April 2012

Recommendations for engaging basic scientists in translational research

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology released a report last month describing how research institutions, funding organizations, professional societies and scientific publishers can facilitate the participation of basic scientists in translational research. The report, “Engaging Basic Scientists in Translational Research: Identifying Opportunities, Overcoming Obstacles,” is based on the proceedings of a two-day symposium held in March 2011 that brought together more than 150 basic, clinical and translational scientists, scientific journal editors and leaders from private and public research organizations. The report addresses the benefits of conducting translational research, challenges basic scientists face in developing translational research programs and practical recommendations for overcoming those challenges.

Basic scientists are the foundation of the biomedical research enterprise. Their work is key to understanding fundamental biological processes and mechanisms of disease pathogenesis, and it has been critical to preventing, diagnosing and treating diseases and conditions that afflict millions of people. FASEB’s symposium featured a number of basic investigators who benefitted from pursuing the translational applications of their work. They described how they learned new methods, expanded their insights into biological mechanisms of disease and even improved their publication rates.

In spite of these benefits, numerous factors can impede or prevent basic researchers from embarking on translational research projects. The physical and cultural separation of basic and clinical departments limits opportunities to interact and collaborate, basic scientists may not have access to the research resources, funding and support systems needed to conduct translational science, and unfamiliar and complex regulatory issues can deter them from moving a project forward. In addition, tenure and promotion committees may not accord the same value to participation in translational research, which tends to be goal-directed, interdisciplinary and team-based, as they do to hypothesis-driven basic science conducted by individual investigators.

Conference participants were asked to identify ways to address these challenges, with a focus on helping basic scientists acquire translational research training, facilitating collaborations, receiving recognition and rewards, and defining the role of funding organizations. These discussions provided FASEB’s Translational Research Steering Committee with the material to shape the set of realistic recommendations below.

Funders should
• continue to support basic research to ensure a deep and broad reservoir of new knowledge upon which translational and clinical science can grow,
• provide specific funding for investigator-initiated translational research and
• ensure that grant application reviewers have appropriate expertise to review translational research projects.

Research institutions should
• provide didactic and experiential learning opportunities that place basic research in the context of pathophysiology and pathobiology,
• create opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration:
• connect basic scientists with the infrastructure, equipment, and technical and administrative support necessary to move their discoveries from the bench to the bedside and
• revise tenure and promotion polices to recognize interdisciplinary, team-based translational work. Scientific publishers should
• ensure that the roles of individual authors are clearly articulated in publications and
• encourage editors to identify and highlight the contributions that basic research findings could make to medicine and public health.

Professional scientific societies should
• spark interest in translational research by raising its profile in featured symposia, workshops and sessions at professional meetings;
• provide resources and opportunities to facilitate interactions among basic and clinical researchers;
• provide awards for exceptional contributions to team, interdisciplinary and translational science and
• advocate for policies and programs that facilitate participation of basic scientists in translational research.

Individual researchers should
• learn to define a health need with the same precision as a basic science hypothesis,
• seek mentors/collaborators from different disciplines and
• negotiate concurrence with departments as to how translational research will be evaluated in the tenure and promotions process.

FASEB’s goal in developing these recommendations is not to turn basic scientists into clinical trialists. Rather, it is to encourage them to consider the translational potential of their work and to create an environment that provides them with opportunities to translate their discoveries into human health applications. The conference proceedings and the complete set of recommendations are available here: http://www.faseb.org/Policy-and-Government-Affairs/Publications.aspx.


Anne M. Deschamps (adeschamps@faseb.org) is a science policy analyst in the Office of Public Affairs at FASEB.

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