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Fall 2011

Translational Research Brings Discoveries From the Lab to the Bedside

VS-Fall11-Lab to bedsideEach year, the U.S. government invests billions of dollars in basic research — laboratory-based studies designed to advance the frontiers of knowledge. It’s an investment that has yielded substantial returns: Biomedical advances invariably can be traced to discoveries made in the lab.

But laboratory discoveries provide no tangible benefit until they are seized upon and used to develop a new treatment or to inform a new approach to promoting health or preventing disease. And even then, if the new treatment or health strategy isn’t widely known or used, it does little good. That’s why translational research, the process whereby studies conducted in the lab are turned into new therapies that are effectively integrated into medical practice, has become a major point of emphasis for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest funder of biomedical research in the United States.

In June, the NIH awarded UCLA, in partnership with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, and the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, a five-year, $81.3 million award to establish the UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI). UCLA is one of 60 institutions across the country to receive funding aimed at accelerating the translation of laboratory discoveries into effective treatments for patients, more actively engaging communities in clinical research, and training future generations of researchers to think and work in this “bench-to-bedside” continuum.

UCLA’s CTSI is focusing on conditions that account for the greatest proportion of disability and early death in Los Angeles County. Rates of premature death and disability related to heart disease, diabetes, stroke, HIV/AIDS, depression, violence and other preventable conditions in the county far exceed the national average.

“We are taking on a great challenge, but we have a considerable opportunity to make a significant impact on the population,” says Steven M. Dubinett, M.D., director of the CTSI and UCLA associate vice chancellor for translational science. “In a county of more than 10 million people who speak 90 different languages there are wide health disparities. We need to think creatively about how our discovery science, along with the unique resources of UCLA and our partner institutions, can be used to address these problems.”

In many ways, translational research requires a new approach — one involving teams of scientists from different types of expertise working together and thinking broadly about problems. “The major health issues cut across disciplinary lines, and there is now a recognition that being able to bring laboratory studies to clinical fruition and engage communities in research requires a team effort with a broad spectrum of expertise,” says Dr. Dubinett.

While establishing an infrastructure that will encourage such an approach, he adds, UCLA’s CTSI will also help to train a new generation of scientists capable of working across the spectrum of disciplines, and of discovering the clinical implications of laboratory findings. The new institute will also emphasize the final step in the translational process — establishing community partnerships to ensure that the benefits of a new treatment or other health strategy coming out of the laboratory reach the entire population. Notes Dr. Dubinett: “Translational science doesn’t end with a successful clinical trial.”

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