Science policy: When research does not get to the patient

Science policy: When research does not get to the patient

German science has long been certified as having this problem: basic research is top; but patients benefit little from it.
 Special centers for health research should remedy the malady.
 Their success so far is not very big.



    It is not often that German science undergoes a self-critical analysis. But when the scientific journal Nature recently reported on a comprehensive self-evaluation of the Helmholtz Association, after all, one of the country's most important research organizations, it once again came to the ambiguous diagnosis that seems like a curse on German science. In basic research, local researchers are as always top. But when it comes to bringing medically relevant insights to the patient, German science is having a hard time.


    It is by no means the case that the problem is an unrecognized one. Only last Thursday, Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek announced that she would found two new German Centers for Health Research. They should do for child and youth health as well as in the fight against mental illness, what it obviously hapert: The top research quickly "from bench to bedside", so bring from the lab to the hospital bed.


    Institutions of basic, experimental and clinical research should join forces to develop promising candidates for new drugs or other interventions and to bring the fruits of this networking together with pharmaceutical companies to the market, so to all patients available. In a word: It's about the so-called translation, so the translation of theory into practice. In the health sector one speaks of "translational medicine".

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Part of the problem is that everyone understands the task differently


    What sounds plausible, because even the most generous taxpayers want to reap some of what has been sown with public money in the medical field. But at the same time you have to ask the question, if the thing is so easy. After all, there are already six German Centers for Health Research. Already in 2009, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research founded the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) under the then leadership of Annette Schavan and shortly thereafter the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD).


    By 2012, four more centers were dedicated to cancer, lung disease, infection and cardiovascular research. In addition, other funded institutions such as the Berlin Institute for Health Research, which has been active since 2015, are trying to achieve politically-desired translation. So a few experiences have already been collected.


    If one dives into the reality of the scientists involved, however, different views on whether translational medicine works in Germany are revealed. This is partly because the term "translation" is interpreted differently. On the other hand, it probably also depends on the topics, whether a translation effect is recognizable. For example, the metabolism expert Norbert Stefan from the University of Tübingen, who has been working for almost ten years within the Center for Diabetes Research (DZD) at eight locations, describes advantages for the research itself. "Young physicians who are interested in research 'In the past, they had little incentive to work on scientific projects at a university,' says Stefan.


    Networking with other universities opens up new opportunities to pursue interesting issues. Added to this is the international recognition for the center, which is greater than for the institutes involved alone. The translational effect, however, always becomes particularly noticeable to the diabetologist when he sees patients. "When I meet a person today who comes to me with a complex metabolic disorder, I have more opportunities to help him," says Stefan. The doctor can bring the subjects into ongoing trials through the center or treat them based on new findings from the center. Translation into the market is not what the Harvard Visiting Professor considers crucial. "We want to develop approaches that are effective for the patients," says Stefan. The economic factor interests the researcher rather less.