Translational science aims to accelerate the process of turning biomedical research discoveries into real-world applications that improve people’s health, such as diagnostics, treatments and cures. NCATS is developing and leveraging translational sciences approaches to bring more treatments to all people more quickly.
By examining highly successful NCATS-led or -supported initiatives that span the translational spectrum, we identified seven initial principles of effective translational science.
Because translational research involves large team-based collaborations, these principles can guide not only researchers but everyone who enables, facilitates and supports translation, including individuals involved in community partnerships, patient engagement, management and administration.
We anticipate that experts in the translational science community will both expand on and refine this initial set of principles.
Explore the principles below:
These principles focus on factors directly related to the selection of the research question, research approaches and research methods.
- Prioritize Initiatives That Address Unmet Needs
These initiatives focus on pursuing scientific goals that address unmet scientific, patient or population health needs.
- Scientific Needs: Contribute to research advances in under-investigated areas of science or on scientific questions that present unique research challenges or disincentives (e.g., currently untreatable diseases; de-risking targets).
- Patient and Population Health Needs: Advance research to develop solutions for unmet patient and population health needs.
- Produce Crosscutting Solutions for Common and Persistent Challenges
Develop innovations that address challenges across multiple research initiatives, projects, or diseases and conditions.
- Across Multiple Projects: Advance research by identifying, developing and testing solutions to common research roadblocks that have stymied multiple projects.
- Across Diseases: Approach research challenges and development of solutions by seeking commonalities across research on a range of diseases and conditions.
- Emphasize Creativity and Innovation
Focus on increasing the impact of research through innovations in research methods, processes and structures.
- Research Methods: Pose innovative research questions and develop and implement innovations in research methods, technologies, and approaches that increase the impact of the research.
- Research Processes and Structures: Develop and implement innovations in teamwork, partnerships, and operations that enhance the quality and impact of the research.
- Leverage Cross-Disciplinary Team Science
Engage all relevant expertise across disciplines, fields, and professions to produce research that advances translation.
- Advance Innovation: Integrate concepts, theories, methods, technologies, and approaches from the range of disciplines, fields, and professions that can contribute to advancing the research goals.
- Increase Translational Potential: Leverage knowledge integration to develop more holistic findings that are therefore more relevant to real-world applications.
These principles focus on how team functioning, organizational environment, and the culture of science influence the research. Operational principles facilitate the science.
- Enhance the Efficiency and Speed of Translational Research
Implement evidence-informed practices and scientific and operational innovations to accelerate the pace of translational research.
- Science: Develop and implement innovations in scientific approaches, methods and technologies that accelerate the pace of translational research.
- Team Functioning: Implement evidence-based practices to enhance the speed at which teams develop shared goals and improve team communication and coordination of work tasks.
- Decision Making: Implement milestone-based decision making to enable rapid agreement on go/no-go decisions, to enable resources to be used most efficiently.
- Organizational Environment: Reward efficiency, enable rapid failures and encourage redirection of resources to subsequent attempts.
- Utilize Boundary-Crossing Partnerships
Leverage cross-disciplinary research teams, patient and community engagement, and cross-agency partnerships to advance translation.
- Team Functioning: Implement evidence-informed practices for collaborations, engagement and partnership.
- Organizational Environment: Provide leadership, policies, and physical spaces that facilitate boundary-crossing collaborations within and outside of one’s organization.
- Recognition and Reward Systems: Incentivize collaboration through recognition and reward systems that value team science, cross-disciplinary collaboration, patient and community engagement, and cross-agency partnerships.
- Science Policy: Design funding opportunities that support and facilitate collaboration, engagement, and partnerships to achieve scientific goals.
- Use Bold and Rigorous Research Approaches
Develop ambitious research questions and implement transformative approaches that match the complexity of the translational problem being addressed.
- Science: Explore historically intractable research questions with the goal of fundamentally changing the translational research ecosystem, focus on areas of research where other partners may lack incentives, and employ rigorous approaches that will enable the research to advance translational science regardless of whether the initial research objective is met (e.g., learning from failures).
- Team and Organizational Environments: Encourage transformative ideas and risk taking toward achieving the overall goal of improving the translational process.
- Recognition and Reward Systems: Recognize the value of rigorously testing bold, paradigm-challenging ideas and do not penalize individuals and/or teams for informed risk taking or productive failures.
- Science Policy: Develop funding opportunities that invite transformative research to address high need areas of science and unmet patient needs.
Translational Science Principles Enabling Team Science in NCATS’ Internal Research Program
Vogel AL, Knebel AR, Faupel-Badger JM, Portilla LM, Simeonov A. A systems approach to enable effective team science from the internal research program of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Journal of Clinical and Translational Science. Cambridge University Press; 2021;5(1):e163.
Teaching Translational Science Principles
Faupel-Badger JM, Vogel AL, Hussain SF, Austin CP, Hall MD, Ness E, Sanderson P, Terse PS, Xu X, Balakrishnan K, Patnaik S, Marugan JJ, Rudloff U, Ferrer M. Teaching Principles of Translational Science to a Broad Scientific Audience Using a Case Study Approach: A Pilot Course from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Journal of Clinical and Translational Science. Cambridge University Press; 2022:1–26.
Evaluation of a Course Teaching Translational Science Principles
Vogel AL, Hussain SF, Faupel-Badger JM. Evaluation of an online case study-based course in translational science for a broad scientific audience: Impacts on students’ knowledge, attitudes, planned scientific activities, and career goals. Journal of Clinical and Translational Science. Cambridge University Press; 2022;6(1):e82.
Online Courses in Principles of Translational Science
The NCATS Education Branch offers two case study–based courses in translational science principles taught by scientists who have led translational research at NIH, as well as additional experts in translational science. These courses are offered annually in partnership with the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences.
MEDI 501: Principles of Preclinical Translational Science
This course uses a case study of an NCATS-led promising preclinical drug discovery and development project to teach principles of translational science as applied to the preclinical space.
MEDI 502: Translational Science in the COVID-19 Pandemic
This course uses a series of case studies in COVID-19 research to teach principles of translational science as applied across the translational spectrum.
Case Studies in Translational Science
These video case studies highlight how translational science principles shape NCATS’ research programs and initiatives. The case studies cover drug discovery and development, the Toolkit for Patient-Focused Therapy Development, and the creation and development of tissue chips. Watch the playlist.
NCATS’ Translational Science Principles Committee, which includes representatives from across the Center, contributed to the development of the principles.