Travel award reports
Dr Peter Wright
Scientific Sessions of American Heart Association 2017
I am deeply grateful to the NHLI for funding my attendance at the Scientific Sessions of American Heart Association this year. The conference took place at the Anaheim convention centre and was attended by nearly 18,000 clinicians and scientists from over 100 different countries. The sessions comprise poster and oral sessions. There are also a multitude of demonstrations and a vast technology exposition with delegations from many global scientific equipment and pharmaceutical manufacturers.
My research is focused on the effects of mechanical load upon cardiomyocyte membrane signalling microdomains. Mechanical unloading is now a significant therapeutic route for patients with heart failure. I attended this conference specifically to present my new data to the widest audience possible. The US cardiovascular science community generally show up at this meeting en masse so it represents a great networking opportunity. I presented a poster entitled ‘Mechanical Unloading Suppresses Localized Beta-2 Adrenoceptor and L-type Calcium Channel Function in Healthy and Failing Cardiomyocytes‘ in the Cardiac, Development, Structure and Function session. I was also co-author on another poster presented by a clinical visitor whose project I supervised. During the conference I was able to meet with various collaborators of my research group including Professor Tim Kamp (University of Wisconsin-Madison) with whom we are submitting a paper for publication.
I attended many illuminating sessions on novel science regarding various forms of heart failure. I heard new findings about microRNAs and their role in cardiomyocyte differentiation. There were also symposia concerning new types of left ventricular assist devices (LVAD) and their employment in the clinic. The SS of the AHA is a great conference to attend if you have a clinical background but also if you are from a basic science background and would like to find out about the current trends in cardiovascular science. After all with our focus on translational science as an institute this could be considered to be an effective market research exercise. As an example, globally, clinical researchers appear to have changed their minds regarding the clinical outcome of sufferers of takotsubo cardiomyopathy. This is a relatively rare form of acute heart failure. When I began my career it was believed to be reversible with little morbidity and mortality, however it is now recognised as a disorder with severe ramifications for the patient's quality of life and a poor general prognosis. It was interesting to see this synthesised and echoed by groups from the US, Japan and Australia. For researchers interested in this disorder this also changes the trajectory of their research somewhat.
Attending this conference was made possible by the NHLI postdoctoral travel grant as I am currently working on a contract extension awaiting my next career move and as a result had no other funds to support me.
Annual Congress of the European Respiratory Society (ERS)
I am extremely grateful to the NHLI for their award of a travel grant which allowed me to attend this year’s ERS meeting in Milan. As on previous occasions (I attended the ERS in both 2015 and 2016), I found the meeting to be extremely informative and pertinent to my current area of research. At this year’s congress I presented a part of my PhD work on the epidemiology of cardiovascular disease comorbidities in COPD in a poster discussion session; I received kind words of support for this work from both chairs and enjoyed the open discussion of both my work and that of fellow presenters that took place during the session.
While I enjoyed and learnt much from the mix of sessions I attended over the course of meeting, there were two (The Latest Gold update; and COPD and Comorbid Vascular Diseases) that made a more lasting impression and served to cement my current understanding and thinking about COPD as a disease. While I have only been engaged in COPD research since the start of my PhD, it is becoming increasingly apparent that even in this short time frame perceptions about this disease are changing. Traditionally viewed as a self-inflicted disease caused by smoking that is characterised by a rapid decline in lung function decline with age, COPD is increasingly being seen as the pulmonary component of a complex multi-organ pathological process that occurs in genetically-susceptible individuals exposed to a lifetime of stressors as they age.
This broader view of COPD places more emphasis on other potential causes of COPD, in particular, exposures to lung irritants in early life (e.g. from maternal smoking and air pollution). It also implies that there may well be a distinct group of individuals who develop COPD in late middle age, not as a result of rapid lung function decline (as previously assumed), but as a result of a more modest rate of decline in lung function – but because they started from a lower baseline, that is to say, a relatively low maximally-attained adult lung function – their albeit slower mid-life lung function loss still brings them to the same place, namely a diagnosis of COPD.
