What is translation?

13 July 2023

Researchers discussing results over a laptop

From labs to policy and practice, Professor Rosemary Purcell explains the role – and challenges - of research translation in delivering health care. Prof Purcell is Chief of Knowledge Translation at Orygen and co-Lead for the Australian Eating Disorders Research and Translation Centre.

Research translation is basically the process of moving research ideas from labs to policy and practice.  It’s about bridging the gap between knowledge gained through research and its application. Translation also enables the services and the people who receive care to be involved in shaping new research that reflects the needs and realities of service providers and users.

According to Professor Rosemary Purcell, Chief of Knowledge Translation at Orygen and Translation Co-Lead for the Australian Eating Disorders Research and Translation Centre, research translation can mean different things to different groups around the world.

“To me, research translation is a continuous cycle where all key stakeholders – researchers, clinical/service providers and people with lived/living experience – identify key research questions to examine before the research is conducted. Once it is conducted, the findings are interpreted and ‘translated’ by the key stakeholders to build those results into clinical practices, or to re-think practices, and to guide new research."

“It’s a collaborative and iterative process to build, refine or reform evidence-based practices in clinical care or service provision,” said Prof. Purcell.

Why is it so important?

According to Prof Purcell, research translation allows clinical and other services to continually update their practices to ensure that they’re using the best possible evidence, rather than using ineffective or out of date approaches.

“Research translation is important because we invest a lot of time and resources into novel research studies, and it’s crucial that ‘end users’ - clients/patients, clinicians, the general public - ultimately benefit from the knowledge generated through that research.”

“We’ve all recently seen the benefits of ‘research translation’ with the rapid advances in developing mRNA vaccines for COVID-19, for example, and their widespread implementation in Australia."

What are the challenges?

Translation is not without certain challenges, particularly around having the right skills and time to engage in the process - something the Centre is working to ensure early career researchers can acquire.

“I think one of the biggest challenges is that “research” and “translation” involve different skills. Not all great researchers have the skills, training, or time to think about how their results are applied in practice, or how to engage the knowledge and experiences of clinicians and service users in developing their research ideas, so building the capacity of our early career researchers to be experts in translation is a focus of our AEDRTC Translation workstream,” said Professor Purcell.

“The other issue is that genuine research translation takes time and money and it’s almost never funded in research grants, so researchers often must ‘move on’ to developing the next research grant and study, rather than focus on how their current research can be applied.”

“In practice, good translation needs a plan and a passionate multidisciplinary team to embed evidence into practice, or to make other changes based on research findings.”

The AEDRTC approach to translation

Translation at the AEDRTC focuses on building key skills within the research workforce and engaging people with experience and passion for preventing and improving opportunities for early intervention for people with eating disorders and their carers.

“I’m excited about working with so many passionate people who care deeply about improving how we prevent eating disorders and intervene earlier to better support people living with eating disorders and their families and carers,” said Professor Purcell.

“Passion shouldn’t be overlooked as a key ingredient in major healthcare shifts and reforms. Research is critical to achieving these goals, but it’s also critical to have plans (and people) in place from the outset to guide how the findings are translated. I feel the AEDRTC has that structure and focus, which is exciting."


Research can transform people's lives.

The Australian Eating Disorders Research and Translation Centre is supported by funding from the Australian Government under the National Leadership in Mental Health program.

Lead Agency, InsideOut Institute for Eating Disorders, is a joint venture between the Sydney Local Health District and the University of Sydney