in our conference discussions, as they are critical in conducting successful trials. It’s gratifying to share knowledge that can streamline and improve the vital work of our community.

Q: For those planning to attend the conference, what advice would you offer to help them maximize their experience? 

GW: Attend with a question or challenge in mind—something specific to your current role or a new situation. The conference is highly interactive, and there’s a wealth of collective experience to draw upon. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when tools and advice are readily available. 

LB: Networking is vital. Establish connections, exchange contact information, and don’t be shy about joining conversations. Everyone here understands the challenges of pediatric clinical trials and is often more than willing to share insights, experiences, and potential strategies for overcoming obstacles. The event fosters a sense of community just as much as it provides a platform for learning and collaboration.

Q: Finally, what are your future aspirations for the conference, and how do you see it shaping the field of pediatric clinical trials?

GW: Looking ahead, we want to continue crafting conference content that resonates with our community’s evolving needs. By actively seeking input from attendees and conducting regular surveys, we ensure our topics are timely and pertinent. Each year, we highlight a new area of interest while revisiting foundational topics to support those new to pediatrics. We encourage an exchange of ideas to ensure our conference remains a source of inspiration and excellence in pediatric clinical trials. If anyone has content ideas for future sessions, they’re welcome to bring them to the conference or contact me directly.  

LB: In terms of shaping the field, we aim to be a platform for launching the next generation of leaders in pediatric clinical trials. We want to support a vibrant community spearheading research and therapeutic advancements for children. We envision our attendees as active contributors who will drive the field forward in the years to come. 

We thank Lisa Benson and Grace Wentzel for their contributions and perspectives. The Pediatric Clinical Trials Conference is an essential gathering for clinical research professionals focused on enhancing pediatric healthcare. We appreciate their leadership and organization of this significant event, which continues to foster innovation and excellence in the field.  

If you’re interested in attending this premier event, mark your calendars for February 22-23, 2024, and join us in sunny San Diego. For more details about the Pediatric Clinical Trials Conference and to register, please get in touch with our team or call (215) 822-8644. 

2 thoughts on “2024 Pediatric Clinical Trials Conference Preview: A Conversation with Conference Co-Chairs Lisa Benson & Grace Wentzel”

  1. The Pediatric Clinical Trials Conference in San Diego offers valuable insights into pediatric research, emphasizing practical strategies, and fostering collaboration. Lisa Benson and Grace Wentzel’s dedication ensures it remains a vital platform for advancing pediatric clinical trials.

  2. This conference seems like a great opportunity for professionals in pediatric clinical trials to learn and connect, with a focus on advancing research and treatments for children.

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