This alternative “path” to COPD was first proposed in a paper published in 2015. It was repeatedly referred to at ERS, in a variety of sessions, and appears to be informing many aspects of current COPD research. It is of interest to my research because it provides the basis for thinking differently about the relationship between COPD and comorbid cardiovascular disease. Until very recently considerable attention, and research effort, was devoted to understanding the part played by lung and systemic inflammation as a pathobiology mechanism that links cardiac and pulmonary disease. This hypothesis implies that COPD plays a causal role in the development of cardiovascular disease. For some individuals this very probably is the case. However, there is likely another group of individuals in whom the factors which contribute to their low adult lung function (e.g. low birth weight and early life environmental exposures) may very well also be contributing to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease in middle age. These individuals will develop both diseases concurrently.
What I took from this year’s ERS is that there is still much to learn about the multiplicity of mechanisms that link COPD and its extrapulmonary manifestations. Much more still needs to be done in order to translate this understanding into clinical guidance for treating the increasingly common complex comorbid elderly patient. What is emerging from the current debate is that COPD is a disease of considerable complexity and heterogeneity, both at the clinical and biological level. Yet this complexity and heterogeneity are not reflected in the current treatment for COPD. COPD is still diagnosed and treated according to simple clinical measures rather than on the basis of the underlying mechanisms. New approaches to improving the effectiveness of treatments based on systems biology and network medicine, eloquently proposed by Alvar Agusti, seem to be the way forward and perhaps will help to raise the profile of the importance of lung disease, which for too long has been a rather poor cousin to heart disease.
Dr Sarah Dwyer
The American Thoracic Society (ATS) annual conference
Firstly I would like to thank the NHLI Foundation for supporting my attendance at The American Thoracic Society (ATS) annual conference in May 2017. This year’s ATS, held in Washington D.C., included poster sessions and presentations on approximately 6,700 abstracts and case reports over the course of 5 days, with more than 16,000 Clinicians and researchers in attendance.
The focus of my research is the genetics and transcriptomics of asthma, which is perfectly suited to the conference program that included topics such as paediatric and adult pulmonary disease, allergy research, as well as methodology topics relevant to current and future projects such as RNA-Seq and single cell sequencing.
During the course of the conference I attended a number of excellent forums, including a symposium reviewing the evidence for and against early environment allergen exposure preventing asthma, and a session discussing the many uses of the excellent open access web based resource LungMAP. There were also a number of outstanding posters displayed including those presented during my rapid poster discussion session entitled “Omics in Lung Disease”. My presentation for the session described a gene expression study of childhood asthma and atopy. During the session, each presenting author was required to describe the main findings of their study for a maximum of 90 seconds followed by viewing time and a discussion session that stimulated many interesting talking points amongst presenters and delegates.
As a part time member of staff with two young children, I am often unable to attend conferences due to my childcare responsibilities. I am very grateful to the NHLI foundation for awarding me the Postdoctoral Travel Award, which included funding to cover the costs of childcare that allowed me to present my data at an international level and attend presentations by leaders within my field of research.
Dr Sara Bonvini
Young Investigators Meeting (YIM) in Smooth Muscle and Fibroblast Biology, and American Thoracic Society’s (ATS) annual meeting
I would like to thank the NHLI foundation for supporting my attendance at the Young Investigators Meeting (YIM) in Smooth Muscle and Fibroblast Biology in Philadelphia and also the American Thoracic Society’s (ATS) annual meeting in Washington DC. My research focusses on mechanisms of smooth muscle contraction and airway nerve activation in airway disease, and as such these conferences were a perfect fit with my research interests. This was a great experience to experience two conferences where I could hear from leaders in the field, discuss my work and establish future collaborations.
