Journal of Translational Medicine

, 11:256

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Challenges facing translational research organizations in China: a qualitative multiple case study

  • Laixin ZhouAffiliated withThird Military Medical University Email author 
  • , Ying LiAffiliated withDepartment of Social Medicine & Health Service Management, Third Military Medical University Email author 
  • , Hayden B BosworthAffiliated withDepartment of Medicine / General Internal Medicine, Duke University
  • , John EhiriAffiliated withDivision of Health Promotion Sciences/Global Health Institute, Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, University of Arizona
  • , Changkun LuoAffiliated withThird Military Medical University Email author 



Translational medicine is attracting much attention worldwide and many translational research organizations (TROs) have been established. In China, translational medicine has developed rapidly, but faces many challenges. This study was aimed at exploring these challenges faced by emerging TROs in China.


A qualitative, multiple case study approach was used to assess the challenges faced by TROs in China. Data were collected between May and August 2012.


Eight cases were identified. Overall, four themes that characterized TROs in China emerged from analyses: 1. objectives, organizer, and funding resources, 2. participating partners and research teams, 3. management, and 4. achievements. All TROs had objectives related to translating basic discovery to clinic treatment and cultivating translational researchers. In terms of organizer and funding resources, 7 out of 8 TROs were launched only by universities and/or hospitals, and funded mostly through research grants. As for participating partners and multidisciplinary research teams, all but one of the TROs only involved biomedical research institutions who were interested in translational research, and characterized as clinical research centers; 7 out of 8 TROs involved only researchers from biomedicine and clinical disciplines and none involved disciplines related to education, ethnicity, and sociology, or engaged the community. Current management of the TROs were generally nested within the traditional research management paradigms, and failed to adapt to the tenets of translational research. Half of the TROs were at developmental stages defined as infrastructure construction and recruitment of translational researchers.


TROs in China face the challenge of attracting sustainable funding sources, widening multidisciplinary cooperation, cultivating multi-disciplinary translational researchers and adapting current research management to translational research. Greater emphasis should be placed on increasing multidisciplinary cooperation, and innovating in education programs to cultivate of translational researchers. Efforts should be made to reform research management in TROs, and establish sustainable funding resources.


Translational medicine Translational research organization Translational medical center Case study