What exactly IS translational medicine?

Courtesy NIH

Courtesy NIH

From the annual Academic Surgical Congress in Ft. Meyers, Florida

I’ve spent 2 days listening to presentations that fall into primarily two categories: basic science animal studies and retrospective reviews of large patient databases.  My perception was that the basic science people attended the basic science talks and the clinical people attended the clinical talks. 

The term translational medicine is bandied about a lot these days but the breakdown of these presentations got me to wondering: what exactly is translational medicine anyway?  How do you get from bench to bedside?

So I did a little digging.  According to the NIH initiative Re-engineering the Clinical Research Enterprise,

Scientists are increasingly aware that this bench-to-bedside approach to translational research is really a two-way street. Basic scientists provide clinicians with new tools for use in patients and for assessment of their impact, and clinical researchers make novel observations about the nature and progression of disease that often stimulate basic investigations.

Thinking about the sessions that I sat through over the past 2 days, I have to wonder how ‘two-way’ that street really is.  It seemed to me that basic scientists and clinicians talk more at each other than with each other.  There just doesn’t seem to be much overlap between the two worlds.

What can be done to change this in real terms, not in grand initiative terms?  Could it be as simple as listening and not just talking?

—Kerri Wachter



Filed under Practice Trends, Surgery

5 responses to “What exactly IS translational medicine?

  1. Mitchel Zoler

    There is a third type of researcher, although it sounds like that sort wasn’t at this meeting, or kept a low profile. They’re the people whose specialty is translational medicine, and they think about this issue all the time. They will run small clinical studies, involving a handful of patients, to test a hypothesis or novel therapy that’s just emerging from basic science. It makes sense that for many pure basic scientists or pure clinical researchers bridging the gap is not that appealing. Hence the need for people who specialize in doing just that.

  2. Kerri Wachter

    I’m glad to hear that there are people out there, who are trying to bridge the gap. We need more of those people. Listening still doesn’t seem like a bad idea though.

  3. Kerri,

    You raise a very good question and one that I get from time to time as a PIO when I talk to people about translational medicine.

    Mitchel is correct that many translational researchers are looking at small patient populations. That’s what we do here at Rockefeller University, where we have a small research hospital. We also train M.D.s to do translational studies.

    Under the Roadmap for Research, NIH has established the Clinical and Translational Science Awards. Right now there a couple of dozen institutions — large and small — who have received CTSAs, and I believe the plan is to fund something like 60 around the country within the next few years.

    Hopefully this means there will be more researchers available to bridge the gap between basic and clinical research.

  4. Kerri Wachter


    That’s good news. Translation seems like an under-appreciated area of medical research. Any idea how many other institutions are also training researchers in translational studies?

  5. Kerri,

    It’s my understanding that training researchers to do translational studies is a key component of the CTSA program.

    Here’s NIH’s release from last May, announcing the most recent recipients of CTSA funding (there are now at 38 institutions around the country:


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