Every day scientists are making unique discoveries and breakthroughs in understanding human health and disease. However, successfully translating these discoveries into clinical practice can be challenging!
Translational research projects aim to bridge this gap and bring scientists and clinicians together in a multidisciplinary collaboration to produce meaningful research that will directly benefit human health.
By including specialists across all stages of the project - research can be moved from bench to bedside at a much quicker rate and have a real impact. But how do you go about forming these types of collaborations in the first place?
To help answer this question, we spoke to Fiona McBryde, a Cardiovascular Physiologist from the University of Auckland whose preclinical research looks at understanding blood pressure regulation in the brain in response to stroke. Fiona’s research is unique in the fact it extends beyond the lab and into the clinic, where she collaborates with clinicians at the local hospital to better apply her research to clinical practice.
We asked Fiona to share her top pieces of advice for creating a successful research collaboration and forming meaningful connections with clinicians.
#1 Connect with the clinicians in a way that suits them
Just like researchers - clinicians are busy people. So if you want to form a successful collaboration, you need to connect with doctors in a way that suits them.
One strategy that worked for us was to organize seminars about our research, which the clinicians could attend. However, what made these seminars successful, was that we hosted them on the hospital grounds. This made it as easy as possible for the clinicians to pop in and participate in the discussions.
Through these sessions, we were able to start those initial conversations that eventually led to a collaboration.
#2 Speak their language - Present your data in a meaningful and accessible way
As scientists, we can often get caught up in the joy of the technicality of what we’re doing. While knowing the detailed mechanisms is important, clinicians often just want to know how this information can be used to benefit their patients.
Learning how to effectively communicate your research to different audiences is a fundamental part of any scientist's job. However, it’s one skill that often gets overlooked! If you can’t effectively communicate your findings to people outside of your field, how can you expect others to apply this information to their work?
One of the best pieces of advice I received was from my PhD supervisor Simon Malpas, who said, ‘You should be able to explain your research to your grandparents.’
While a physician will most likely have a better baseline level of knowledge than your grandparents, the point still stands. It’s about conveying the importance of your research - rather than the specific details.
Don’t just jump in and start showing them your favorite data recordings. Instead, introduce your research in a meaningful and accessible way. Spend time thinking about the clinical relevance of what you do and how it could be applied to clinical practice, and be prepared to take feedback!
#3 Aim to create a collaboration 'loop'
I like to think of translational research as a two-way street. Instead of pre-clinical research always flowing on to affect clinical practice, like in a traditional research model, important insights can often be 'fed back' from clinical observations.
With our stroke project, we encourage the clinicians to come to us with their clinical data and observations. This information is incredibly valuable to our experimental design, and we can use these observations to create very targeted research questions in our animal models. We often collaborate on what we think is the best step forward for the research project, what the next experiments will be, and how we can apply our findings to the management of patients.
Fiona McBryde (PhD) is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland whose primary research focus is looking at factors that regulate blood pressure and blood flow to the brain during health and disease, with a particular focus on ischemic stroke.