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What Is Translational Medicine?

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Children's Mercy Hospital

On November 5, Jackson County voters will decide whether to fund a translational medicine institute. A proposed half-cent sales tax would raise $800 million over the next 20 years to be divided among Children’s Mercy Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital and the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine.

Ten percent of the $800 million and 20 percent of profits the program generates would fund local public health initiatives.

Supporters say the plan would create jobs and help fund medical breakthroughs. Many opponents don’t think it would do enough for people in Jackson County. Passions run high on both sides, but a lot of voters are still wondering “What is translational medicine?”

  1. Translation medicine is “translating” a scientific discovery into a practical drug, device or medical practice. Medical professionals often call this work “bench-to-bedside.”
  2. It currently takes seven to 21 years to get from scientific discovery to medical application. Many translation medicine programs work to speed up that process.
  3. Drug companies and device makers have always been interested in applied research, but in the last 10 years, the National Institutes of Health has been one of big leaders in the non-profit world pushing for translational medicine. The NIH has traditionally funded a lot of basic, instead of applied research. Pressure from Congress has made the agency shift its focus.
  4. There are two branches of translational medicine. On one side, researchers develop medical products like drugs and devices. Another faction works to promote public health.
  5. The research and development branch currently receives a lot more funding, but studies show that the branch of translational medicine focused on public health initiatives does more to improve health of the general population.
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