The Use of Machine Translation in Life Sciences

Published on November 13th, 2023

machine translation in life sciences

Machine translation (MT) is playing a larger role in language services across all industries. Some sectors are more demanding than others though, and the life sciences field is about as demanding as it gets. So, while machine translation is forever advancing, how much of a role can it really play in a sector like life sciences, where quality demands are at their highest?

The challenges of life sciences translation

Health is equally important to everyone, regardless of where people live or what languages they speak. Despite this, language barriers are one of the biggest impediments for life sciences organisations striving to help people live longer, healthier lives.

As an industry driving some of the most ground-breaking medical research and manufacturing, the stakes couldn’t be any higher. This is compounded by the challenges of translating the technical language involved in projects like clinical trials and pharmaceutical development.

One translation mistake can have serious implications. For instance, miscommunications concerning side effects of a new drug can have serious implications to a person’s health and life and therefore affect brand reputation and status too.

The life sciences industry can’t do with the implications of translation errors and their impediment to the development of life-saving medicines, machines, research or discoveries. In the same way, it can’t allow for language barriers to prevent medical professionals from delivering the best services they possibly can.

As such, the quality demands for life sciences translation couldn’t be any higher: there is no room for error.

How does machine translation play a role in life sciences?

If the life science industry has such strict quality requirements, how can it trust machine translation to deliver results? Well, the short answer is it only partially relies on the technology. More specifically, human language experts who specialise in the field of life sciences use machine translation to automate text the earliest stages of translation.

All output from machine translation is, then, reviewed and edited by life science translation specialists – a process called post-editing. This ensures that all machine-translated content meets the same quality criteria as output translated and approved by human language experts. This is an essential part of the Quality Assurance process in life sciences translation.

In terms of specific roles, machine translation is most-commonly used for the following tasks in the life sciences sector:

  • Medical document translation: Translating medical documents, such as patient reports, test results, prescriptions, etc.
  • Pharmaceutical translation: A broad range of translation services specific to pharmaceuticals, including packaging, labels, instructions, side effects, case reports, etc.
  • Medical device translation: Primarily deals with documentation for medical devices, handling things like packaging, user manuals, safety warnings, etc.
  • Clinical trials translation: Handles documentation for every stage of planning, running and analysing the clinical trial of drugs.
  • Medical research translation: Extensive translation support for medical research programs, often carried out by medical professionals from around the world – essential in aiding the global response to Covid-19.

In automating the earliest stages of translation with MT, we’re able to complete tasks significantly faster and produce much higher volumes for clients. Meanwhile, Quality Assurance (including human post-editing) ensures that the same level of quality is delivered in a faster timeframe. This is particularly important for new and growing life sciences organisations that need the most efficient translation system possible, whether they want to maximise output or minimise wasted budget.

AI translation brings new solutions, problems to life sciences

Artificial intelligence (AI) is powering the biggest advances in machine translation. Generative AI has dominated the headlines in recent years and this particular technology brings new tools to the translation industry. However, it is vital that anyone using generative AI for translation understands both its capabilities and limitations.

At translate plus, we use generative AI  for a specific set of tasks, projects and content delivery, if requested and agreed upon with our clients. When used properly, this technology can help deliver impressive results even faster. However, it is not something we would normally use for any typical life sciences purposes.

Beyond generative AI, artificial intelligence has plenty to offer life sciences translation. One of its most important implementations is MT quality estimation – or machine translation quality estimation (MTQE).

MTQE essentially draws from AI to predict the quality machine translation will produce before the start of a project. It essentially analyses the content handled and the requirements of the projects to calculate the quality that is expected from machine translation tools. It can also identify the most likely issues to arise on the project before it starts.

This helps with the more accurate planning of machine translation projects – firstly, by calculating how much of the workload machine translation can reasonably handle. From there, what comes next is the calculation of how long a project will take, how much post-editing is required, how many language experts will be required on the project and how much the project will cost.

Using machine translation to save lives

Machine translation is helping the life sciences industry save lives by making translation and localisation more efficient.

To discuss how machine translation can play a bigger role within your Life Sciences or Healthcare company, please complete the form on our contact page and one of our MT Consultants will get back to you.

Posted on: November 13th, 2023