Recently elected Member of Academia Europaea, Professor Peter Hegyi, provides an insight into the importance of Translational Medicine and tells us what he hopes to accomplish through his Frontiers in Translational Medicine Workshop which will be held at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, Hungary in September 2019.
Peter, you are Director of the Centre for Translational Medicine at the University of Pécs. Could you give us some insight on what translational medicine is and what is the role of the Centre?
Translational medicine (TM) is an enterprise aimed at speeding up the transition of scientific knowledge to community health benefits. TM is the 21st century breakthrough for improving prevention, diagnostics, quality of patient care, and cost-effectiveness of the entire healthcare system.
Questions emerge initially by the bedside. Then one or a combination of different areas of science should be able to find the answers and develop them into systematic knowledge and evidence-based guidelines.
Finally, this knowledge should be communicated to patients, healthcare professionals, medical students, insurance companies, industrial partners and economic and political decisionmakers. The whole cycle of TM ensures the effective utilisation of research results for the benefit of the patients.
We founded the University of Pécs Centre for Translational Medicine on 1st January 2016. It rests on three main pillars: the Institute for Translational Medicine (responsible for basic science); the Department of Translational Medicine within the First Department of Internal Medicine (responsible for clinical science); and the Interdisciplinary Research Group (responsible for facilitating all parts of TM). This latter pillar is a unique unit. It provides interdisciplinary support for all members of TM to develop translational research programmes. It contains IT specialists, biostatisticians, data managers, patient coordinators, medical support teams, media coordinators and health economics coordinators. I must say that we have been quite successful in the last three years. We have started several translational projects in gastroenterology, cardiology, neurology and endocrinology.
Could you tell us more about your latest research?
The major aim of our research team is to understand the development of acute pancreatitis (AP), and very importantly to find a specific treatment in this life-threatening disease. We must highlight that the mortality of severe AP is approximately 30–40%, which is unacceptably high. One of our translational projects challenges the bioenergetics of the pancreas. It has been shown that one of the earliest events in acute pancreatitis is mitochondrial damage which is followed by ATP depletion in pancreatic ductal and acinar cells driving the cells to death causing pancreatic necrosis. Very importantly, restoration of ATP levels in both cell types prevents cell death and at least partially restores their function. Our hypothesis is that early energy supplementation in patients will prevent the cells from death or decrease the size of necrosis if it occurs. Theoretically this will decrease the systemic immune response that will result in a lower frequency of multiorgan failure and mortality. Therefore, with the help of our interdisciplinary unit we organised a randomised, double-blind prospective multicentre clinic trial (GOULASH trial) to test our hypothesis. Currently more than 300 trial patients have been recruited. Besides this project we are running other trials on pancreatitis in the hope of saving patient lives.
You are currently working on the project ‘Consensus definitions, statements and guidelines in Translational Medicine’, supported by Academia Europaea with the Hubert Curien Initiatives Fund. What can be expected from the project? What will be its contribution to the European landscape?
The main aim of the project is to identify the problems and challenges in TM and suggest recommendations which can facilitate improvements in the field. Some of the major challenges faced at the moment are:
- Little communication between participants in TM, such as physicians, basic scientists, pharmaceutical companies, clinical scientists, economic and political decisionmakers, and communities including patients;
- Some areas of research are overrepresented and over supported, whereas others receive insufficient funding and opportunities to develop, thus also hampering the transition process;
- Academies and universities handle the importance of publications from the different phases unequally and controversially;
- Interdisciplinary units, including professionals in medicine, informatics, and biostatistics, health economists, and data and ethical managers, are rarely established in TM centre;
- Finally, there are no complex educational materials in TM.
You became a member of Academia Europaea very recently. What does being part of Academia Europaea mean for you?
Networking, brain storming, discussion, opportunities, quality and friendship. These are the main words to describe what AE means to me.
The above-mentioned Consensus definitions, statements and guidelines in Translational Medicine project is one of the best examples of that. During last year’s AE Annual General Meeting in Barcelona, I highlighted the necessity of our project. AE supported it almost immediately resulting in several discussions and web conferences concerning TM over the last six months. Many scientists have since formed work packages and people who had never met before came together to make improvements in the field.
1st July 2019. For further information please contact Juliet Davies, Executive Officer firstname.lastname@example.org
Read our series of interviews with Members of Academia Europaea connected with the Cardiff Knowledge Hub. Our members share their career highlights and their views on key issues in research.