Berlin Translational Dialogue will explore possibilities of translational medicine
On November 8, biomedical experts will talk about challenges and ingredients for success – join us in Berlin or follow on social media
By Stefan H. E. Kaufmann, PhD Posted on 31 October 2015
Dr. Stefan H.E. Kaufmann is Professor at the Charité Medical Faculty of Humboldt University Berlin and founding director of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, where he heads the Department of Immunology. He will chair the panel at this event. Here, he writes about the importance of translational medicine.
On the eve of a conference that celebrates “falling walls” in science, biomedical experts are convening in Berlin to talk about breaking barriers in a field that is, by definition, about forging connections: translational medicine. This burgeoning science seeks to “translate” basic research into clinical applications that will help patients. To do so, it requires breaking barriers – and building bridges – between institutes, researchers and disciplines. These connections could lead to significant advances – especially since science thrives on collaboration and exchange.
That’s the goal of the first Berlin Translational Dialogue workshop and panel. Hosted by Elsevier, this half-day workshop on November 8 will bring together leading international and Berlin-based experts from translation-focused biomedical research institutions to talk about challenges and opportunities for advancing the field of translational medicine.
What does it mean to “translate” science into medicine?
The Berlin Translational Dialogue workshop and panel is on Sunday, November 8, from 12 to 5 pm in the Microsoft Atrium Berlin, Unter den Linden 17. Admission is free, but spaces are limited. For tickets, email Dr. Thomas Schwarz-Romond.
Normally, translation is considered a process of rendering from one language into another. What, then, is translational medicine? It is not that different, after all. One translates results from basic research into a process or a product of medical value. Obviously, the more one thinks about it, the more complex the situation gets. Translational medicine primarily focuses on late-stage development of a basic research finding into a clinical assessment. It has often been said that this step is a bottleneck, also called the “valley of death.”
Different research cultures
The first part of the translational process, namely basic research, is normally performed at universities and other academic research institutions. Basic research does not need to be targeted towards any application. Indeed, this is the secret for unexpected findings which may or may not lead to a translatable idea, process or product. Refinements of a potentially “translatable” finding lead to a preclinical pipeline that includes assessment of potential toxicity of a product and a formulation for delivery – very often not of interest to the basic researcher anymore. The basic researchers also have little contact with regulatory agencies and are often not familiar with standards and regulatory demands for a clinical trial. In contrast, medical personnel involved in clinical trials may not fully know or appreciate the complexity and limitations of fundamental basic research approaches.
Building bridges between basic and clinical research
One of the main goals of translational medicine is to improve interactions between basic research, clinical research, product development, clinical development and regulatory decision making. This demands creating an innovative atmosphere and a pipeline that enables translatable products to pass through faster and more efficiently. This also means integrating regulatory agencies into the process as early as possible and searching for alternative ways of funding clinical trials, which are currently performed mainly by or with the help of the pharma industry.
While challenging, this process holds great potential to strengthen mutual understanding, establish new societal partnerships and improve regulatory schemes to accomplish more rapid basic science translation.
Interdisciplinary research – the route to fully explore the potential of translational medicine
There are already impressive examples of basic discoveries that were transformed into clinical applications. One is the development of monoclonal antibodies. The Nobel-winning discovery by Georges J.F. Köhler and César Milstein on the specificity in development and control of the immune system paved the way to the production of monoclonal antibodies. While an important general discovery, its subsequent and labor-intense translation has impacted many areas in medicine today, with various immunotherapies in cancer only illustrating general therapeutic impact.
Essential ingredients for successful translation
We need to:
- Break barriers – between institutes, between disciplines.
- Build trust among participants.
- Provide space for large projects that involve partners with different expertise.
- Adopt new forms of mentorship, catering to basic and clinical needs.
- Encourage high-risk projects, which are historically the most innovative.
- Identify “translatable” candidates early to focus investments and accelerate future medicine.
A more recent example is the CRISPR genome-editing technology developed by Emmanuelle Charpentier (now working in Berlin at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology) and Jennifer Doudna of UC Berkeley. Studying the immunity of bacteria against invading viruses, they identified a system that cuts DNA segments in a very precise way, presenting a versatile tool for defined genetic corrections in higher organisms, and promising applications in future patient therapies.
Examples like this, while perhaps having an element of serendipity, illustrate the interdisciplinary nature of basic science translation into medicine. Recent technological developments present even broader opportunities: the amount of patient data currently collected – i.e., “big data” generated from many clinical observations – may reveal interesting molecules, disease mechanisms and many other factors relating to one particular human disease. In a process called “reverse translation,” these factors could become of interest to basic researchers focusing on molecular causes of diseases. Complementary studies in basic research labs might in turn reveal new intervention strategies, closing the “translational cycle” from bed to bench and back to bedside for patients’ benefit.
Therefore, to achieve efficient translational medicine, we have to think in interdisciplinary ways, think big and include both the technological and human factors. Full potential can only be achieved if different partners see themselves as team player but also have the opportunities to pursue their own interests. The challenge is to align all partners’ interests with new incentive schemes. The result will be faster development of products that will benefit society.
The Berlin Translational Dialogue
Many workshops and conferences focus on basic research, experimental medicine or science translation. The goal of the Berlin Translational Dialogue is to bring together national and international experts to crystalize general strategies that improve interdisciplinary approaches towards development of better healthcare through medical intervention.
Researchers with expertise on different aspects of basic science translation have agreed to participate in this unique workshop. They will share their experience during more general presentations and take part in an interactive panel discussion titled: “Innovate, share, collaborate – How to create environments that deliver next-generation medicine”.
Since Berlin is emerging as a hub in basic and clinical biomedical research, this is an ideal setting to emphasize the relevance of translational medicine. Based on Berlin’s institutional breath and the notable recent inauguration of the Berlin Institute of Health, there is significant potential for the city to become a leader in prescription, personalized, systems, functional or by-design medicine.
Another key ingredient for success involves early education for graduate and post-graduate students interested in basic science translation. I hope formats like this workshop will help create a framework for translational medicine as a new discipline and a new mindset of addressing scientific questions. It is our chance – as basic researchers, those pursuing translational developments, scientists interested in regulatory aspects, experimental scientists in clinical settings and clinical trial experts – to create and foster innovative environments such as the BIH that can serve as training centers and role models for future generations of translation-focused research scientists.
This half-day workshop will bring together leading international and Berlin-based experts from translation-focused biomedical research institutions to foster an open dialogue among Berlin-based institutions and discuss Berlin’s future as a center of systems-, personalized-, prescription-, functional-, and by-design medicine.
Interactive Panel — Join the debate
Speakers include Dr. Karl Max Einhäupl, Dr. Thomas Sommer, and Dr. Erwin Böttinger(above). The panel will be chaired by Dr. Stefan H.E. Kaufmann.
Elsevier Connect Contributor
Dr. Stefan H.E. Kaufmann is Professor at the Charité, Medical Faculty of the Humboldt University Berlin. He is distinguished for his outstanding contributions to the immune response against intracellular bacterial pathogens. He is founding director of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, where he directs the Department of Immunology. His recent work focuses on tuberculosis with an emphasis on the mechanisms of host defense, the survival strategies of the pathogen, the development of a novel vaccine and the identification of biomarkers for disease and protection. The tuberculosis vaccine developed by his team is currently in a phase II clinical trial, and a biosignature has emerged from his studies with numerous clinicians and researchers on the African continent which can predict risk of tuberculosis. Aside from his research activities, Kaufmann is strongly engaged in improving public understanding of immunology and infectious diseases.