This paper reflects on the relationship between theory and practice in bioethics, by using various concepts drawn from debates on innovation in healthcare research--in particular debates around how best to connect up blue skies 'basic' research with practical innovations that can improve human lives. It argues that it is a mistake to assume that the most difficult and important questions in bioethics are the most abstract ones, and also a mistake to assume that getting clear about abstract cases will automatically be of much help in getting clear about more complex cases. It replaces this implicitly linear model with a more complex one that draws on the idea of translational research in healthcare. On the translational model, there is a continuum of cases from the most simple and abstract (thought experiments) to the most concrete and complex (real world cases). Insights need to travel in both directions along this continuum--from the more abstract to the more concrete and from the more concrete to the more abstract. The paper maps out some difficulties in moving from simpler to more complex cases, and in doing so makes recommendations about the future of bioethics.