Three Types of Research – Explained

A thorough analysis of clinical, basic and translational research 

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As an undergraduate interested in getting started in research, the varied forms and styles with which to pursue this can be overwhelming and sometimes confusing. Learning and knowing the definitions of the three types of research, as well as what separates them from one another, is a proper stepping stone towards choosing the methods and techniques with which to further your scientific career. 

Basic research, also known as fundamental research, is known as the basis for all research. When pursuing this kind of study, you are inquiring about the fundamentals of the world we live in. The fundamentals of reality, so to speak.  Examples of basic research include exploring the origins of the beginning of the universe, or what an atom is composed of. Fundamental research is heavily reliant on details, as describing the beginning of how a scientific occurrence took place is a laborious task that requires diligent documentation and vigorous observation. Though, if one is willing to do meticulous, detailed basic research, the long term yields of this kind of study have the potential to be great. A subsection of basic research is basic biomedical research, which is the research of the  basic genetic makeup or molecular construction of a compound. This type of research is especially important in the formation of new medications as one cannot create something new if we do not understand the original building blocks of it.  A well known example of basic biomedical research is the discovery that DNA is double stranded by Watson and Crick in 1953. This information has been extremely helpful in the pharmacological industry, and is now being used in CRISPR/Cas-9 gene editing. With the ability to edit the genetic sequence of a test subject, such as a mouse, we can see the impact of different medicines in new ways. CRISPR/Cas-9 is also helpful in basic research as it can allow researchers to see the effects of different genomes very clearly. 

The second topic of discussion, translational research, springboards off of the results of basic research. The ‘translational’ aspect of the research is in reference to the study’s attempts to find a practical application of the aforementioned science. Taking the research learned from the fundamentals, a translational researcher is tasked with asking the question, “What can we do with this?” or “What can we make with this?” As translational research is the most inventive field of research available, it allows researchers the opportunity to explore new and creative solutions to health related problems. For instance, with basic research of cancer cells we can understand their unique quality of cell-splitting and ability to multiply. Utilizing our understanding of that research, we can then create new and improved ways to approach the study and treatment of cancer. 

For translational research to be able to be tested in clinical research, it must go through a stepwise process. The first step, called T1, is the translation to human phase. This phase involves Phase I and II clinical trials, observational studies, and case studies. This phase takes the basic research from translational research and attempts to apply it to new treatment methods. Once the research passes through T1 successfully, T2 begins. T2 focuses on translation to patients, not just humans. This phase involves Phase III clinical trials, medical guideline development, and observational studies. Monitoring the effects the new interventions have on individuals are a crucial part of T2 research.  Lastly, if T2 is successful, the research is finalized in T3. T3 focuses on translation to practice. Translation to practice requires Phase IV clinical trials and implementation. At this stage, patients are meticulously selected to see the responses of these new treatments in practice. 

Clinical research is commonly used in medical environments and therefore is one of the most abundant types of research available. In essence, clinical research takes the knowledge gained from the translational studies and actively applies the information learned to clinical trials. It works to consistently better the field of medicine as its primary focus is to test new and improved ways to improve the way diseases are approached, treated, and diagnosed. A good example of clinical research is the testing of new cancer treatments. Clinical trials are a fundamental part of clinical research as it allows the researcher to see the effects of their new methods in different control groups. In comparison to basic research, clinical research concludes quite quickly as the results of clinical trials are typically more easily recorded and documented. The scope of these trials is limited by design; for example, a group of test subjects might be asked to take an experimental medication multiple times over the course of a few months. Meanwhile, another group of subjects is given a placebo, and are also monitored for the duration of the clinical trial. In that, there is a firm conclusion to the experiment, while fundamental research is an ongoing study. This kind of investigation also allows the researchers to interact with their subjects; taking notes on their medical history, following up with questions about the study or the medication being tested, and generally being the face of the trial. 

Understanding the processes required for a new medicine or medical technique to be introduced into society allows for a potential researcher to discover what their true field of interest is. This allows for an individual interested in research to be able to cultivate more passion about their work, no doubt leading to more exciting discoveries and the advancement of science.

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