At the intersection of basic science and clinical medicine is translational research. Translational research includes aspects of both disciplines and encompasses a variety of research projects, with the aim of understanding and developing treatments for disease. This specialized field requires specific skills that are not taught in traditional graduate and medical school education. Although there are many training opportunities for physicians who are interested in translational research, early-career scientists have limited training options in this field.

A group of translational cancer researchers at the MD Anderson Cancer Center recognized this disparity and, in response, they designed the TRIUMPH (Translational Research In Multi-Disciplinary Program) program, which welcomed its first class of fellows in Fall 2008. TRIUMPH’s goal is to prepare basic scientists for a career in translational cancer research. The program supplements traditional postdoctoral research with clinical and translational education, clinical experience and mentoring. TRIUMPH is one of the only translational research postdoctoral programs in the USA and many aspects of this particular program are unique. One such aspect begins even before day one: rather than joining a specific lab, fellows arrive at MD Anderson before choosing a research laboratory. The first few weeks are spent in interviews with MD Anderson faculty involved with the program. Currently, about 30 researchers are affiliated with TRIUMPH and they represent a broad spectrum of research interests, laboratory environments and mentoring styles. Although it can be disconcerting to relocate for a postdoctoral position without knowing which lab you will be working in, the initial interview process allows the new fellow to explore the diversity of research at the MD Anderson Cancer Center and find the right laboratory to match his or her interests. The interviews also allow the fellow to meet many great researchers who could become future collaborators or mentors as their career progresses.

Another unique aspect of the TRIUMPH program is its curriculum. Fellows take five courses in topics relevant to translational research, such as medical school histology, and clinical trial design and management. These courses are not a part of most graduate school education and are rarely available to postdoctoral fellows, however, in TRIUMPH they will serve as an introduction to clinical language and clinical perspectives on research. Since the fellow’s future career relies heavily on effective communication with clinicians, these courses will prove valuable during future discussions and collaborations with clinicians.

Clinical rotations are an additional part of the TRIUMPH curriculum. Each fellow participates in five clinical rotations that are tailored to personal interests but include rotations in radiation oncology, pediatrics, surgical oncology, medical oncology and investigational cancer therapeutics. During these 2-month rotations, the fellow is exposed to all aspects of cancer care, including presentation and diagnosis in the clinic, discussion of treatment options, effects of treatment and development of therapeutics. This experience is intended to present the entirety of the disease and the diversity of the unmet clinical needs that can be addressed by translational research. These rotations, completed during the second year of the program, also serve as an opportunity for the fellow to interact with clinicians and learn specific characteristics about each tumor type. For example, breast cancer and lung cancer are dramatically different diseases from presentation to treatment, and these clinical differences should influence how each disease is studied in the laboratory.

In many postdoctoral fellowships, there is no formal mentoring program and finding guidance is the sole responsibility of the fellow. However, mentoring is an important aspect of TRIUMPH. The program provides a formal committee structure with several mentors besides the primary research mentor. This mentoring committee is analogous to a graduate student’s thesis committee, following the fellow’s progress and providing assistance as necessary. Members of the TRIUMPH executive committee also provide a resource for mentorship and may remain as active participants in the fellowship experience.

The TRIUMPH program is also a 3-year postdoctoral research fellowship, generously funded by GlaxoSmithKline. Fellows are expected to develop a translational-focused research project and publish their findings in high-quality journals. The MD Anderson Cancer Center is both a top-tier cancer hospital and a leading cancer research center, creating an ideal setting for training in translational research.

Overall, TRIUMPH is a new and unique postdoctoral program that fills a void in the available training opportunities for translational cancer research. It provides specialized training and mentoring that are usually not available to postdoctoral researchers. The program is focused on many aspects of translational research and is located at one of the top translational research institutions in the USA. Although the TRIUMPH program is still young, we are confident that it will prove successful and serve as a model for additional programs throughout the world.

Additional information about the TRIUMPH program is available at: