What is biotechnology?


Cheers, Rosalind Franklin

I stumbled upon this really useful resource for understanding the science behind some of the medical innovations that have revolutionised healthcare: What is biotechnology?

It was created by Dr Lara Marks, a medical historian currently researching biotechnology and the impact it has had on healthcare since the 1970s. Dr Marks was inspired to create the website as a result of her research into the history of biotechnology and the realisation that there are few public resources available for understanding the development and application of biotechnology in healthcare. What is Biotechnology? provides insight into the complex processes involved in the application of biotechnology in healthcare as well as the benefits and risks it poses.

The website gathers together the stories of the scientists involved in the development and application of biotechnology in healthcare, the places which housed these developements, and most usefully for me as someone without a natural sciences background, detailed explanations of the sciences behind biotechnological innovations.

Photo credit: “Cheers, Rosalind Franklin” photo by Gabi Helfert http://www.flickr.com/photos/cybergabi/1125166831/


Applications now open for CoTR 2016

You can now register for the Challenge of Translational Research Spring School 2016.

The Spring School runs from 18th-20th May 2016 and will be held on the Guy’s Campus of King’s College London (near London Bridge station).

As numbers are limited, places will be awarded on a ‘first-come’ basis. Those wishing to take part should fill in the CoTR application form 2016 and return to Jean Harrington as soon as possible: jean.harrington@kcl.ac.uk.  If you have any trouble downloading the application form, email jean.harrington@kcl.ac.uk to have one sent to you. The deadline for applications is Sunday 1st May at 5pm.

The course is primarily aimed at social science Doctoral Students and Early Career Researchers exploring translational research, but will also be of interest to natural scientists, clinicians and engineers who are interested in furthering their understanding of translational research. If you have any questions as to whether you are eligible for the summer school, please do not hesitate to get in touch with the course organisers: Nina nina.fudge@kcl.ac.uk or Jean jean.harrington@kcl.ac.uk

We look forward to receiving your applications.

Class of 2014


Thanks to the fantastic class of 2014 whose enthusiasm, insightful questions and contributions made the summer school.

We’re now making plans for the Challenge of Translational Research Summer School 2015. Some of the students from CoTR 2014 will be returning to present their research.

Fancy taking part in 2015?

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“The muddle in the middle” – drawing translational research

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Discussions of translational research always seem to include a diagram or model of what translational research is, with illustrations of a pipeline commonly used.

The first thing we asked summer school participants to do was ‘draw translational research’. It was great to watch the participants quickly jump in to draw their take on what translational research is. Even more fascinating, was seeing the students pause and really consider what they now thought of as translational research, when we asked them to ‘draw translational research again’ at the end of the summer school.

Summer School: Day Three

The final day of the summer school began with Dr Nina Fudge discussing a ‘work-in-progress’ interview study on scientists’ experiences of translational research. Nina touched on the methodological challenge of conducting social science research within organisations more used to quantitative research techniques and how to instil an ethnographic approach to a predominantly interview based research methodology.

Professor Brian Salter then provided a global perspective of translational research, or innovation, as it’s sometimes referred to, in Japan, India and China.

Drawing the event to a close was a thought provoking talk on the imagined role of the citizen in translational research from Professor Chris McKevitt. Chris took us through the journey taken in the UK to engage citizens in processes of knowledge production: from patients as research participants to patients as research partners, from patient and public involvement in research to patient and public awareness of research. Chris concluded that participation in research is currently framed as a public right, but how long before it is framed as a public duty?

Summer School: Day Two

Day Two was no less diverse with a consideration of the social science skills and tools required to interrogate translational research and a chance for the students to apply what had been learnt so far to their own research. This was followed by a fascinating overview of the emergence of new ethical questions in the field of kidney donation by Dr Antonia Cronin.

Antonia eloquently took us through the organ transplantation story, focusing on the work of the Organ Donation Taskforce. Their brief was to identify the obstacles to organ donation and suggest solutions which would deliver an increase in donated organs by 50% within five years. While the committee was successful in achieving this target, a new challenge emerged. With a predominantly ageing and less healthy population donating organs, the translational research challenge now facing transplantation is how to extend the life of suboptimal donated organs.

Grappling with the perspective from Health Economics, Professor Paul McCrone gave a particularly user friendly and helpful talk, highlighting the role health economic evaluations could play in determining what research is worth pursuing. This was followed by Dr John Maher’s exhilarating presentation on the journey to develop CAR (Chimeric Antigen Receptors) t-cells for cancer therapy.

We concluded the day with a Role Play dealing with the issue of stem cell research and ethics chaired by Dr Jean Harrington. Up stepped ‘Prudence’ the ethicist, ‘James’ a spinal cord injury patient, ‘Jane’ a pro-lifer, ‘Martin’ and ‘Helen’ biotech entrepreneurs, ‘Holly’ from EMPOWER disability support group, ‘Kay’ a coffee shop owner, ‘Grace’ Professor of Stem Cell Research, and health care professionals ‘Ann’ and ‘Cathy’ to debate whether or not a licence for a clinical trial using human embryonic stem cells to treat spinal cord injuries should be granted. Aside from the formidable acting skills from the summer school participants (if the research career doesn’t work out…), the role play demonstrated that the challenges of translational research are not confined to the labour of research, but that societal and ethical concerns have as much a role to play in moving scientific discoveries into clinical trials for patient benefit.

Summer School: Day One

Apologies for the delay in reporting from the Summer School, but here’s our round up of what happened, starting with Day One…

The slow rate at which innovations in bioscience are implemented into practice is an ongoing matter of concern for science, policy makers and funders of research. The concept of ‘Translational Research’ aims to ‘accelerate’ or ‘speed up’ the process of moving basic science discoveries into the clinic.

With this in mind, ten PhD students and early stage researchers signed up to the Challenge of Translational Research Summer School, designed to inform, challenge and provoke consideration and engagement with the social, cultural, organisational and structural issues pertaining to translational research.

The summer school opened with Professor Charles Wolfe outlining the Biomedical Research Centre’s involvement and relationship to translational research. Challenges posed by Charles included: the need to develop new business models to reinvest profit and the particular challenge of doing this within a culture not traditionally associated with revenue generation; and the cultural shift required to ensure that everyone is on board with the translational research agenda and that research is essential for an innovative NHS.

Next on the agenda was a stimulating tour of the MRC Centre for Transplantation led by Dr Maria Hernandez-Fuentes and her student Manohursingh Runglall. They gave a candid talk about laboratory life. As we moved around the laboratories, being introduced to the latest technology for anlaysing specimens, this raised the question, and challenge, of how technology has changed laboratory research practices.

Our laboratory visit was followed by Dr Claire Marris’ essential introduction to critical perspectives on translational research. Conceptualising translational research as  a performative discourse, rather than as a category of research, enables consideration of the concept from a number of perspectives including, but not limited to, science and technology studies, boundary objects, the sociology of expectations, and governmentality.

Dr Catherine French gave us a fascinating insight into her ethnographic research on Academic Health Science Centres. Catherine’s work focused on the challenges of bringing together large bureaucratic organisations – university and NHS partners – with the aim to ensure that breakthroughs in medical research lead to direct clinical benefits for patients.

We closed the day with an interactive session given by Joseph Harrington from the Innovation Unit. Using principles of Service Design, we explored new approaches to tackling the Antibiotic Apocalypse.

Deadline extended!

The deadline for applications to the summer school has been extended to 20.6.14!  If you have any questions please contact elizabeth.taylor@klc.ac.uk.  Completed application forms should also be sent to Elizabeth.