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Date: 18 Dec 2012

Beyond Bench and Bedside: Disentangling the Concept of Translational Research

Abstract

The label ‘Translational Research’ (TR) has become ever more popular in the biomedical domain in recent years. It is usually presented as an attempt to bridge a supposed gap between knowledge produced at the lab bench and its use at the clinical bedside. This is claimed to help society harvest the benefits of its investments in scientific research. The rhetorical as well as moral force of the label TR obscure, however, that it is actually used in very different ways. In this paper, we analyse the scientific discourse on TR, with the aim to disentangle and critically evaluate the different meanings of the label. We start with a brief reconstruction of the history of the concept. Subsequently, we unravel how the label is actually used in a sample of scientific publications on TR and examine the presuppositions implied by different views of TR. We argue that it is useful to distinguish different views of TR on the basis of three dimensions, related to (1) the construction of the ‘translational gap’; (2) the model of the translational process; and (3) the cause of the perceived translational gap. We conclude that the motive to make society benefit from its investments in biomedical science may be laudable, but that it is doubtful whether the dominant views of TR will contribute to this end.