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Translating Research Into Results

How do you define medical research? Many people might say it’s all about identifying new molecules or inventing treatments. But this is only part of the research continuum.

At Johns Hopkins, we focus on each stage of translational research, which “translates” findings from basic science through to clinical application and meaningful health outcomes for individuals and communities.

However, it can take years—even decades—for discoveries to enter day-to-day practice. It’s challenging to translate knowledge from academic medical centers to community-level practices around the world.

That’s where Johns Hopkins Medicine International comes in. There are few, if any, institutions that have the reach that Johns Hopkins has for medical research. And our tripartite mission of research, education and patient care guides what we as faculty do each day—in Baltimore and in our work around the world.

In a previous post, I described how we share clinical best practices with JHI’s affiliate institutions through knowledge transfer programs—a good representation of our education and patient care mission components in action on a global scale.

Here’s an example of how I incorporate research into my clinical care projects with JHI.

My first JHI project was creating a clinical knowledge transfer program to help urologists at Pacífica Salud Hospital Punta Pacifica in Panama advance their program on kidney stone management. When I began this work, I was struck by how rich a source JHI’s global affiliates could be for translating research efforts into effective treatments.

This was in 2009, when surgeons worldwide increasingly began to use endoscopic lasers to treat patients with kidney stones. There is a known learning curve for this technology, so we developed a knowledge transfer program that leveraged our experience with this technique here in Baltimore.

As Irma described in a previous post, we created a set of lectures focused on the surgical technologies and techniques that our  Pacifica Salud colleagues were going to employ. We also added a shoulder-to-shoulder observership of every stage of the surgical procedure.

Finally, we created a mechanism for tracking surgical outcomes as Pacifica Salud began implementing the program independently. This latter point is critical—this is how surgeons can assess just how good a job they’re doing. And in this case, it helped us gauge our success with this knowledge transfer program.

As we were tracking the program’s outcomes, we recognized that what we were doing was really later-stage translational research: clinical outcomes measurement. In other words, this research would tell us how our program worked in a real-world setting.

In our project with Pacifica Salud, we observed that the surgeons in Panama adopted these surgical techniques safely and effectively. This is important—for any new surgical technology or technique, there is a learning curve, which increases the risk for complications.

Through our research project, we were able to minimize this effect. Our program enabled Pacifica Salud surgeons to start higher on the learning curve, where there was a lower risk of complications.

That became our impetus for publishing our experience in a peer-reviewed medical journal. Publishing in Clinical Nephrology allowed us to share with the medical community how to implement a program focused on a new surgical technique, and how to track the results to ensure desired outcomes.

Testifying to the collaborative nature of our work, the lead author was from Panama, the corresponding author was from Johns Hopkins, and both institutions were well-represented among the seven authors!


Brian Matlaga

Dr. Brian Matlaga is the Stephens Professor of Urology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and serves as the director of ambulatory care for the James Buchanan Brady Urological Institute as well as the regional director of community urology for Johns Hopkins. Dr. Matlaga has worked with Johns Hopkins Medicine International in a number of capacities, most recently with Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare.

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