"Bench Research". What is it?

Let me take a moment to explain the title of my blog - Bench to Clinical Research.  Thought this would be a felicitous first blog post!   The title came about as I wanted to share my experiences as I transitioned from Bench to Clinical Research. 

 

So, what is Bench Research? 

 

Simply put, bench research (also called "basic research" or "wet lab") is a form of research that is conducted in the laboratory with solutions, test tubes, cell cultures, pipettes, and so on.   Experiments conducted in this setting are also called in vitro studies. 

  This was me slaving away during my Summer 2010 PhD lab rotation.  I'm in the process of wrapping up my DNA agarose gel… I actually remember this night, it was a LONG night because of a failed PCR!

This was me slaving away during my Summer 2010 PhD lab rotation.  I'm in the process of wrapping up my DNA agarose gel… I actually remember this night, it was a LONG night because of a failed PCR!

Speaking of in vitro studies, bench research can also involve in vivo studies. These studies utilize living organisms to characterize and evaluate a test agent.  More on that later…

 

To make things clear, I'll share examples from my PhD program - without getting too technical!  My project was to make a chemically modified monoclonal antibody and characterize its properties using biochemical/immunological assays, and assess its efficacy of killing "immortalized" cancer cell lines which were cultured in petri dishes.  

 

 My doodle of an in vitro assay testing whether the modified antibody can kill cancer cells.

My doodle of an in vitro assay testing whether the modified antibody can kill cancer cells.

 

These are examples of in vitro studies since they were conducted at the bench with chemicals, solutions, pipettes, etc.  Once I was happy with my modified monoclonal antibody and had made enough of it, I used it to treat mice with lymphoma and assessed whether it could cure the mice of the cancer.  These are in vivo studies since now the test is not in petri dishes, but in living organisms, which in this case were mice with lymphoma. 

 This doodle is of an in vivo assay testing whether the modified antibody can treat mouse lymphoma. 

This doodle is of an in vivo assay testing whether the modified antibody can treat mouse lymphoma. 

 

How does this relate to Clinical Research?

 

 Good question!

 

Very simply put, bench research can encompass all the research that is done before clinical studies in human subjects.  So with regard to Clinical Research, bench research would be the "Pre-Clinical" Research, which is a prerequisite for any first-in-man studies.  Below is an extremely over-simplified doodle to explain. 

 

 Over-simplified doodle of the drug development process.

Over-simplified doodle of the drug development process.

So continuing with the example above, if the antibody shows statistically significant efficacy of treating mice with lymphoma, it could potentially be further developed in pre-clinical studies, and maybe even be selected as a lead molecule for clinical development.  This then brings us to the topic of the drug development process… which needs an entirely separate post!  

 

Leverage your skills!

 

With all this said, I was able to leverage my bench research experiences to getting my foot-in-the-door in clinical research - making the transition from bench to clinical research.  By no means was it an easy task.   I worked with many recruiters to get entry-level positions within Clinical Operations, but most of them completely discredited my experiences.  They actually tried to convince me to get another bench position!  Side story: I did actually cave in after months and months of tireless rejections (isn't this just the worst?!), and interviewed for a bench research position at a well-known/respected biotech company in South San Francisco, and actually turned down the offer!  At the time I thought it was the craziest thing I've ever done, but I knew I wanted to leave the bench and never look back!  

Sometimes it’s the bold and crazy moves that get you the furthest in life!

 

So how exactly I do it?... Stick around and you'll find out!

 

I know, I know; I hate cliffhangers too!  But this post was getting way too long and I don't want to bore you all!  I hope you found this to be useful and you are now clear of what bench research is and how it ultimately ties into clinical research.  I also hope you got a sense of my story and want to stick around for more!  I touched briefly upon other topics that I could see as separate posts, so feel free to leave a comment and let me know if you'd like me to dive in deeper.

 

See you in the next blog where we'll continue my story of how I transitioned from bench to clinical research!

 

Cheers~

Jenny