The YIM meeting in Philadelphia was a small focused conference where the work of young investigators was at the forefront. This allowed for a more informal atmosphere and future collaboration was strongly encouraged. In addition I was able to hear keynote talks from innovators in the smooth muscle field such as Dr Raymond Penn and Dr Deepak Deshpande. I had the opportunity to present my poster ‘Identification of endogenous, disease relevant, activators of TRPV4 in the airways’ and received some valuable feedback for future publications.
The ATS is one of the most important meetings of the year in respiratory science and covers a wide range of topics in clinical and basic science. It was a great opportunity to hear from the leaders in the field and attend symposia on cutting edge research including; ‘The exposome concept: understanding the impact on lung health and disease’ and I was also able to attend a sunrise seminar on the ion channel TRPV4, which is of particular interest in my current research. On the final day of the conference I presented my talk entitled ‘TRPM3: a regulator of airway sensory nerves and respiratory reflexes via distinct mechanisms’. This was a great experience, and my talk was well received with some thought provoking questions at the end.
Attendance at both meetings was a fantastic experience and of great value to my research and I would like to once again thank the NHLI foundation for supporting me.
Mr Merlin Fair
International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM)
I am very grateful to have received a NHLI Foundation Postdoctoral Travel Award, allowing me to attend the 25th Annual Meeting of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM) in Honolulu, USA.
The ISMRM meeting is one of the largest and most important annual conferences for technical developments within the Magnetic Resonance Imaging community, drawing scientists, engineers and clinicians from across the globe. This year was no exception, showcasing exceptional research from a wide range of scientific disciplines. The meeting, mixing educational and scientific talks of varying formats, was both highly informative as well as being an exciting experience for presenting.
With cardiovascular applications of MRI being the focus of the Royal Brompton group, it was particularly pleasing to see cardiac MRI given centre stage at the opening plenary. Professor Leon Axel (NYU) gave the ‘Lauterbur Lecture’, entitled “MRI as a window into cardiac function”, discussing the exciting advances in cardiac MRI, with particular focus on novel functional imaging strategies.
Highlighting the importance of multidisciplinary efforts, there was also the special “Gadolinium Deposition” plenary, organised in response to recent reports of Gadolinium (MRI contrast agent) deposition in the brain. Question marks have been raised over what this discovery means in terms of long term safety for differing types of contrast agent. Leading chemists, clinicians and physicists all presented their perspectives to help place any potential causes for concern in the proper scientific context and to advise on questions still needing to be explored.
Machine Learning was the ‘topic of the conference’, interwoven into traditional sessions and as part of a ‘late-breaking abstracts’ joint scientific-educational session. It is certainly currently the hot topic in this field and beyond, and it will very interesting to see the future developments that will arise from application of machine learning to medical imagaing.
With up to 12 parallel sessions running at any one time for 6 days almost every major topic of MRI was covered and cardiovascular applications were very well represented in all formats. Both my presentation in the ‘Myocardial Perfusion & Viability’ session and my e-poster presentation led to many positive discussions. Alongside increased understanding in a range of topics, I believe I have come away from this meeting with many new ideas and hopefully new useful contacts.
I would again like to thank the NHLI Foundation Postdoctoral Travel Award committee for supporting my attendance of this meeting.
Dr Jua Iwasaki
British Society for Immunlogy / Dutch Society for Immunology Annual Congress 2016
I would like to thank the NHLI Foundation for supporting my attendance at the BSI/NVVI Annual Congress. The travel award gave me the opportunity to present and discuss my work, network with other researchers and hear about the latest research in immunology, for which I am very grateful for.
The British Society for Immunology (BSI) is one of the oldest, largest, and most active immunology societies in the world and the annual congress this year was again held jointly with the Dutch Society for Immunology (NVVI) in Liverpool, UK. The meeting was held over four days and the programme covered key areas in the vast field of immunology. There were sessions on different immune cell types, diseases and organs, as well as vaccinations, immunity and metabolism, innate and adaptive immunity, tumour immunology, immunotherapy – and much more! My research is investigating the genes that are important in the immune response to an influenza virus infection so I found the sessions on “Lung Immunology: from asthma to infectious diseases” and “Shaping Immunity at the host-microbial interface” particularly interesting and useful.
