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GT's Translation Guide

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Still feeling in the dark about translational research? You're not alone. GT offers this translational guide to help you find your way.

What's the big deal with translational research? Well, for starters, getting scientists and clinicians to understand what the other is up to. (And you wondered why "translation" was part of its name.)

To help with the process, GT put together this practical guide to illustrate the difference between scientists and clinicians as they react to certain situations. You'll see why it can be difficult for a scientist to agree with a clinician's behavior, and why clinicians might feel scientists simply don't get it.

Hey, if translating between the two groups was easy, they'd be speaking the same language. And we'd be working on something else entirely.

Situation: Late last year, an E. coli outbreak led to the shutdown of Taco Bell restaurants (we use the term loosely) across New York and New Jersey.
Clinician response: Through thorough patient interviews and testing, trace the outbreak to its source: scallions. Or lettuce. Or something else lurking in some Taco Bell distribution warehouse. Either way, warn people not to eat there anymore.
Scientist response: Use synthetic biology tools to engineer strain of E. coli that smells like gefilte fish. Publish paper in third-tier journal warning people not to eat Taco Bell food when it smells like gefilte fish.

Situation: A new drug compound is doing well, but must be tested for potential interaction problems with other drugs.
Scientist response: Design a complex systems biology modeling program that will run interaction simulations against all known drugs. Generate list of all possible interactions to find handful of drugs that shouldn't be in use when the new drug is prescribed, and include this information in the new drug's label.
Clinician response: Run a large-scale clinical trial. Recruit 1,000 volunteers, and start dosing them with the new drug. Every three days, gather volunteers for "grab bag session," in which clinical trial organizers pass around a hat filled with every pill on the market. Advise volunteers to choose at least 10 to keep trial short. Monitor reactions.

Situation: The invention of laser-tagging technology using gene expression.
Clinician response: Develop a tagged gene to monitor for early stage growth of brain tumors. As soon as cancer cells form in the brain, patient's eyes will glow to indicate the problem. Thanks to early detection, this advance effectively eliminates brain cancer as we know it.
Scientist response: Use tagging technology to draw miniature butterfly on a butterfly's wing. Take lots of pictures and send to relatives with note: "How cute is this?!"

Situation: A particular inherited mutation is discovered to play a key role in onset of DNA degeneration, but is not fully understood.
Scientist response: Using Richard Lenski's library of 30,000 generations of E. coli, scientists implant the mutation, grow another few thousand generations of bacteria, and flesh out theory of exactly how DNA degenerates as a result of this mutation. Rumors of a Nobel ensue, and Lenski responds, "Oh, it was nothing. I had the bacteria, I had the mutation — really, it was no big deal."
Clinician response: Physicians immediately set out to sign up patients and their families. Paperwork is drawn up for agreements to study patients, their offspring, and offsprings' offspring for 300 years, or until the mutation makes itself known.

 

The Scan

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CRISPR for What Ails You

The Wall Street Journal writes that CRISPR-based therapies could someday be used to treat common conditions like heart attacks.

Nature Papers Review Integration of Single-Cell Assay Data, Present Approach to Detect Rare Variants

In Nature this week: review of ways to integrate data from single-cell assays, and more.