The Karolinska Institute (KI) Cancer Retreat is an annual meeting for researchers who focuses on the problem of cancer. Usually, molecular biologists drive the event, due to the growing power that this type of research have had within the field of cancer for years, at least at KI. The fact that KI Cancer Retreat lacks scientists and operators outside molecular biology has always been a problem: these meetings turned out to be family reunion of researchers that conduct most of their work on the laboratory bench. In recent years, the wise administration of KI Cancer Network promoted a more interdisciplinary events, with national and international experts that come and talk about their successful story of translational research.

Last year, at the KI Cancer Retreat, I met representatives of the Care Science unit and Nursing school of KI. This was an astonishing effort to broader the audience view: these people gave talks about the kind of research they do with terminal cancer patients, about the pain and the physiological frustrations that those people have to face daily due to the disease.

I though these scientists were brave for two reasons: first they deal with cancer patients every day, unlike me that in spite the fact that I do study cancer, I’ve barely met cancer patients in my entire life. Second, because they faced a very different audience to the one they are used to, to deliver their message and share the value of their work.

After last year retreat, I took that experience with me, and along with Carol Tishelman (professor of Care Science at KI) we decided to do something concrete to make interdisciplinary research in Karolinska easier. We recruited doctors, biologists, nurses and designers all interested in sharing their experience with patients.

graphic outcomes at one of the BtoB meeting this year at Karolinska Institutet

We got along a number of times, and since we were all from different fields, we named ourselves the “Bench to Bed” group. In this meetings we asked ourselves the question: how do we do better research? Or perhaps, how do we do just better the work we do daily, that orbits around cancer patients?

We realized that we were a bunch of experts that were individually trying to approach patients’ needs, rather then look at each other and share our knowledge for the benefit of the patient.

Why don’t we share more knowledge?

We identified are a number of barriers between a scientist and such goal, and one of them is communication. Experts from different fields are like men on two side of a cleft that don’t even speak the same language. And because of this, outreaching is often a failure. We have an hypothesis: better communication among scientists can facilitate interdisciplinary research, with the consequence of increasing the quality and the impact of our research.

To prove this concept, we asked three scientists to deliver their message at the KI Cancer Retreat in 6 minutes, with 20 slides. This format has been literally stolen from the artists and designers that often need to convey their message to people totally stranger to their work.

You can see the intro of the KI Cancer Retreat BtoB session here:

As a note, if you think 6 minutes is an abuse to your science, think about the researchers that meet in Berlin every year at the falling wall conference, where they are given 3 minutes to show their results. This conference is attended every year by Angela Merkel.

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