Background: Scientists and experts in science policy have become increasingly interested in strengthening translational research. Efforts to understand the nature of translational research and monitor policy interventions face an obstacle: how can translational research be defined in order to facilitate analysis of it? We describe methods of scientometric analysis that can do this.
Methods: We downloaded bibliographic and citation data from all articles published in 2009 in the 75 leading journals in cancer and in cardiovascular medicine (roughly 15,000 articles for each field). We calculated citation relationships between journals and between articles and we extracted the most prevalent natural language concepts.
Results: Network analysis and mapping revealed polarization between basic and clinical research, but with translational links between these poles. The structure of the translational research in cancer and cardiac medicine is, however, quite different. In the cancer literature the translational interface is composed of different techniques (e.g., gene expression analysis) that are used across the various subspecialties (e.g., specific tumor types) within cancer research and medicine. In the cardiac literature, the clinical problems are more disparate (i.e., from congenital anomalies to coronary artery disease); although no distinctive translational interface links these fields, translational research does occur in certain subdomains, especially in research on atherosclerosis and hypertension.
Conclusions: These techniques can be used to monitor the continuing evolution of translational research in medicine and the impact of interventions designed to enhance it.