Sep 16, 2015

Translating Discoveries Into Treatments: What Can Patients Do?

Ian MacDonald with Eye Machine

How can we translate scientific discoveries into new treatments? In Canada, we are fortunate that top thinkers across the country are working on this question. The answer requires contributions from research scientists and medical doctors, but it also needs the expertise of people from many different sectors, including industry and government. Importantly, the effective translation of vision science into sight-saving therapies requires meaningful input from the patients and families who are living with vision diseases. But how can patients help with translating research into treatments? The first step is education. Next, take action! Get involved and help us to raise awareness.

Step 1: Education  

What is translational research?

Translational research is a relatively new term that was introduced to describe practical, outcome-oriented research. Sometimes this is called “applied research.” In the biomedical sciences, the concept gained significant momentum in the early twenty-first century when the National Institutes of Health (the leading government-based health research funding institution in the United Stated) began planning a new “roadmap,” which featured translation as its core mission. Since then, efforts to promote translational research have proliferated. Today, there are multiple academic journals, policy initiatives, educational programs, research institutes, and funding opportunities that are all about translational research. Describing research as translational matters because it implies that the end-goal of the research is to solve a health problem.

At Fighting Blindness Canada, our research mission is to invest in projects that can ultimately be translated into new therapies. Because of this, all FBC-funded researchers are thinking about how their work could inform the development of new therapeutics. Some of these researchers are thinking about more “basic” science problems while others are involved in more “applied” clinical trials. At FBC, we have a long commitment of funding more “basic” science. We are proud of this history because basic science is at the very foundation of translational research. Without basic discoveries about how vision works, there would be nothing to translate. But we are also proud that these earlier basic science investments are now being translated into clinical trials. Dr. Ian MacDonald’s journey from the laboratory into the clinic is an inspiring example of this translational process.

Step 2: Take Action

Get Involved, Raise Awareness, Attend Vision Quest

Now that you know the basics about translational research, we need your help to raise awareness about its importance. We can’t do it alone! Translating scientific discoveries into health outcomes involves a new kind of collaboration that crosses traditional boundaries. Additionally, translating research is expensive so we need all the help that we can get. This is why we are so thankful about the Ontario government’s recent commitment to fund $25 million in stem cell research through the Ontario Institute of Regenerative Medicine. This new funding is moving research like Dr. Valerie Wallace’s stem cell research down the translational path and we are proud to be partners on her project. We really can do more together—just look at the partnerships that made Dr. MacDonald’s gene therapy clinical trial a reality! We need a bigger national commitment to support research. Will you help us to raise awareness? As a start, talk to your friends, family, and colleagues about why research is important to you. Investing in research today is our strategy for building a better future tomorrow. Next, get involved. There are so many ways to make a difference.

You can get involved with translational research at our upcoming Vision Quest educational conference series. At our London Vision Quest, Dr. Phil Nickerson will be discussing his stem cell research in Dr. Valerie Wallace’s laboratory at the Toronto Western Research Institute. Dr. Wallace, the former Chair of our Scientific Advisory Board, has made incredible basic science discoveries about how the eye develops. Dr. Nickerson is now working to translate these discoveries into tangible treatment options for patients. At our Toronto Vision Quest, you can learn more about Dr. MacDonald’s project from his collaborator and colleague, Dr. Tania Bubela. Bring your ideas and join our collaborative effort to drive translational vision research forward.

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