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Translational Research: Conceptualising and Practicing Translation

James Mittra

Funding: ESRC Innogen Centre

Started: January 1 2002


Translational Medicine (TM) refers to the development and use of new scientific methods and technologies, interdisciplinary approaches, and collaborative institutional arrangements to narrow the gap between basic and clinical science and facilitate better exchange of knowledge, information and expertise from “bench to bedside” and back again.

Aims and objectives

This project aims to:

  • Critically explore what is novel about TM
  • Analyse how it is being conceptualised and put into practice in national and international contexts
  • Discover what impact TM will have on basic and clinical scientific research and the implications for commercial models of drug development

The key aim is to generate an informed perspective of where Translational Medicine (TM) and its underpinning science and technology is heading, and whether particular applications in specific contexts might have implications for development in other national and international contexts. We wish to explore the potential use of the "social technologies" concept for understanding the emergence and development of specific TM Initiatives.

Research methods

Four key research questions include:

  • What is distinct about TM and how can Science and Technology Studies (STS) conceptualise the approach in a way that will further understanding of biomedical innovation and regulation?
  • What is the interplay between TM approaches and regulatory systems for new therapies?
  • What are the main benefits of adopting a TM approach and what key challenges need to be overcome?
  • How are the different drivers and expectations around TM being managed and the broad range of disciplines and institutions required for TM organised?

In-depth, semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders in Translational Medicine (scientists, clinicians, policymakers and representatives from the NHS) are being conducted. 12 pilot interviews in Scotland were completed in 2009 and are being used to structure the next stage of this project.

Wider implications for policy

Findings from this project will have direct policy implications and relevance to public sector suppport and commitment to translational medicine initiatives.

Project update

Pilot interviews have been completed and analysed. We have secured a book contract with Pan-Stanford for an edited collection entitled "Translational Medicine: The Future of Therapy". The second stage of this project will involve fieldwork interviews with practitioners of TM in international contexts.


The Translational Medicine book is currently being developed, as is a journal article based on the pilot interviews.


This ongoing area of research is exploring the emergence and progress of Translational Medicine (TM) as both an underlying philosophical principle for interdisciplinary biomedical research and a pragmatic mechanism (or “social technology”) for better co-ordinating disparate R&D activities and goals in commercial and public spheres. The focus on this area emerged from initial research into the specific organisation and management of R&D in large pharmaceutical firms and subsequent interest in looking more systemically and broadly at life science innovation, which takes into account both the wider policy, regulatory and commercial environment for biomedical innovation and the different types of organisations (public and private) necessary for bringing new therapies to patients. Translational Medicine provides a conceptual window through which to view different levels of bench to bedside innovation. Over the past few years, a great deal of teaching and supervision has been built up in this area, and this work is now culminating in a forthcoming edited collection and research papers.