Infection, Immunology & Translational Medicine (IITM) Oxford

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The IITM Symposium 2017 – A small symposium discussing big science

By Felix Richter and Sarah Wideman

Research needs to be communicated and discussed, whether in big conferences or in a smaller format, such as a research symposium. The IITM programme holds an annual research symposium which provides a great platform for students to improve their presentation skills and to receive feedback on their project from course mates, supervisors and professors. In addition, the day provides opportunities to network, get career advice and socialise in an informal setting.

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After a quick cup of coffee and biscuits, the fourth-year students were first up to present. With just one year to go until their thesis submission, all projects had interesting and novel findings, but left time to address some final unanswered questions. Topics presented ranged from iminosugars for antiviral defence (Beatrice Tyrrell) to virus RNA structure (Bernadeta Dadonaite) and CRISPR-based immunological screening methods (Corinna Kulicke). We are already looking forward to seeing the final data from these projects and hope to share more information about the projects as soon as they are published.

 

After a small break, it was the third-years’ turn. One year into their research projects, the amount and quality of the presented research data was impressive. The topics were diverse and included infection projects such as bacterial toxin-antitoxin systems (Hannah Berens), immune cell chemotaxis during HIV infection (Cherrelle Dacon), microbial bioinformatics of Neisseria species (Marianne Clemence) and viral zRNA sensing (Layal Liverpool), as well as more immunological projects about T-cell transcriptomics (Lucy Garner) and the immunological response to malaria (Richard Morter). The presentations engaged both students and researchers in rewarding discussions and the input was seemingly gratefully welcomed by the presenters.

 

 

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Meike Assman and Robert Donat review the second years’ posters

 

After a combined lunch break and poster session, a familiar face returned to her old alma mater. Dr. Meike Assmann graduated in 2016 from the IITM programme and has left academia to pursue her passion for consultancy, working with Alcimed. She described her path from the lab to her current job as a project developer for clients in the health care industry. She also talked about how we can apply the skills we develop during a PhD to succeed in a career outside the lab. This inspiring talk highlighted the many ways that a DPhil degree from the IITM programme can take you.

 

The student presentations were concluded by the second-year students. This cohort recently begun their DPhil projects, so the data was still preliminary, but the ideas big and convincing. Once more the variety of topics was one of the highlights of this session. The topics ranged from characterisation of HIV-related genes (Alun Vaughan-Jackson), autophagy in the bone marrow environment (Felix Richter) and T cell signalling (Johannes Pettmann) to antiviral iminosugar therapy (Juliane Brun) and malaria vaccine development (Robert Ragotte). We look forward to seeing more of their results at the IITM symposium 2018 and we all wish them the best of luck for their new projects.

 

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Marianne Clemence presents her project

 

The symposium concluded with this year’s keynote speaker, the first to be invited from outside the UK; Professor Henrique Veiga-Fernandes from the University of Lisbon. He leads research on the S(c)ensory Immune System Theory, describing the potential role of other cell types to govern the behaviour of immune cells in multicellular organisms (1). His presentation captivated the entire room with insights into how communication between the nervous system and the immune system is important in maintaining immune homeostasis, focussing on two recently published papers which discuss the role of neuroregulatory factors in affecting the function of innate lymphoid cells (2, 3).

 

For the symposium’s grand finale, there was a drinks reception and formal dinner in the Old Dining Hall at St Edmund Hall. Both the students and faculty greatly enjoyed this opportunity to socialise and to continue the day’s scientific discussions. Here, the programme also officially thanked and said farewell to Professor Fiona Powrie. Fiona was one of the founders of the programme and has recently stepped down from her position as programme director. We again express our gratitude to Professor Powrie for her contribution to the programme over the years. Without her hard work, none of the programme’s achievements to date would have been possible.

 

We are all already looking forward to a new year of science and to see how our work has progressed at the IITM symposium 2018.

 

 

References

  1. Veiga-Fernandes H, Freitas AA. The S(c)ensory Immune System Theory. Trends Immunol. 2017;38(10):777-88.
  2. Cardoso V, Chesne J, Ribeiro H, Garcia-Cassani B, Carvalho T, Bouchery T, et al. Neuronal regulation of type 2 innate lymphoid cells via neuromedin U. Nature. 2017;549(7671):277-81.
  3. Ibiza S, Garcia-Cassani B, Ribeiro H, Carvalho T, Almeida L, Marques R, et al. Glial-cell-derived neuroregulators control type 3 innate lymphoid cells and gut defence. Nature. 2016;535(7612):440-3.

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