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Translational Research: From Biological Discovery to Public Benefit (or Not)

DOI: 10.1155/2014/278789

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Abstract:

Advances in biology are occurring at a breathtaking pace today, from genetic insights facilitated by the Human Genome Project and next generation DNA sequencing technologies, to global nucleic acid and proteomic expression measurement using new high-throughput methods. Less publicized in recent years, yet still the central driver of progress, are the steadily proceeding biological insights gained through tried and true hypothesis-driven investigation into the complex worlds of metabolism, growth, development, and regulation. Certainly, the basic science ecosystem is productive and this portends well for the myriad new applications that will benefit mankind; drugs, vaccines, devices, and related economic growth—or perhaps not—in stark contrast to the generation of fundamental biological knowledge are inefficiencies in applying this information to real-world problems, especially those of the clinic. While investigation hums along at light speed, translation often does not. The good news is that obstacles to progress are tractable. The bad news, however, is that these problems are difficult. The present paper examines translational research from multiple perspectives, beginning with a historical account and proceeding to the current state of the art. Included are descriptions of successes and challenges, along with conjecture on how the field may need to evolve in the future. 1. Introduction Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail. (Ralph Waldo Emerson) Nothing exemplifies the quote above from Emerson more than the translation of a biological discovery into a new drug, device, or other intervention that helps society. This is no easy task. The stakes here are high—human health and wellbeing; thus it is important that the translational system is critically examined and understood in order to maximize the likelihood that basic research performed in the laboratory and clinic benefits the public [1–7] (see Appendix for relevant websites). Moreover, if positive economic activity is generated this strengthens the biotechnology and pharmaceutical company sectors, which in turn grows the scientific ecosystem writ large, ultimately making more funds available for research and training, creating high-level jobs, and increasing appreciation of the overall enterprise by the public [8–10]. At the outset, it is important to recognize three important aspects of translational research as it is performed today. First, the system is not broken per se as there are many advances to celebrate, exemplified by the discovery, production,

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