MSc in translational medicine
Authors: Tim Wilkinson
Publication date: 23 Nov 2012
What is it?
Translational medicine is a discipline that aims to maximise the application of knowledge gained in the basic sciences to patient care—commonly known as the “bench to bedside” approach. The MSc in translational medicine is run by the University of Edinburgh and is delivered as a part time distance e-learning programme. The course was designed by a multidisciplinary team of doctors and scientists, is chaired by Brian Walker (professor of endocrinology), and is directed by Douglas Roy (senior research fellow).
Who is it for?
This course is aimed at doctors of all grades, particularly those with an interest in research and drug development. The course is multidisciplinary and attracts students from basic science, veterinary, and pharmaceutical backgrounds from around the world.
When did you do it?
I began the course as a foundation year 1 doctor and am currently in the third year.
Why did you do it?
I had heard that the translational approach to drug development is being adopted increasingly by universities, research institutions, and government bodies in an attempt to increase the number of novel drugs reaching the market and therefore becoming available to doctors and patients. I thought that gaining an insight into this might be interesting as well as helpful for job applications later. As I intend to pursue a career in academic medicine, I believed that a background in translational medicine would be useful, particularly as doctors, with their access to patients, are an integral part of the process.
How is it structured?
The translational medicine course is a three year, part time course delivered entirely online, and students can choose to do one year (certificate), two years (diploma), or three years (MSc). Each phase of the course takes about nine months to complete, with phases running from October to the beginning of July.
The first year comprises six courses, each of which contains five modules of one week’s duration. The second year has four compulsory courses, also consisting of five one week modules. Each module contains various lecture materials and background reading. Students can also take elective courses in the second year by temporarily joining other distance learning programmes run by the university.
The third year consists only of a dissertation project. The remit for this project is broad: it could be a write-up of a research project, meta-analysis, systematic review, or a grant application.
The course gives a good grounding in all aspects of the drug development process, allowing you to brush up on the basic science underpinning drug discovery, and introduces you to aspects of the process that, as a clinician, you may be unfamiliar with (such as drug regulation and law). Module topics include themes such as genetics, stem cells, imaging techniques, clinical trial design, biomarkers, systems biology, ethical challenges, and patent law. As a doctor I found the clinical topics the most interesting and relevant; these included looking at imaging modalities in research and the different theories behind clinical trial design.
The group practical elements of the course entail working with other students from a range of backgrounds entirely online. For each course the group produces an essay between them that will ultimately constitute a chapter in a final collective thesis. In the second year, for example, each group produces a detailed outline for the development of a new drug, starting with the underpinning basic science (the “bench”) and on to clinical trials and marketing (the “bedside”). The main communication between students and staff occurs in discussion forums, which work well because they allow students to reply to comments in their own time.
How much effort did it involve?
The amount of time required varies across modules and depends on the student’s experience of each topic, but the time commitment is generally around 10-15 hours a week.
How is it assessed?
For the certificate and diploma phases each module has two short (500-600 words) individual assignments and one piece of group work. Your contribution to the discussion forums is also assessed. There is no exam.
How much does it cost?
Tuition fees are £3585 a year.
Was it worth it?
I found this course worth while. The distance learning process works well because the website and course resources are of a high standard, and the strong emphasis on discussion forums allows easy communication between students and to staff. The flexibility inherent in distance learning makes it possible to fit in studying alongside work. At first the group work was daunting, but as the team soon learnt to work to each member’s strengths it became enjoyable. This course has given me a new insight into drug development and the difficulties in getting new drugs to market.
On the downside, fitting the workload into a busy clinical schedule can be a challenge, particularly if a set of night shifts falls close to a deadline. However, the course organisers are approachable and accommodating and will listen to requests for a deadline extension if work commitments are making it difficult to complete coursework.
The University of Edinburgh is one of the few places that provide a masters qualification in translational medicine through part time distance learning. Given the university’s commitment to translational research and to distance learning, the institution is a good choice for delivering an excellent insight into this evolving discipline.
Would you recommend it?
I would recommend this course to any trainees with an interest in research, particularly those interested in the processes behind drug development.
The Scottish Translational Medicine and Therapeutics Initiative offers competitive bursaries to doctors that fund the tuition fees for the first year of the course.
For further information visit the course website (www.transmed.ed.ac.uk) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Competing interests: None declared.
Tim Wilkinson core medical trainee year 1
Western General Hospital, NHS Lothian, Edinburgh, UK
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