The Accelerating Excellence In Translational Science (AXIS)Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science

Tuesday, April 12, 2011
What is Translational Research?

The National Center for Research Resources, leader of the CTSA on behalf of the NIH, also supports the development of infrastructure needed for clinical and translational research in institutions funded via the Research Centers in Minority Institutions (RCMI) program. With support from this this award, Charles Drew University has established the Accelerating eXcellence In translational Science (AXIS) program. AXIS is building a ôhomeö for clinical and translational research by facilitating interdisciplinary collaborations between CDU investigators and active community partners.

Some novel ideas may be very promising but have difficulty securing funding because they can be considered risky. The NIH-Rapid Access to Interventional Development (RAID) Pilot Program is one resource available for the development of new therapeutic methods.

Only recently has the NIH begun funding translational research with the launch of the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Consortium October 2006. The consortium currently includes 47 medical and health institutions across the nation. By 2012, 60 institutions will work together to improve human health, driven by the principles of clinical and translational research.

At CDU, researchers are delving into the causes of health disparities. Dr. Nina Harawa is attacking the HIV epidemic by listening to and helping communities with high risk for encountering the virus. Dr. Mayer Davidson is changing the model for diabetes care through nurse-directed management. These faculty, and others, at CDU are pushing the barriers, working to change stories of health disparities into health successes.

Dr David Hatcher and colleagues at the New York University School of Medicine are asking why African-American men have a higher incidence of prostate cancer and more severe disease progression than Caucasian men. They found key gene variants in androgens and androgen receptors that are critical for the development and growth of the prostate. Differences in these genes may explain the disparity and also point to useful targets for drugs that fight cancer.

Last year a team of researchers analyzed DNA samples from African-American families in the Washington D.C metropolitan area. They found five genetic variants related to blood pressure. Hypertension, or chronic high blood pressure, is often associated with heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. African-Americans are more likely to be affected by hypertension. These findings are now being paired with research to find new ways to treat and prevent hypertension.

Translational research has already yielded important discoveries.

These differences are alarming, underscoring the need for a better understanding of the causes of the disease and how to reach underserved groups. Human health is complex. Translational research works with that complexity, not only asking questions about biology, but also asking questions about economics, health care policies, and social issues.

Health disparities research research requires this translational approach. For example, obesity is one of several diseases with multiple causes and a complex cellular and molecular makeup. A study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that between2006 to 2008, black and hispanic Americans had a 51% and 21% higher prevalence of obesity, respectively. While cancer mortality rates have fallen since the early 1990s, the rates have decreased faster for white patients than for black patients. This racial gap is widening, even cases where equal care is given.

Translational research is scientific research with a focus on human benefits. Instead of scientists finding the answer one puzzle piece at a time, this approach relies on an interaction between clinical insights, basic research and community interaction. Scientists, doctors, communicators, and community members all play a role in translational research. It is not a linear process, but a bidirectional continuum rich with feedback from development to discovery and back.

There is a deadly gap between the basic scientific research, traditionally funded by institutions such as the National Institute of Health (NIH), and the health needs of patients and their families. Doctors conducting clinical trials focus on finding treatments that will work but they don't have the tools to look at the biological mechanisms involved. Basic researchers look at why a disease happens but they don't have the resources to extend their knowledge to test treatment options. In the meantime patients are suffering. Translational research is about bridging that gap.

Following the explosion of molecular biology in the 1970s, many incredible breakthroughs have been made in basic research. Discoveries such as the genetic basis of cancer were made by numerous scientists toiling at the lab bench, spending years becoming experts in their fields. The challenge today is taking those discoveries and applying them to diverse patient and community needs.

Here at Charles Drew University we are striving to think critically and innovatively while addressing health issues like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, HIV/AIDS and other conditions. These problems are more common in minority and underserved populations. At the core of our mission is translational research, a new way of thinking about science.

The way we do science is changing. Faced with multifaceted problems like cancer, obesity, and diabetes, researchers cannot afford to spend a lifetime focused exclusively on one gene or one biochemical mechanism. The complexity of life is forcing scientists to change their thinking.