Dr. Daniel V.T. Catenacci, MD, Explains: What Is Translational Medicine?


Enormous advances in the treatment of cancer have been made in recent years. Oncologist Daniel Catenacci MD explains that the progress in oncology is due to translational medicine.

What Is Translational Medicine?

Translational medicine combines the skills and insights of laboratory researchers, pharmacologists, and physicians to bring advances in treatment to patients faster.

Translational medicine is often described as bench-to-bedside. Well-informed physicians choose and administer the latest drugs and therapies that show proven potential to help their patients. It is also often described as bedside-to-bench. Practicing oncologists stay in close communication with researchers and pharmacologists to pose new questions for science to answer for the benefit of patients in the future.

Translational Medicine Has Transformed Cancer Treatment, Oncologist Daniel Catenacci MD Says

Some of the products of translational medicine available for treating cancer in the 2020s include targeted therapies, immunotherapy, personalized anticancer vaccines, and precision medicine.

Targeted therapies use specific molecules to interrupt metabolic pathways unique and essential to the cancer cell. They spare healthy cells, and force cancer cells to become quiescent and senescent so they soon die. Examples of these drugs include the BRAF-targeted drugs for melanoma and the BRCA-targeted drugs for certain kinds of breast cancer.

Immunotherapy stimulates the patient’s immune system to fight cancer. One of the most exciting examples of cancer immunotherapy is chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, more commonly known as CAR-T therapy. In this technique, the patient donates T-cells to be genetically modified and multiplied in the lab. The cells are genetically reprogrammed with receptors that recognize the patient’s specific cancers. They multiply in the lab, and are then given back to the patient through an IV, along with a mild chemo treatment. Often, remission from certain kinds of lymphoma is achieved with just one treatment.

Personalized vaccines are individually tailored vaccines for treating an individual patient’s cancer. These vaccines are prepared to match antigens on the surface of cancer cells. They train the patient’s immune system to recognize these antigens and destroy cancer. The immune system “remembers” these antigens and can create new white blood cells to attack the cancer when it recurs,

Precision medicine takes the patient’s genetics into account when choosing cancer therapies. Not everyone reacts to medications the same way. Analyzing the patient’s genome gives the oncologist additional options for treating cancer for the greatest chances of survival and remission.

Who Is Daniel Catenacci MD?

Dr. Daniel Catenacci is past director of the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at the University of Chicago Hospitals. Dr. Catenacci received a K23 career development grant from the National Cancer Institute, and was awarded the National Cancer Institute’s Clinical Investigator Team Leadership Award in 2021. A major focus of his research has been quantifying differences in genetic markers in gastrointestinal tumors in different individuals. Dr. Cateinacci currently works as a consulting oncologist in Chicago.


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