What’s Being Translated in Translational Research? Making and Making Sense of Data between the Laboratory and the Clinic

Nadine Levin


Abstract: This paper examines translational or “bench to bedside” research – which is promoted as the application of biomedical knowledge to medical practice – at the interface between the laboratory and the clinic. Referring to the field of “metabolomics”, the post-genomic study of metabolism, it argues that efforts to make and make sense of data emerge as one of the key challenges in translational research. Focusing on case studies of translational molecular imaging, clinical databases, and surgery, I explore how metabolomics researchers and clinicians have fundamentally different notions of what data entail. I then argue that metabolomics researchers experience great difficulty not in generating but in interpreting statistical and metabolic data. Finally, I examine the future visions of translational metabolomics research to suggest that data and automation cannot replace judgment and interpretation in clinical practice. Ultimately, the paper problematizes the changing form, role, and value of “data” in post-genomic efforts to carry out translational research.

Keywords: data; metabolomics; translational research; objectivity; statistics.

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