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June 6, 2011

Translational Epidemiology in Psychiatry: Linking Population to Clinical and Basic Sciences

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (Drs Weissman, Brown, and Talati); Division of Epidemiology, New York State Psychiatric Institute (Drs Weissman, Brown, and Talati); and Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University (Drs Weissman and Brown).

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011;68(6):600-608. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.47

Translational research generally refers to the application of knowledge generated by advances in basic sciences research translated into new approaches for diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of disease. This direction is called bench-to-bedside. Psychiatry has similarly emphasized the basic sciences as the starting point of translational research. This article introduces the term translational epidemiology for psychiatry research as a bidirectional concept in which the knowledge generated from the bedside or the population can also be translated to the benches of laboratory science. Epidemiologic studies are primarily observational but can generate representative samples, novel designs, and hypotheses that can be translated into more tractable experimental approaches in the clinical and basic sciences. This bedside-to-bench concept has not been explicated in psychiatry, although there are an increasing number of examples in the research literature. This article describes selected epidemiologic designs, providing examples and opportunities for translational research from community surveys and prospective, birth cohort, and family-based designs. Rapid developments in informatics, emphases on large sample collection for genetic and biomarker studies, and interest in personalized medicine—which requires information on relative and absolute risk factors—make this topic timely. The approach described has implications for providing fresh metaphors to communicate complex issues in interdisciplinary collaborations and for training in epidemiology and other sciences in psychiatry.

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