Real Time for Zika: Why Reverse Translation Resonates with Non-Scientists

Author: Valentina Shakhnovich, MD on February 09, 2018

A common complaint I hear from non-scientists is that they don’t understand research. “It’s way over my head,” they say. Or, “This research has nothing to do with me or my life. So, why should I care?” This disconnect between what’s perceived as important research topics by the community and the research that’s actually being conducted, or funded, can be a significant source of contention and frustration.

Reverse translational research, which has the patient/community at its center, offers a unique way to bridge this disconnect between scientists and non-scientists. In a featured commentary, "Diagnostic Testing for Zika: Observing Rapid Translation During a Public Health Emergency,” Kurani et al. provide a perfect example of scientists and non-scientists working together to expedite the rapid translation of diagnostic tools for the Zika virus during the 2015-2016 viral outbreak and state of public health emergency. In response to public outcry and the need for rapid diagnostic testing, particularly for pregnant asymptomatic virus carriers whose future offspring were at risk for significant congenital disease, 19 in vitro diagnostic tests (IVDs) were quickly developed and released for clinical purposes. As well, two vaccine trials, to prevent infection, were rapidly assembled and propagated.

The translation process was not seamless. Political, financial, and logistical barriers were encountered along the way (throw in the word “intrigue” and you’ve got a John Grisham novel!), but key lessons were learned from this rapid scientific translation, driven by the research needs of the community. 

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