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Taking Translational Research To The Bedside

Armen Hareyan's picture

Translational Research

Translational research is an attempt to marry what goes on in the laboratory - basic science research, with what goes on in the hospital - treating patients. For many years, we've had great basic research, learning what makes things turn into cancer, and we've had good treatment options for cancer, but there hasn't been enough interaction between the two.

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Scientists in the lab don't have exposure to patients and hospitals, so they don't always have the same perspective on what new treatments are the most promising. Clinicians in the hospital are good at treating patients but don't understand as well the new and rapidly advancing molecular information about tumors and pathways. They each have their own language and understanding of the disease, creating a barrier for good communication. This is why a place like the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Saint John's Health Center is so important. It's a small efficient group of scientists and clinicians who interact with each other constantly. We do speak the same language, and we're able to take the knowledge gained from the laboratory and bring it to patients at the bedside, as well as stay in touch with what's needed on a clinical level. Everyone more directly benefits from each other. We call this translational research.

An excellent example of this synergy is a surgical technique pioneered at JWCI called sentinel lymph node mapping. In patients with cancer, the tumor status of the lymph nodes is the single most important indicator of outcome. Before the sentinel node (SN) technique was developed, surgeons traditionally removed some or all of the lymph nodes to look for cancer. The more lymph nodes removed, the greater chance of finding any cancer cells. But this method increased the risk of troublesome postoperative complications such as swelling and nerve injury. The SN technique is less invasive and more accurate, sparing many patients from unnecessary surgery.

The physicians at JWCI and Saint John's Health Center work side-by-side to develop new technologies and techniques that fight and treat cancer. They eat in the same cafeteria, often park in the same lot and attend meetings and events in the same buildings. The combination of proximity and opportunity results in an optimal environment for translational research to succeed.