A main aim of translational research is to take knowledge obtained from basic research and transform it into diagnostic or therapeutic interventions that can be applied to the treatment or prevention of disease. Another is to transform clinically relevant information into effective interventions by identifying a problem in a patient, take that observation back to the lab, design a solution, and then work through clinical trials to deliver a solution to patients.

Furthermore, clinical input is needed to help focus basic research to clinically relevant problems that are closely integrated with clinical care. This is the often quoted "bench to bedside and back again" to continuously refine the process of discovery that circles back and forth between the laboratory and the clinic and use current knowledge of biology to give patients the most appropriate new treatment. Translation back and forth, from the patient to the lab and back to the patient, is something that successful medical research is seeking to access.

About translational research

The pace of basic science research is faster than ever before. While basic researchers work to unravel the mysteries of the causes of cancer and the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved, clinical researchers study the effects of new investigative methods or treatments on patients with cancer. For decades, efforts have been under way to bring these two research disciplines together to translate findings in the laboratory into increasingly more effective cancer investigative tools and treatments. In recent years, translational research and the required collaboration of basic and clinical researchers has become a more significant and larger part of the cancer research climate.

What research qualifies as translational is not always clear. By its nature, translational research crosses the boundaries between basic science and clinical application.

Why is translational research important?

The need to accelerate the application of basic cancer research to clinical practice is now regarded as a priority. Translational research does more than make lab based research findings accessible and applicable to patients, another potential it offers is for a much needed opportunity to bring people with unique experiences and perspectives together to focus on a given issue.

Translational research creates a means for basic scientists and scholars, clinicians and other care providers to work together. Translational research provides an avenue to encourage us to think about how to make basic research findings more accessible and applicable to clinicians and patients, while also promoting a greater recognition of the necessity and value of research.

Limitations of translational research

A new culture of cooperation is necessary to make the transfer from research to practice and policy more successful. Laboratory and clinical researchers must work together for research to better serve patients. A culture that fosters translational research of the highest quality also requires that laboratory and clinical researchers appreciate the complexity of patient care and needs. They also require an understanding that demands for safety and tolerability of interventions and treatments are greater than ever before.

Examples of translational research

Examples of translational research include:

  • Defining early molecular events in cancer development, eg Ductal Carcinoma In-Situ  (DCIS).  
  • Identifying potential therapeutic targets through assessment of human tissue.  
  • Identifying biomarkers of prognosis and response to therapy.  
  • Developing novel therapeutic, diagnostic, screening and chemopreventative strategies.  
  • Development of molecular imaging techniques.

Reproduced with the kind permission of Cancer Council New South Wales.