The highlight of this meeting for me was hearing the keynote lecture by Professor Akiko Iwasaki from Yale University. Professor Iwasaki’s research is at the cutting edge of understanding how immunity is initiated and maintained against viruses at mucosal surfaces. She is a world leader in influenza virus research so I have always wanted to attend one of her presentations and she did not disappoint! Her lecture began by dissecting the innate recognition pathways that lead to viral control, as well as adaptive control using mouse models of influenza infection. She then went onto describe the impact of aging in innate viral defence using human samples to answer the question: Why are older adults more susceptible to flu? In addition to hearing about her research, it was also a great opportunity to hear about her background and career as I felt like I could relate to some of her experiences, particularly in regards to her upbringing in Japan, so it was overall a truly inspiring lecture.
I would like to once again thank the NHLI Foundation Postdoctoral Travel Award committee for supporting my trip to Liverpool to attend the meeting.
Dr Adam Byrne
19th International Colloquium on Lung and Airway Fibrosis
I wish to thank the NHLI Foundation for a travel award to attend the 19th International Colloquium on Lung and Airway Fibrosis (ICLAF) in Dublin Castle, Ireland. My research focuses on the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and as such, the conference programme fitted perfectly with my research interests. The conference hosted world leaders in the field, and provided the opportunity for lively debate and discussions regarding the standardisation of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis and new frontiers for research.
A key theme of the conference was biomarker identification for disease stratification and the assessment candidate therapies. The first talk, by Han Collard, ‘Possible IPF: How we got in this mess and how we got out' challenged some of the dogmas of IPF diagnosis. In addition to talks with a clinical slant, there were many speakers focusing on basic research. In particular, Prof. Luke O’Neil and Rachel Chambers (UCL), each discussed immune-metabolism in lung fibrosis. Cory Hogboam (Cedar Mount Sinai) presented data regarding innate immune mechanisms regulating progression to IPF. Fernando Martinez (Weill Cornell Medical College) argued that RNA Sequencing might be used for the diagnosis of IPF in transbronchial Biopsies.
Attending this meeting was of great value to my research and provided me the opportunity to discuss my current findings and establish new collaborations. Many thanks to the NHLI Foundation Postdoctoral Travel Award committee for supporting my trip Ireland.
Photo by Jim Nix used under Creative Commons license
Dr Nicholas Kirkby
International Conference on Systems Biology
My research work with the Vascular Biology group focuses on how endothelial hormones regulate of cardiovascular health and disease. Once of the most important pathways in vascular hormone biology is cyclo-oxygenase (COX) which generates eicosanoid lipid mediators. COX is present in a constitutive form, COX-1 and an inducible form, COX-2, that is expressed during inflammation. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as diclofenac, ibuprofen and celecoxib, which are amongst the most widely used medications worldwide, all work by blocking COX-2 at the site of inflammation. However, these drugs cause cardiovascular adverse events which amount to an increased personal risk of around 30%. These side effects not only represent a significant risk factor for having heart attacks and strokes but have also resulted in an arrest by drug companies in the development of new drugs that work on this pathway and the withdrawal of their use for the prevention of cancer. Solving the problem of cardiovascular side effects caused by this class of drugs is therefore of great clinical significance. Currently there is little in the way of validated mechanisms or biomarkers to predict those individuals at risk and so I have taken a systems biology, ‘-omics’ approach to find new leads for to explain how COX-2 protects the cardiovascular system. My work so far as included transcriptomic, proteomic and lipidomic analysis of cardiovascular systems where COX-2 is manipulated.
