Cancer research seeks the cause and cure of human cancer by basic discovery and by testing new discoveries in patients. This definition of cancer research implies a continuum of activity, from basic scientists in university laboratories, to the medicinal chemist in a pharmaceutical company, and to the clinical researcher conducting clinical trials in patients. Cancer research is divided into basic research, clinical research, and technology development. An important new concept, that may combine aspects of each of these categories, is translational research. This is the cancer research continuum:
This is where the battle against cancer begins and the origin of all new treatments and methods of diagnosis. Basic research seeks to understand the way biological systems operate, in this case the fundamental cellular, molecular and genetic mechanism of cancer. Basic research is generally done in government or academic laboratories, and uses model systems to reduce the complexity of biology to something simple enough to be studied completely ( in "test-tubes", cell culture, or animal models). Funding is provided through government grants and philanthropic support.
Clinical research seeks answers to immediate questions that are important for the prevention, diagnosis or treatment of cancer. Clinical research does not use model systems, but makes observations and conducts limited tests in people. These tests may be clinical trials of new drugs, tests of diagnostic markers for disease, or assessing new treatment procedures in surgery or radiation. Stringent safeguards of human subjects govern clinical research, data analysis is rigorous and this research is expensive. Big clinical research projects are usually funded by government, industry or large foundations.
The development of new technologies to solve problems is definitely a process of research, discovery and testing. Developing tools (machines) and processes to solve problems in biomedical research is an important part of cancer research. The Human Genome Project, determining the entire sequence of the human genome, required rapid ways to sequence DNA and analyze the immense amount of data acquired. The discovery of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) dramatically accelerated basic research, was required by the Human Genome Project, and is the basis of the new "Oncotype Dx" assay used in breast cancer patients.
The term translational research implies the marriage of basic and clinical research that is focused on the patient and on solving problems that result from a disease process. Translational research is "bench-to-bedside" research that takes laboratory discovery or a new technology into clinical application by using the discipline of clinical research. Not limited to movement in a single direction, translational research may also use technology or laboratory research to explain a carefully observed and scientifically recorded observation made in clinical practice.
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