What is Translational Research?

Jan. 24, 2014
I have to admit that the first time I had heard of "Translational Research" is when SPIE announced its new Translational Research virtual symposium at SPIE BiOS 2014.
Gail Overton 720 5d24af74615b1
I have to admit that the first time I had heard of "Translational Research" is when SPIE announced its new Translational Research virtual symposium as part of SPIE Photonics West 2014 (http://spie.org/photonics-west.xml) conference. While SPIE defines translational research in the context of the BiOS symposium as "New photonics tools, techniques, and technologies to meet challenges in global healthcare," Wikipedia defines it somewhat more broadly across multiple disciplines--not just the healthcare industry--as "scientific research that helps to make findings from basic science useful for practical applications that enhance human health and well-being." Wikipedia adds that translational research is practiced in fields such as environmental and agricultural science, as well as the health, behavioral, and social sciences. The SPIE BiOS 2014 Translational Research virtual symposium, chaired by Bruce Tromberg, director of the Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic at University of California, Irvine, consists of 200 papers selected from the SPIE BiOS symposium. At the February 2nd SPIE BiOS Lunchtime Forum, winners of the Translational Research Best Paper Awards will give short talks; papers include "Tethered capsule OCT endomicroscopy" and "Device for 3 dimensional, real time and intraoperative evaluation of surgical margin status", among others. Endomicroscopy exemplifies an important area of medical research that in some cases, has already been "translated" to clinical practice, such as in the Massachusetts General Hospital endomicroscopy capsule shown here and discussed in our Laser Focus World microrobotics feature from September 2013:
Beyond SPIE BiOS, LFW's sister magazine BioOptics World is also concerned with giving readers the tools to develop better photonic instruments that will eventually have commercial and clinical outcomes. There is a new conference called Strategies in Biophotonics (http://www.strategiesinbiophotonics.com/index.html) to be held in Boston from September 9-11 that is designed to "bring clinical and preclinical system/device developers together with photonics suppliers, applications experts, and those with expertise in business planning/entrepreneurship, regulatory affairs, and finance, to help ensure that biophotonics-based innovations are addressing real needs and can be fully realized as tools for clinicians and researchers." The topic of Translational Research has become such a buzz in the medical community that there is even a Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences at The University of Texas (Houston, TX) that recognizes: "This translation may seem like an automatic part of research and medical practice, but in reality it is a major stumbling block in science, medicine, and public health. This is partly due to the compartmentalization of research training. Basic scientists are not generally trained to think of the clinical application of their work, clinicians are often not taught to formulate research studies based on clinical observations, and public health scientists may not have a strong background in basic or clinical research." The statement is all-too-true, and is part of the reason that laboratory breakthroughs often take years to reach widespread clinical usage. Case in point is a cure for cancer--even Stand Up 2 Cancer (SU2C) has a video from three years ago that talks about the importance of translational research in the overall race for a cancer cure:
If you'd like to remain up-to-date on translational research even after the SPIE BiOS Symposium is over, make sure to subscribe to the open-access online American Journal of Translational Research (http://ajtr.org/), which "is primarily devoted to original clinical and experimental research papers, but will also publish editorials, review articles, hypothesis, letters to the editors and meeting reports in translational science." There are also several grant programs for translational research--primarily targeted at clinical applications--that aspiring entrepreneurs should explore: Multiple NIH grant opportunities:


National Psoriasis Foundation Translational Grants program:


CTSI of southeast Wisconsin:


SPORE grants from the National Cancer Institute:


Parkinson's UK grants:


In the late 1980s, the successful translation of laboratory technology to commercial product had a different name: technology transfer. While this term still holds for many industries, here's hoping that the "translational research" buzzword will indeed improve clinical outcomes; sometimes, it's 'what's in a name' that counts.

About the Author

Gail Overton | Senior Editor (2004-2020)

Gail has more than 30 years of engineering, marketing, product management, and editorial experience in the photonics and optical communications industry. Before joining the staff at Laser Focus World in 2004, she held many product management and product marketing roles in the fiber-optics industry, most notably at Hughes (El Segundo, CA), GTE Labs (Waltham, MA), Corning (Corning, NY), Photon Kinetics (Beaverton, OR), and Newport Corporation (Irvine, CA). During her marketing career, Gail published articles in WDM Solutions and Sensors magazine and traveled internationally to conduct product and sales training. Gail received her BS degree in physics, with an emphasis in optics, from San Diego State University in San Diego, CA in May 1986.

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