The 8th Annual IITM Symposium took place this past November, which has always been an excellent opportunity for all IITM students to showcase their research. The symposium allowed students from all years of the programme to discuss their research, receive feedback, and begin considering their future career paths with the help of two fantastic keynote speakers. This year, keynote presentations were given by former IITM alumni Dr Rosanna McEwen-Smith, who discussed her success as a senior scientist at Adaptimmune, and Dr Chris van Tulleken, a former Oxford graduate in medicine and current BBC television presenter.
This year, talks from 3rd and final year students were interwoven and divided into four sessions, and 2nd-year students gave 3-minute lightning talks which preceded a poster-session to showcase their preliminary findings and research plans in greater depth.
From our 4th year students, we were excited to hear about the progress on projects nearing their final stages. Richard described the involvement of regulatory T cells and pro-/anti-inflammatory cytokines in malarial immunity, and Layal described her progress in establishing a novel screening assay for viral antagonists of ZBP-1. Cherrelle then described the contribution of HIV-1-infected macrophages in pathogenesis of HIV-1-associated inflammation through analysis of cytokine-expression patterns. Hannah provided us with insight on protein antibiotic pyocin S5, and how its potency may be key in tackling Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections.
On the big data front, Lucy debriefed us on her analysis of RNA-seq and ATAC-seq to uncover the unique phenotype and function of mucosal-associated invariant T cells, and Marianne provided an update to her analysis of how Neisseria commensals acquired polysaccharide capsules through horizontal gene transfer. Finally, Meg showed us the exciting use of RNAseq in studying trypanosomatid parasite infection in her model organism Drosophila melanogaster.
With several breaks in-between the talks to re-fuel, we heard presentations from 3rd year students, who have all made significant progress into their projects since selecting their labs last year. Rob showed us his progress in the design of adeno-associated capsids for greater antigen diversity, and Juliane gave us a look into her work on ER α-glucosidase I and the search for specific enzyme inhibitors. Felix described a model of adipocyte-specific autophagy in mice to uncover the immunobiology of free fatty acids, and Alun presented his findings on the role of cyclophillins in macrophages using CRISPR technology and stem cell-derived macrophages. Last, but not least, Johannes described his work in improving our understanding of T cell activation through involvement of accessory receptors which enhances sensitivity of antigen recognition.
Lightning talks from our 2nd year students turned out to be extremely effective in summarizing the goals of their projects over the next couple of years, and the poster session allowed them to receive invaluable feedback from both faculty and peers. We look forward to hearing their progress next year!
The symposium concluded officially with two keynote speeches – the first from Dr. Rosanna McEwen-Smith, who described her successful transition from academia to industry as a current Senior Scientist at Adaptimmune, a T cell therapy-based biotech firm based in Abingdon. An IITM graduate from the Cerundolo lab, Rosanna attributed her success to the knowledge she gained about T cells over the course of her DPhil, and acquisition of numerous transferable skills which are now applicable to the managerial aspects of her career. We were extremely grateful the sharing of her experiences job-hunting after her DPhil, and we gained important insight into how academia differs from industry. We thank Rosanna for lending us her time and giving us the opportunity to ask about her journey.
The last presentation of the day came from Dr. Chris van Tulleken, who previously studied medicine at Oxford, and then completed a PhD at UCL. Since his studies, he has regularly presented BBC documentaries about health and medicine, with the goal of public education. He shared with us the curious effects of cold-water swimming as a treatment for depression, and a then-unpublished study about the promotion of infant formulas which are fueled by commercial interests and financial conflict. Charismatic and animated, Chris’ passion for science communication and his talents in story-telling left us in awe of how we can translate our academic careers into an unusual yet rewarding career in the media.
To conclude, we would like to extend a big thank you to our organizers this year, Hannah Behrens, Marianne Clemence, Cherrelle Dacon, Lucy Garner, Layal Liverpool and Richard Morter, for all their hard-work and dedication in making this a fantastic symposium.
Group photograph above has been reproduced by kind permission of Gillman & Soame photographers and can be ordered by visiting http://www.gillmanandsoame.co.uk using the Login 352246 and Password 154329.