What is Translational Research in Oncology?

Translational research takes scientific findings from more basic patient settings and translates these into insights that are used to develop treatment options. In essence, translational research establishes a bridge between basic research and clinical practice.  

Translational research has become increasingly popular in biomedical sciences over recent years, particularly in the field of oncology. 

This approach is especially important in the field of oncology and cancer research.

Standard cancer treatments target the disease in a generalised manner – such as chemotherapy. This treatment prevents cancer cells from growing and dividing, but as a broadly cytotoxic therapy, this also affects healthy cells. 

Translational research in oncology can be used to develop more targeted cancer treatments, with the aim of treating cancer cells more precisely with less impact on the rest of the body.

How does translational research work?

Translational research works through the basic principle of identifying a broader scientific finding, and then applying this information to more specific research. This helps researchers investigate the precise underlying mechanisms involved in certain types or variants of a disease.

This kind of research can be carried out in several different ways depending on the study disease, the kind of treatment and their complexities.

A lot of translational research begins with more generalised discoveries around the way a disease behaves. In oncology, translational research often takes basic understandings of a certain cancer type’s genetic mutations, and then applies these insights to the development of more accurate treatments. 

Translational research can also arise when there are questions around how drugs or treatments are performing in a clinical setting. For instance, if a certain drug is only beneficial for some patients, translational research can be conducted back in the laboratory to understand why.

Research of this kind is sometimes described as ‘working backwards’. Once many of the more generalised findings into a drug or disease are determined, researchers can investigate these processes with more precision, detail and in different environments. 

Translational research in oncology

Translational cancer research is key to the therapeutic progression of clinical oncology.

Comprehensive and accurate research into how certain cancers develop, and their pathophysiological processes is essential for developing new targeted diagnostic techniques and therapies. 

Translational oncology research also helps develop new detection methods, prognostic markers, assessment techniques and cancer prevention methods. 

Recent advancements in omics have broadened our general understanding of how malignant tumours develop (tumorigenesis) and their underlying molecular processes at a genome scale. Translational research in oncology uses these genome-scale study results to investigate the unique molecular pathway processes involved in tumorigenesis for specific cancer types. 

As a result, researchers have been able to develop individualised therapeutic treatments and identified precise diagnostic markers for specific types of cancer.

For instance, translational research into colorectal cancer has helped uncover deeper understandings of the disease’s pathophysiology – which will contribute to the development of more targeted therapeutic treatments.

Although, there is still a lot of progress to be made in tailoring precise therapy treatments for specific types of tumour development. This is where further translational research in oncology plays a vital role.

Translational advances in cancer research

The main aims of translational research in oncology are to develop a tailored and accurate understanding of each cancer type and develop more targeted treatments. 

Major advances have been made in treating various forms of cancer thanks to translational oncology research. Research has helped scientists understand more about colorectal, ovarian, breast, lung, prostate cancer and several others. 

Notable examples of translational research include:

  • Colorectal cancer research – Dr Antoni Castells, Associate Professor at the University of Barcelona, conducted key translational oncology research that identified critical genes (APC, APC, KRAS, TGF-β, TP53, PIK3CA, and DNA MMR) as indicators of colorectal tumorigenesis. 
  • Breast cancer research – Dr Helena Earl, Professor of Clinical Cancer Medicine at the University of Cambridge, co-leads the university Cancer Centre’s Breast Cancer Programme. The programme contributes significantly to translational research into targeted cancer treatments, investigating key individualised pathways in breast cancer.
  • Prostate cancer research – Dr Jack A. Schalken, Biochemist at Radboud University Medical Centre, has led significant translational research into prostate cancer. This translational oncology research helped develop the first urine-based prostate cancer test in 2006.

Challenges in translational oncology research

One of the main challenges in translational research is tumour heterogeneity, whereby tumorigenesis processes can vary among cancer types, as well as across studies and systematic reviews.

Tumour heterogeneity can also be diverse across individuals and different forms of treatment responses. To address the challenge of heterogeneity, many translational studies investigate key cancer mutational signatures through genome research. 

The aim of this is to establish molecular-level classification systems for specific tumour types. This is also known as molecular tumour classification.

Molecular tumour classification

Characterising tumours at a molecular level is a process that is fundamental to translational oncology research. This process is vital for developing specifically targeted treatments, as opposed to broadly targeted, cytotoxic treatments that damage surrounding cells.

The benefits of molecular tumour classification are huge. Improvements to targeted cancer research and therapy will have direct impacts on the quality of patient diagnosis, treatment, disease prevention and recurrence. 

Translational oncology research at Simbec-Orion

As a full service CRO with therapeutic expertise in oncology, we have the expertise, facilities and knowledge to deliver precision oncology research. 

Supported by a world-leading oncology advisory board and team of experts in the field, we work with you to deliver translational oncology studies. 

For more information, please get in touch with us.

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