As a pharmacologist with no formal training in systems biology technology or bioinformatics I was fortunate to get my work accepted for presentation at the International Conference on Systems Biology held in Singapore in November 2015. This included transcriptomic data obtained from healthy volunteers receiving COX-2 inhibitors which identified novel cardiovascular and inflammatory pathways regulated by these drugs and lipidomic analysis of samples from a unique patient that lacks the ability to make eicosanoid mediators (now published as Kirkby et al. FASEB J. 2015). These presentations were well received and the feedback I got from experts was invaluable. The meeting also gave me the opportunity to see the latest data and technology for analyzing ‘-omics’ based readouts from world leaders in the field and see how these approaches have been applied to other biomedical research questions to guide drug development and improve clinical care.
I am very grateful to the NHLI Trustees for the award of an NHLI Foundation Postdoctoral travel award that allowed me to attend this meeting.
Dr Kylie Belchamber
The American Thoracic Society’s annual conference
I am very grateful to have received an NHLI Foundation Travel Award to support my attendance at The American Thoracic Society’s annual conference, held in the wonderful city of San Francisco, USA in May 2016. My research focusses on the cell biology of COPD, which fitted perfectly with the conference programme which addressed all aspects of lung biology, from clinical perspectives on lung treatment, to the basic biology of lung cells. Over 17,000 delegates attended the conference, which took place across 5 days.
To start the conference, I attended a full day post-graduate symposium on ‘Heterogeneity and plasticity of lung macrophages: towards precision medicine’. This symposium showcased the latest research on lung macrophage origin and function, which is ever evolving as our understanding of these important cells increases. This was followed by a lab meeting style discussion which focused on the discussion of technical methodologies for working with these cells, which is not a topic normally reviewed in such symposia and so was very helpful to young scientists attending.
The remainder of the conference sessions were exceptional, including my poster discussion session where I presented my work on ‘Defective phagocytosis of Aspergillus fumigatus by COPD macrophages’ which is part of a new collaboration we have with Darius Armstrong-James within the NHLI. This lead to an enthusiastic discussion session on the relevance of murine macrophage studies and models to human data and disease settings and was a very rewarding experience.
An important outcome of these meetings is to connect with other researchers, and I was lucky enough to meet with many key scientists in my field from across the world and gain some knowledge and career advice from them. I met and spoke with researchers from the USA and Australia and hope to establish collaborations that will enhance my career in respiratory cell biology. I also maintained an online twitter presence for my group throughout the meeting, and contributed to lively twitter discussions using the hashtag #ATS2016. Using twitter allowed me to connect with other groups in the US and across the world, which is a worthwhile outcome.
Overall, attending this meeting was a fantastic experience and I would again like the thank the NHLI Foundation for supporting me.
Dr Nicola Whiffin
Keystone symposium on Heart Failure: Genetics, Genomics and Epigenetics
I am very grateful to the NHLI foundation for supporting my attendance at the Keystone Symposia meeting on Heart Failure in April 2016. The conference was held in Snowbird resort, around half an hours drive up into the mountains from Salt Lake City in North Utah, a stunning and very inspiring setting.
The meeting focussed on the genetics, genomics and epigenetics of heart failure, which has great relevance to my field of study. Around 350 scientists attended this meeting and the joint symposium “Cardiac Development, Regeneration and Repair”, including many of the leading principle investigators and experts in the field. In addition to keynote and invited presentations, the setup of the meeting included short talks selected from submitted abstracts as well as social hours and associated evening poster sessions aimed to foster collaborations and networking. Furthermore, the talks themselves were scheduled to allow for questions, discussions and sharing of ideas, with a big focus on the involvement of more junior scientists.
The first day Keynote address was delivered by Lasker prize winner Professor James Spudich from Stanford University who gave a talk entitled “Mutations to Mechanisms and Therapies” detailing the interactions of beta myosin, actin and myosin binding proteins and how mutations in these genes are thought to contribute to disease. Other very inspiring talks included Eric Olson on using the CRISPR/Cas9 editing system to correct genetic alterations in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, and Christopher Chen who has been using 3D printing to create dissolvable scaffolds on which to seed cells into structures more resembling of human tissues.
On the 3rd day of the conference I presented a poster on my recent work entitled “Automating variant detection and interpretation of inherited cardiac condition genes”. I had many interesting discussions with delegates from around the world as a result of my poster and it was a very valuable experience.
