Archive for March, 2011

Translational research and applied medicine – are we all lost in translation?

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

In this blog post today, I will share some experiences in my day-to-day life doing (or trying hard to do…) translational research. Just to be clear there are two main types of research: 1) basic, which tries to understand the fundamental principles and phenomena that drive cells, organisms, systems and the world we live in; and 2) translational, which is the application of the basic research to solve specific problems, aid in diseases and help the society at different levels. In health sciences, translational research has its focus on removing barriers to multidisciplinary collaboration between scientists and physicians helping to “translate” basic discoveries in new drugs to treat diseases and/or the identification of better ways to manage chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, etc. Importantly, translational research has the potential to drive the advancement of applied science. It is also an attempt to bridge the medical and scientific domains to move discoveries “from bench to bedside” or from laboratory experiments through clinical trials to actual point-of-care patient applications. Well, it is pretty and fancy to say that you are doing translational research, since the chances that your research will help improve patient care are always higher. I can tell using my personal experience that this is a very complicated and entropic process. As in any field, communication is key to success. For example, in project management, business, finance, and etc, communication has to be the most important feature in the path to success. The same applies to multidisciplinary projects involving scientists, project managers and physicians. The problem is that it is not like this. Physicians have different expectations compared to scientists and I have a feeling that I am always “lost in translation” and vice-versa. The success of any project depends not just in commitment from the personal involved but also good communication skills between the people that are involved. It is like in the cartoon above, there is a “valley of death” between both parts mainly because the exchange of information is faulty. Well, we are in need for better ways to facilitate the communication between professionals with different backgrounds, especially when doing translational research. The physician needs to understand and be interested in the scientific side of the project (read more, study more, be curious about science which sometimes is not the case…) and the scientist has to understand the physician’s needs and the problems he or she wants to find answers in order to increase the rates of success. My feeling is that none of this happens and the environment between both sides is indeed entropic with constant miscommunication. Improvements in both sides for a better information exchange are crucial to develop multidisciplinary projects with impacts for patients suffering from diseases. New discoveries doesn’t depend just on working hard towards a goal, there might be a synchrony between researchers and doctors so the rate of success will increase extraordinarily. Finally, I believe that both parts need to learn more about Project and Finance Management, especially in though times with shortage of money for research. I think this is not an isolated case and this may happen in a lot of institutions around the world. So, let’s step back for a while and think on how to maximize our chances of better communication and, consequently, of success in translational research.