Leaders Discuss Transforming Research Discoveries to Improve Patient Care

Feb 4, 2019
Author: 
Brianne Tulk
Participants attend the first TR Talk event.Leaders in the basic sciences, clinical epidemiology and patient care discussed how best to translate research into new treatments for patients at a recent event presented by the Department of Medicine and the newly established Eureka HUB for Translational Research.

Called TR Talk, the event drew an interdisciplinary audience made up of researchers, clinicians, health practitioners and health innovators. Facilitated by graduate students from the Translational Research Program, it featured a panel discussion followed by smaller group discussions.

The panelists offered diverse perspectives on the barriers of translating research to humans, and also the opportunities of translational research.

“The great questions come from listening to our patients,” said Dr. Gillian Hawker, Chair of the Department of Medicine. Hawker, who has a background as a rheumatologist and clinical epidemiologist, brought perspective from the frontlines of patient care and outlined some of the challenges that surround translating research to inform treatment options.

“Most of my patients have multiple conditions that aren’t represented in the clinical trials,” Hawker said. “The perfect patients aren’t the ones showing up at our doorsteps. Translation is about getting real world data.”

By way of example, Hawker explained that research can illustrate the use of stem cell therapy to treat arthritis, however that research may not be applicable if it doesn’t consider other factors that impact the patient, such as a person’s age, sex, weight or other health issues.

“A translational researcher needs to speak two languages,” explained Dr. Martin Offringa, a neonatologist and professor of paediatrics at U of T. “They need to understand the clinician perspective and the scientist perspective. They walk between different worlds.”

Dr. Ramsey Foty from the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Dr. Thomas Prevot, Program Manager of the Drug Development Program in the Sibille Lab at CAMH, said some of the biggest barriers to translating research is moving it beyond the research paper and demonstrating applications for patients. For Foty, this includes repurposing a common drug for other uses.

“I’m teaching an old drug new tricks,” said Foty. “Some science isn’t ‘sexy,’ but it will make a difference to patients. So, how do you convince the ethics boards, the granting agencies, the pharmaceutical companies, that this pursuit is still worthwhile?”

“There is a barrier in moving your research past publication,” added Prevot. “A translational researcher needs a team of people with diverse expertise to go from discovery to pre-clinical studies, to clinical trials, to commercialization. Translation is too vast to be done alone.”

This TR Talk was one of a series of sessions hosted by the Translational Research Program in collaboration with Health Innovation Hub(H2i) and the Eureka Translational Hub this season. TR Talks are open to the public and are geared towards interprofessional clinicians, researchers and trainees to provoke discussion and community building.

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