Attending this meeting was very beneficial to my own research as it provided both valuable background and current thinking relevant to the interpretation of genetic variants in cardiac disease. It also gave me the opportunity to present my work, to network with leading scientists in the field and to hear about very inspiring and exciting cutting-edge science. Once again I would like to thank the NHLI foundation for supporting my attendance.
Dr Andre Amaral
European Respiratory Society (ERS) annual congress
I am thankful to the NHLI Foundation for awarding me a travel grant so that I could present my work at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) annual congress, which this year was held in Amsterdam between 26 and 30 September. This is the largest European meeting for respiratory scientists and clinicians to present their findings and it covers topics from laboratory-based research to public health and translational science.
On the second day of the congress, I had the pleasure to chair a thematic poster session on “Prevalence of respiratory disease”. In this session, most reports were on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma, but there were also studies on allergen sensitisation, rhinitis and cough. This was an interesting experience as I could see what questions respiratory epidemiologists from different regions of the world are focusing their attention on and how they are trying to answer those questions.
On the third day, I have presented my findings on changes in sensitisation to common allergens in a cohort of European adults as they aged over the last 20 years. Although my talk was the last of eight on “New observations in respiratory epidemiology” I had a very nice audience of several dozens of researchers, and stimulating questions at the end.
During my stay in Amsterdam, I have also attended the meetings of two large epidemiological studies (European Community Respiratory Health Survey; Burden of Obstructive Lung Disease Study) that took place in parallel to the ERS congress.
Attending the ERS congress and these other two meetings was extremely beneficial to my own research and provided me the opportunity to discuss current findings, as well as my own ideas, with leading researchers in the field of respiratory diseases. Once again, I would like to thank the NHLI Foundation for supporting my participation in the above meetings.
Dr Michael Cox: May 2015
The American Thoracic Society’s annual conference
I am grateful to have received an NHLI Foundation Travel Award to support my attendance at The American Thoracic Society’s annual conference. My own interest is the human respiratory microbiome, which cuts across lung diseases and also brings in aspects of clinical infection and immunology.
Communication of the meeting to a wider audience is one of the conditions of the award, and in the past I have used Twitter to highlight interesting findings and discuss them with the wider scientific community. This is useful, but has limitations in that there is no permanent record. This time I planned to use Etherpad instead to capture the meeting which allows collaborative real time editing of a public site. In this way I could collate the microbiome sessions distributed across the meeting and maintain a public record. As Etherpad is a public communication tool other attendees could also contribute and I recruited some contacts to join the note-taking. Technology let me down somewhat and in most of the sessions local wifi couldn’t cope with maintaining an internet connection, and battery life combined with a dearth of power outlets. For the next meeting, a Mifi hotspot and battery packs are the order of the day.
Technology aside, it was an excellent meeting for microbiome research. Techniques are advancing and there was an awareness of the technical pitfalls and experimental design requirements that have been lacking at previous meetings. There was also a genuine excitement about the approach, with many people asking about the best way to set up the approach in their own groups. My talk on the Non CF bronchiectasis microbiome, of work carried out with Dr Michael Loebinger and others within the NHLI and the Brompton, was well received and highlighted in other sessions. Altogether a really useful meeting for me to have attended, with thanks to the NHLI Foundation.
Dr Dr Jill Johnson: April - May 2015
Australia and New Zealand Microcirculation Society Conference
Dr. Jill Johnson is a former Imperial College Junior Research Fellow and a current MRC-funded Research Fellow within Leukocyte Biology. Jill was awarded a NHLI Foundation Postdoctoral Travel Award in the International Category to attend the Australia and New Zealand Microcirculation Society conference held from 29 April to 2 May, 2015.
