As we finalise and submit our NHMRC rebuttals for the 2013 project grant submissions, many of us are now turning our attention to what we will be submitting for the 2014 project grant round. I am sure many people have already been thinking and planning for next year’s grant submissions – getting papers submitted, pulling together preliminary data, continuing with this year’s experiments, and planning new hypotheses, protocols and research teams.
As we work through these annual rituals, I think there are subtle changes in the evolution of our thoughts and priorities compared to several years ago. As we develop our research questions I think many of us start thinking about our research teams earlier, and what novel approaches we will develop to answer these questions. We are moving beyond silos, and single groups tackling these questions. Instead we find ourselves asking more often how else can we answer this? Who can help us test our hypotheses? How can we best move ahead knowledge, understanding, and the ever talked about research translation?
There are a number of fashionable words thrown about: interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, transdisciplinary. We hear these words used frequently, often interchangeably, and I think sometimes without a full understanding of the exact meaning of each. I know I have been guilty of this, until recently I was provided with some clear definitions of these words. The word which rang loudest with my neurons was transdisciplinary. Essentially, this terms applies to ‘research undertaken by investigators from different disciplines working together to create new conceptual, theoretical, methodological, and translational innovations that integrate and move beyond discipline-specific approaches to address a common problem’.
With greater understanding of this term has come some clarity as to how I may approach research questions and consequently study design using a transdisciplinary approach. I am sure I can hear many people crying out, and saying that this is just the latest fad, that not all research can be transdisciplinary, and a stream of questions, for example how to bring together transdisciplinary teams; which ’experts’ will review transdisciplinary grants; and are there really any benefits to this type of collaboration – is the time form bench to bedside shorter with transdiciplinary research teams tackling a problem?
I agree that not all research can be, or should be transdisciplinary, but I don’t think we should sell it short simply because we are not currently doing it or see a challenge in starting to do it. In fact, I dare say many of us are participating in transdisciplinary research without fully realising it. Have you got consumer input into your research? Are you using technology to conduct your experiments? Have you developed novel statistics to analyse your data? Are you collaborating with clinicians, researchers in related fields or different fields? Then you may already be engaged in transdiciplinary research, at least informally.
I believe the growing interest in transdiciplinary research aligns well with Australia’s health and medical research sector’s broad goals of delivering better health for Australia’s current and future generations. In 2014 the Australian Health and Medical Research Congress, to be held in Melbourne, will highlight how transdisciplinary research is contributing to the study and management of Chronic Disease in Australia. In addition, I think we all saw some elegant examples of transdiciplinary research during ASMR Medical Research Week® this year during Professor Anna Wirz-Justice’s presentations at the Gala Dinners. She spoke about how basic research findings led to recognition of medical conditions, diagnostic criteria for these disorders and subsequent treatments and interventions to slow the rate of symptom progression. Along the way this research included basic researchers, clinical researchers, clinicians, patients/consumers, architects and industry partners.
We are working in an exciting sector, which is always evolving to best answer the health needs of Australia’s and the world’s populations. By working in health and medical research we have all made a commitment to research excellence, and a personal investment in our research. We all need to continue investing our time, enthusiasm, imaginations and trust in our sector.
We know that breakthroughs in research do not come from single researchers working alone. We need to continue to invest in building dynamic, transdisciplinary research teams and collaborations to develop new approaches and achieve new goals in our research. We need to encourage researchers from different disciplines, both within the traditional health and medical research areas, and also from less traditional disciplines, such as physics, engineering and computer systems, as well as consumers and industry partners, to come together to tackle health questions from multiple angles, and push the boundaries of scientific enquiry and discovery.
Now is the time for us all to invest in health and medical research. The return on these investments will be numerous and multifaceted – new research discoveries and application and translation of these research findings; improved health and well being for the current and future generations of Australians; and a strong, and internationally recognised health and medical research sector we will be proud of, and proud to be a part of.