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Why Does Translational Research Matter to Cancer Nursing Researchers?

Lin, Chia-Chin PhD, RN

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doi: 10.1097/NCC.0b013e318295143b
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Cancer research has been grouped into 2 categories: basic and clinical research. Basic research focuses on knowledge in cancer biology, whereas clinical research has traditionally focused on the investigation of new treatment modalities. In recent years, it has become evident that the interaction between basic and clinical researchers can improve the outcomes of cancer patients. Translational research has become a new concept for bridging between basic research and clinical research and even health decision making. The term translational research usually refers to “from bench to bedside,” and the end point of this area of research is the production of a promising new treatment or intervention that can be used clinically or commercially.1 However, for researchers whose studies focus on healthcare, translational research refers to translating research into practice. Therefore, the Institute of Medicine’s Clinical Research Roundtable has provided a distinction between these 2 definitions of translational research.2 T1 is defined as “the transfer of new understandings of disease mechanisms gained in the laboratory into the development of new methods for diagnosis, therapy, and prevention and their first testing in humans.” T2 is described as “the translations of results from clinical studies into everyday clinical practice and health decision making.”

Efforts at translational research from nursing professionals have been relatively limited in the past. However, nursing is in a unique position for contributing to interdisciplinary translational research because nursing practice is distinguished from most other disciplines by the fusion of the biological, psychological, and sociocultural perspectives regarding the care of people.3 Moreover, nursing care and research are highly linked with the community and ambulatory care settings, where population-based interventions and practice-based research networks serve as the “laboratory” for T2 research.1 Therefore, I propose 3 approaches to fostering the development of translational research in cancer nursing. First, to be successful, the translational research paradigm should be started from educational programs. Students should be offered an opportunity to work with an interdisciplinary mentoring team and to be exposed to bench science as well as to patient- and population-based research.4 Communications and collaborations across disciplines are central to cancer care and to translational research. Such a benefit of a translational research program gives the opportunity to use it as a platform for developing closer relationships with other care disciplines. Second, nursing researchers are encouraged to explore the “why” and “how” regarding our interventions, including psychological as well as biological mechanisms. For this purpose, an interdisciplinary research team and a transfer of understandings of psychological or biological mechanisms into the development of interventions will need to be formed. Nursing research has a rich tradition of attempting to measure and understand relationships among the variables in question. As we engage in translational research, more emphasis must be placed on how relationship variables explain differential interventional effects.3 Lastly, the research findings may take several decades to be translated into standard healthcare practice or guidelines; therefore, more effort of cancer nursing research must be directed at distilling the knowledge gained from practice-based research through systematic reviews and guidelines that can be implemented in practice and assist in clinical decision making.

In conclusion, translational research holds great promise for improving care for cancer patients worldwide. The concept of interdisciplinary collaboration between basic researchers and clinical researchers and efforts at the translation of new knowledge into clinical practice will certainly advance the quality of cancer care. Cancer nursing researchers such as yourself are encouraged to take the initiative to contribute to translational research in cancer care.

Best Regards,

Chia-Chin Lin, PhD, RN

Editorial Board Member

Cancer Nursing: An International Journal of Cancer Care


1. Woolf SH. The meaning of translational research and why it matters. JAMA. 2008; 299 (2): 211–213.
2. Sung NS, Crowley WF, Genel M, et al. Central challenges facing the national clinical research enterprise. JAMA. 2003; 289 (10): 1278–1287.
3. Woods NF, Magyary DL. Translational research: why nursing’s interdisciplinary collaboration is essential. Res Theory Nurs Pract. 2010; 24 (1): 9–24.
4. Feldman AM. Does academic culture support translational research? Clin Transl Sci. 2008; 1 (2): 87–88.
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