Translational research, translation and translational science


Published August 6, 2019


Are these three terms – translational research, translation and translational science – interchangeable? The short answer is “no.”

Christopher Austin, MD, Director, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), clarifies the confusion around what the terms mean and how they differ from one another in the April 2018 issue of Nature Reviews Drug Discovery. Translational research is “the endeavor to traverse a particular step in the translation process for a particular target or disease.” Examples of translational research would include research to identify and test a bacterial protein as a vaccine antigen to prevent a particular infection or a clinical trial to assess a new drug compared to standard-of-care drugs for the treatment of hypertension. Many investigators in the Buffalo Translational Consortium are performing translational research.

NCATS defines translation as “the process of turning observations in the laboratory, clinic and community into interventions that improve the health of individuals and the public – from diagnostics and therapeutics to medical procedures and behavioral changes.” Indeed, ‘translation’ refers to an overarching conceptual and practical multi-step process.

Translational science, as defined by NCATS, is the “field of investigation which seeks to understand the scientific and operational principles underlying each step of the translational process.” A UB CTSI example is “Innovation Labs,” a promising but untested method, for enhancing transdisciplinary collaboration to facilitate the formation of interdisciplinary teams to develop new projects, compared to a control group. Another example would be developing and assessing a novel method for recruitment of participants to clinical trials. Results from this type of study advance the process of translation and the results have a broad-based impact by improving methods that can be used widely in many studies.

Recently, NCATS has developed a video and in partnership with an international collaborative, Translation Together, contributed to a consensus paper. Both resources provide clarity to and increased awareness of the field of translational science as well as address the development of the scientific workforce including the seven fundamental characteristics of a translational scientist.

For more information on the translational science spectrum, visit the NCATS website linked here.