There have been numerous exhortations for more ‘translational research’. A selective review of historical examples of research leading to health benefits is used to consider the various forms of successful interplay between basic science and clinical applications. This is followed by a consideration of key neuroscience findings that might be relevant for translation, and then by a discussion of the challenges and opportunities in relation to mental disorders. The time-frame for the pathway from science findings to health benefits is usually long, and generally requires an interactive interplay among different scientific strategies. There is a false dichotomy between so-called basic and applied research and translation needs to proceed from the bedside to the laboratory as well as in the opposite direction. There is a key need for bridging research of the hypothesis-testing experimental medicine variety. Health benefits may involve either public health considerations or the treatment of individual patients, or both. There are now some opportunities for direct translational research but there is a much greater need for hypothesis-based bridging studies that occupy a crucial mid-phase in the pathway from science findings to health benefits.