The Australia and New Zealand Microcirculation Society conference was held in Leura, Australia, in the beautiful Blue Mountains, a short train ride away from Sydney. Leura is one of many small towns along the Main Western railway line that cuts through the Blue Mountains National Park. The meeting was held at the Fairmont Leura resort, located on the edge of the dramatic Jamison Valley. The views from the resort are supposed to be absolutely beautiful, but due to four straight days of rain, the majesty of the mountains could not be enjoyed by the meeting attendees. However, the meeting organizers arranged for a tour through the Megalong Valley, complete with beautiful scenery, a visit to a winery and sightings of wild kangaroo troops.
The major topics covered by this meeting were Omics and the Microvasculature, Angiogenesis/Lymphangiogenesis and Cancer, Tissue Engineering/Wound Healing, Inflammation, Microparticles and the Microcirculation, Microcirculation, Pregnancy and the Neonatal Period, Microcirculation and Ageing, Vascular Tone, and Mural Cells and the Microcirculation. I attended the meeting as an invited speaker in the final session, where I gave an update on my current research into pericytes, a type of progenitor cell associated with the microcirculation in the lungs and elsewhere in the body. The meeting was small and very well-organized, with talk focused on unpublished data. Attendees had many opportunities for networking and socializing.
Attending this meeting was quite beneficial to my own research, since I study the microvasculature of the lung in chronic inflammatory disease. It was great to have the opportunity to discuss cutting edge science on the microvasculature with leading researchers and to move outside of my comfort zone while establishing myself as a mural cell expert, which also contributed to enhancing my international reputation. In addition to attending this meeting, I was able to extend my trip to Australia to include a visit to the Woolcock Institute at the University of Sydney as well as to Monash University and the University of Melbourne, where I gave talks, met with colleagues and collaborators and provided some (hopefully) useful career advice to PhD students and junior postdocs at all three institutions. Thanks to the NHLI Foundation Postdoctoral Travel Award committee for supporting my trip to Australia.
Dr Laura Yates: November 2014
The Cold Spring Harbor Asia conference on Dynamics of Cellular Behaviors During Development and Disease
Dr. Laura Yates is an Imperial College Junior Research Fellow within Leukocyte Biology. Laura was awarded a NHLI Foundation Postdoctoral Travel Award in the International Category to attend a Cold Spring Harbor Asia conference held in Suzhou, China. Here, Laura gives a brief account of the meeting.
The Cold Spring Harbor Asia conference on Dynamics of Cellular Behaviors During Development and Disease was held in Suzhou, China located approximately 60 miles west of Shanghai. Suzhou is the second largest city in the Provence of Jiangsu, after its capital Nanjing. Suzhou belongs to the Yangtze River Delta region as it is situated on the Yangstze River and the Dushulake Conference Center gardens overlooked Lake Tai.
Due to the city's many canals, stone bridges, pagodas, and beautifully designed gardens, Suzhou is regarded as one of the top tourist attractions in China. We were fortunate enough to be taken on a tour of one of the classical gardens in old Suzhou, which is now registered as a UNESCO world Heritage Site, and a boat trip along the main canal at sunset provided first hand experience of why Suzhou is regarded as the “Venice of the East”.
The major topics covered by this meeting were; Cell Polarity and Development, Cell Polarity and Cancer, Dynamics of Cell - Cell interactions, Dynamics of Cell - Cell matrix and Vesicle trafficking, all of which are directly relevant to my own studies. The meeting was relatively small and very well organized, only new or unpublished data was presented and attendees had plenty of opportunity for discussion and to develop collaborations.
The conference brought together international experts such as; Senthil Muthuswamy, University of Toronto, who presented his recent observations that epithelial structures in vitro rotate 360 degress in a spinning motion, to weave their own basement membrane. This process appears to involve the cell polarity pathways and may have important implications in cancer. Martin Schwartz, Yale University, presented his most recent data on the relationship between integrin signalling, cell polarity and cytskeletal organisation in blood vessel formation and how flow forces and aberrant signalling can contribute to Athersclerosis (Baeyens et al., PNAS, 2014). The Keynote Talk, “Adhesive Mechanisms in multicellularity across scales from atoms to tissues”, was presented by James Nelson, Standford University. Dr Nelson’s laboratory have taken a structure-function approach to gain further insight in to the molecular mechanisms of cell-cell adhesion. This approach has identified some surprising differences in protein functions in diferrent tissues and organisms. My abstract was selected for a talk in which I presented some of my most recent data identifying a role for the cell polarity regulatory Scribble in lung tumourigenesis, which was well received (Elsum et al., Oncogene, 2013).
