Vital Signs: How translational medicine hastens the pace of discovery

January 3, 2020
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Most of society’s greatest health breakthroughs begin in the laboratory — the product of grit and determination from scientists who work tirelessly and urgently to rid the world of devastating diseases and provide hope to those who are in need.

Yet, the end products we see today in the form of life-changing treatments and therapies could not have come about without monumental, collaborative efforts. Taking discoveries from the laboratory bench to clinical use is the result of a well-established and dynamic field known as translational medicine.

Translational medicine brings together scientists, health care professionals and patients to explore the most promising areas for treating and, perhaps one day, curing diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s. It is the conduit through which their discoveries leave the laboratory and begin impacting the lives of patients and their families for the better.

Clinical trials are perhaps the most well-known aspect of translational research. Less known is the fact that clinical trials can be carried out not just for new drugs but existing ones — drugs that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of one disease, which may also hold promise in the fight against a completely different disease.

Van Andel Institute is invested in collaborations designed to expedite the process of finding new therapies and treatments. Though VAI does not carry out clinical trials itself, the institute’s scientists and support teams play a crucial role in seeing them through with collaborating medical centers.

Through the Linked Clinical Trials initiative, the institute works closely with The Cure Parkinson’s Trust in the United Kingdom to identify already approved medications that also may hold promise for treating Parkinson’s.

For example, scientists know that diabetes and Parkinson’s share many of the mechanisms that enable them to gain a foothold in the body. Therefore, a drug that works on diabetes also may have some utility as a way to slow or stop Parkinson’s disease progression. Through clinical trials, we will find out.

The partnerships extend to other diseases as well; the Van Andel Institute-Stand Up To Cancer (VAI-SU2C) Epigenetics Dream Team brings together basic scientists and clinicians from across the globe to develop new, effective therapies for cancer and bring them to patients.

Scientists at VAI and collaborators worldwide are working to improve outcomes for patients. Translational medicine is a crucial piece of the puzzle, and it will help bring us closer to halting the diseases that take our loved ones far too soon.

David Van Andel is chairman and CEO of Van Andel Institute.

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