Translation is carrying an idea from inception to implementation. In health research, this process involves many steps to ensure the safety and effectiveness of new therapies. To succeed, these steps require a strong collaboration between bench scientists developing new therapies and clinicians who know the most about treatment of people with SCI. It should also include the voices of the people for whom the treatments are being developed.
Researchers have made some leaps of faith in moving from the laboratory to clinical testing and made great progress. For instance, spinal stimulation was listed by Science News as #9 in their Top 10 Science Stories of 2018. This is not an end, but a great beginning point for studies now needed to define how the stimulation works to restore function, in whom, and with what additional training, dosing and functional testing. As intriguing as demonstrations of new connections between nerve cells are, functional changes in people are the real goal. We must remain vigilant in asking the hard but important questions about what we need to know to speed safe translation where it is warranted. All clinical trials pose both potential benefits and risks. Studies in people are rarely win or lose – they are most valuable if they are well designed and indicate not only that an intervention worked even a little, but also whether our reasoning to justify the clinical testing was based on strong, sound reasoning. That knowledge will benefit all of our efforts to translate from bench to bedside.