Bridging the divide which separates laboratory biomedical research from improvements at the clinic has always been difficult.
Now, translational research has emerged as a field in its own right, aided in large part by the National Institutes of Health Roadmap for Medical Research, a collection of initiatives that prioritize efforts to shepherd biomedical discoveries into clinical applications.
As translational research has gained momentum, training opportunities in the field have expanded rapidly.
Budgets for biomedical research are tight and may remain so for several years; however, funding for translational research appears to be growing.
Perhaps the most visible evidence of growth is the National Institutes of Health New Clinical and Translational Science Awards program. The National Institutes of Health plans to finance 60 awards altogether, worth about $500 million annually by 2010.
The Clinical and Translational Science Awards are required to include training and career-development components, and the initial dozen allocated about 13% of their budgets to these areas.
M.D.-Ph.D. programs are one obvious approach to training young investigators who want to do translational research. An M.D. degree followed by a research fellowship or a post doctorial degree is another approach.
Institutions all over the United States are developing shorter, more integrated programs that cater to both physicians and Ph.D. scientists.
The Mayo Clinic, for example, offers a master's program and a one-year certificate program in clinical and translational science, both aimed mostly at M.D.'s.
Demand for these programs, both now integrated into Mayo's Clinical and Translational Science Awards program, has mushroomed; according to Sherine Gabriel, director of education resources at the Mayo Clinic's Clinical and Translational Science Awards program.
The master's program in clinical and translational science, she said, enrolls more students than all other master's programs put together at Mayo's.
Translational research training for Ph.D. scientists has been getting more attention
Gary Koretzky, associate director of the University of Pennsylvania's M.D.-Ph.D. program, stated that institutions have started to recognize that "if you give [basic scientists] the vocabulary of medicine and a sense of how physicians think about problems that they encounter with patients, they will find it easier to do research which is both scientifically rigorous and relevant to disease processes and patient care."
Students complete the same one-and-a-half year course sequence that all medical students complete, taking classes with med students while also working on Ph.D. requirements.
Other Med Into Grad programs offer more targeted pieces of the medical school curriculum to science students; for example, steering neuroscience students toward neuroanatomy courses.
This year (2007), the Mayo Clinic, like many other Clinical and Translational Science Awards recipients, enrolled its first students in a new Ph.D. program in clinical and translational science.
Students work with a multidisciplinary mentoring team to develop research projects and take on a core curriculum which includes rotations in bench science, patient-based clinical research, and population-based research.
The purpose is to have students explore questions which cross disciplinary boundaries, then to develop research projects that are every bit as deep and rigorous as any traditional research project.
Time will provide evidence whether institutions and funding agencies will sustain support for translational research and continue to explore the potentials of the potentials of basic biomedical advances to help sick people.
Translational science training is developing in European institutions
Translational research is fast becoming a priority in Europe. The European Commission set the tone by targeting most of its six-billion-euro health research budget for 2007-2013 at pan-European translational projects.
Dedicated training programs; such as, the Frankfurt-based International Research Graduate School for Translational Biomedicine are multiplying, but they remain few, vary greatly in approach, and are often works in progress.
The translation program at the university of Frankfurt aims to address a lack of Ph.D. graduates who really understand the drug-development process.
Starting in October (2007), scientists will learn about medical science and pharmacology while physicians and pharmacists study molecular and cellular biology.
During the three-year research program, students will also take courses on all the steps of drug development, including preclinical and clinical studies, regulatory affairs, and the marketing of medicines.
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