Attending this meeting was extremely beneficial to my own research, especially as I am currently establishing my own research group. The opportunity to discuss the current findings as well as my own ideas with leading scientists in my field was invaluable, and I would like to thank the NHLI Foundation Postdoctoral Travel Award committee for supporting my attendance at this meeting.
Dr Laura Denney: December 2014
The Cell Symposia – The multifaceted role of type 2 immunity
I gratefully acknowledge the award of NHLI Foundation Postdoctoral Travel Award which allowed me to attend The Cell Symposia – The multifaceted role of type 2 immunity held in the beautiful and historic city of Bruges in December 2014. The aim of this meeting was to bring leading scientists together to discuss new concepts and to allow delegates to network and share ideas. There were some outstanding talks presented during this meeting which shed light on the new directions and our broadening understanding of what type 2 immunity encompasses.
The opening keynote seminar was presented by Alan Sher (NIAID, USA) who took the audience on an entertaining tour of the history of type 2 immunity from description of mast cells by Paul Ehrlich to the latest developments in innate lymphoid cells. Sher questioned several deeply held immune concepts including the importance of IL-4 in the development of type 2 immunity, leading to a lively and good natured debate.
Hergen Spits (Tytgat Institute, The Netherlands) presented data illustrating the interrelationship between ILC1s (IFNg+) and ILC3s (IL-17+) describing the plasticity of these subsets in vitro and the rarity of ILC3s in early life. David Artis (Perelman School of Medicine, USA) presented data on the role of ILC2s in metabolic homeostasis, describing the how IL-33 and ILC2s promote beiging of white adipose tissue and limit obesity. Artis also discussed the wider implications of the find as a novel pathway for treating obesity and obesity-associated diseases.
The symposia also hosted two intensive poster sessions, these sessions held over lunch were very well attended and interactive. I presented a poster entitled ‘Pulmonary epithelial derived TGF-β1 is critical for the inception of innate lymphoid cell mediated allergic airways disease.’ We found that epithelial derived TGF-b has a central role in the generation of the pulmonary immune response. Mice which specifically lack epithelial TGF-b1 displayed a marked reduction in type 2 innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) resulting in suppression of IL-13 and hallmark features of the allergic response. The poster session generated many useful ideas and questions on the future directions of this work.
There was an extremely pertinent session at the end of the conference where the scientific organisers Bart Lambrecht, and David Artis summed up both the work presented over the last few days and the future direction of the field. They discussed the fundamental role of type 2 immunity in the maintenance of homeostasis. The shaping of the immune landscape via the co-evolution of multicellular organisms with both helminths and commensal bacteria was discussed as well as the role of factors secreted by helminths and bacteria which exert influence on the immune response. They also postulated that with new high definition techniques, namely mass cytometry (Cytof®) other as yet unidentified cell types may be defined and studied.
The symposia organisers made a special effort to show us the beautiful city of Bruges with guided tours and a civic reception hosted in the town hall. We even enjoyed samples from some of the 72 chocolate shops in the city. The symposia dinner was held at the famous De Halve Maan Brewery and was preceded by a brewer tour where we learned the art of Belgian beer making. These convivial and social surroundings made this ‘meet the speakers’ dinner (where each table of six was hosted by at least one speaker) the best I have attended, with senior academics offering advice and recommending next career steps for postdocs and PhD students. I would like to thank the NHLI Foundation for the travel award which enabled me to attend this inspiring and informative symposium and I look forward to the next meeting planned for 2016.