A common phrase you’ll read in scientific papers and hear around teaching hospitals is ‘translational research’. But what does it mean? Surely, doctors and researchers are not studying hieroglyphs and trying to decipher ancient text!
Translational research refers to work carried out to make a new medical discovery useful to everyday people. It’s the study that takes place after scientists make a new finding in the lab (at the bench) and turn it into something suitable for a patient (at the bedside). It the step that sits squarely between basic discovery research and clinical research effectively bridging the laboratory and the clinic. Interestingly, the term is also used for getting a new type of therapy developed in a university out into the community for more widespread benefit.
Translational research is an important step in the cycle of medical discovery, as just because something clearly works under a microscope doesn’t mean it’s ready for the masses. New treatments must be proven to be both safe and somewhat effective.
Hardly surprising, people are quite different to cells grown in a petri dish. Translational research is geared toward evaluating those differences and determining whether or not what was found in the laboratory can be translated to a real-life scenario.
Examples of this are pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics where scientists test whether people absorb and metabolise a drug in a similar fashion and will a particular drug affect cancer cells in an individual the same way as it did in a dish. To determine the answers, different doses of drugs are given to patients, and then blood or tissue samples are collected to be taken back to the lab for testing.
Who is involved?
Translational research takes time, involves a lot of people and as a result, needs a significant amount of funding.
Because the research directly involves patients, the numbers and types of people that need to be involved are far above what is needed for laboratory research. Nurses and pharmacists must get involved, because they dispense and administer the new medication and draw the blood samples.
Other specialists also join in, such as surgeons who collect samples, radiologists who assess any effects on tumour growth, and a variety of doctor specialists who monitor and manage side effects.
Overseeing all this work are the research coordinators who schedule appointments, collect data, write and submit reports, and ensure that all regulations are followed.
Despite the expense and time it takes, translational research is vital if we are to improve patient care and develop kinder, more effective childhood cancer treatments for the future.
History has proven science has the answers. Childhood cancer was once uniformly fatal, now the majority of children are cured.
But we can’t stop now. This disease still holds its place as the primary killer of children in Australia. While ever any child is being lost to cancer, we will continue to fund the vital science, including translational research, required to unlock better treatments.