"Translational research transforms scientific discoveries arising from laboratory, clinical, or population studies into clinical applications to reduce cancer incidence, morbidity, and mortality."
─Translational Research Working Group, National Cancer Institute
Bench (basic) research is conducted in the laboratory at a benchtop. Translational studies move bench findings from the laboratory to the bedside. Translational studies can be based on patient populations or patient specimens, and they may or may not be linked to clinical trials. There are many types of translational study designs, but all translational research has the same goal: to bridge the gap between science and medicine.
At JWCI, our lab-based translational studies are designed so that results can be quickly applied to improve treatments and tests for cancer. Clinical specimens obtained under approved protocols are examined in benchtop studies, the results of which may guide the design of preclinical (animal) or early clinical trials. JWCI also runs multicenter clinical trials that include translational correlative studies to identify molecular or immunologic markers of clinical outcome. Thus our research moves back and forth from bench to bedside and back again.
This dynamic, interactive approach has allowed our scientists to lay the foundation for therapeutic discoveries that receive worldwide attention. For example, JWCI’s Molecular Oncology Department, led by Dr. Dave Hoon, has been a driving force behind the recent developments in targeted (personalized) therapies for melanoma. His group has developed a specialized blood test to detect the BRAF mutation that is found in many melanomas. This mutation is now the basis for an effective targeted therapy called vermurafenib (Zelboraf) that recently received FDA approval for treatment of advanced melanoma. Dr. Hoon’s group is currently developing another biomarker that may become the basis for additional therapy to complement vermurafenib.
Similarly, JWCI’s Department of Experimental Therapeutics, under the direction of Dr. Myles Cabot, is exploiting the recently developed field of nanotechnology to improve treatments for breast and other cancers. These investigators have successfully engineered lipid-based nanoliposomes, approximately 60 billionth of a meter in diameter, to efficiently deliver conventional drugs or investigational agents that cause cancer cells to self-destruct (apoptosis). This nano-scale drug delivery system is about to enter early-phase clinical trials.
Meanwhile, JWCI’s Translational Immunology Department, directed by Dr. Delphine J. Lee, is studying populations of patients with enhanced immunity to melanocytes (the autoimmune disease vitiligo) and examining archived specimens of tumor tissue. Using these translational tools to identify key pathways of the immune response to melanoma may provide insights to fighting cancer in general.