Abstract

Separated both in academics and practice since the Rockefeller Foundation effort to “liberate” public health from perceived subservience to clinical medicine a century ago, research in public health and clinical medicine have evolved separately. Today, translational research in population health science offers a means of fostering their convergence, with potentially great benefit to both domains. Although evidence that the two fields need not and should not be entirely distinct in their methods and goals has been accumulating for over a decade, the prodigious efforts of biomedical and social sciences over the past year to address the COVID-19 pandemic has placed this unifying approach to translational research in both fields in a new light. Specifically, the coalescence of clinical and population-level strategies to control disease and novel uses of population-level data and tools in research relating to the pandemic have illuminated a promising future for translational research.We exploit this unique window to re-examine how translational research is conducted and where it may be going. We first discuss the transformation that has transpired in the research firmament over the past two decades and the opportunities these changes afford. Next, we present some of the challenges—technical, cultural, legal, and ethical— that need attention if these opportunities are to be successfully exploited. Finally, we present some recommendations for addressing these challenges.

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