Transdisciplinary approaches enhance the production of translational knowledge

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Abstract

The primary goal of translational research is to generate and apply knowledge that can improve human health. Although research conducted within the confines of a single discipline has helped us to achieve this goal in many settings, this unidisciplinary approach may not be optimal when disease causation is complex and health decisions are pressing. To address these issues, we suggest that transdisciplinary approaches can facilitate the progress of translational research, and we review publications that demonstrate what these approaches can look like. These examples serve to (1) demonstrate why transdisciplinary research is useful, and (2) stimulate a conversation about how it can be further promoted. While we note that open-minded communication is a prerequisite for germinating any transdisciplinary work and that epidemiologists can play a key role in promoting it, we do not propose a rigid protocol for conducting transdisciplinary research, as one really does not exist. These achievements were developed in settings where typical disciplinary and institutional barriers were surmountable, but they were not accomplished with a single predetermined plan. The benefits of cross-disciplinary communication are hard to predicta prioriand a detailed research protocol or process may impede the realization of novel and important insights. Overall, these examples demonstrate that enhanced cross-disciplinary information exchange can serve as a starting point that helps researchers frame better questions, integrate more relevant evidence, and advance translational knowledge more effectively. Specifically, we discuss examples where transdisciplinary approaches are helping us to better explore, assess, and intervene to improve human health.

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