Research in Action

Lost without translation?

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c4363 (Published 18 August 2010)
Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4363

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  1. Geoff Watts, freelance journalist, London
  1. geoff{at}scileg.freeserve.co.uk

    Translational research has shot up the agenda, but what will all this attention yield in practice for patients? Geoff Watts investigates

    Translational research—the term is everywhere. The Cooksey report on research funding emphasised the need for more of it.1 So do the Medical Research Council (MRC),2 the Academy of Medical Sciences, and the Office for Strategic Co-ordination of Health Research—the government body set up to coordinate health research.3 Several universities now have departments of it. You can do an MSc in it. There will be more attention to it in the European Commission’s 7th framework programme.4 The planned UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation5 trumpets an intention to feature lots of it, and promises to grant it the prestige usually accorded to discovery research. There are several journals devoted to it. In 2007, fearful perhaps of falling out of fashion, the long established Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine restyled itself Translational Research, with its original name downgraded to a subtitle. In short, translation has shot up the agenda, has become the indispensible ingredient. Which is, on reflection, rather odd.

    The term “translational medical research” has generated a stack of definitions with different emphases (see box). Some definitions stress the laboratory end of the process of turning a scientific finding into something clinically usable; some stress the clinical end. Some draw attention to the two way traffic of insights and questions. Some read like a first year sociology essay. But all enshrine the same core intention: that scientific research findings should be exploited for the benefit of people with diseases. And herein lies the oddity; isn’t the whole point of medical research to do just that? In which case why the need to single out one element of the process, give it a …

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