Infection, Immunology & Translational Medicine (IITM) Oxford

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IITM Symposium 2020: 10th (virtual) showcase of our students’ research work

In November 2020, the 10th IITM symposium was held and as all of our work has been affected throughout the year, even the symposium took place in an environment of the “new normal” – virtually. However, students were still able to update each other, programme directors, and several PIs on their project progress, receive feedback on their work, get an insight into the running of a biotech company from an alumni speaker Joe Illingworth, and discuss the ethics of “immunity passport” with a guest speaker Julian Savulescu.

2020 IITM symposium screenshot

The 2nd-year students gave a series of lightning talks to present their research project outlines, showed preliminary data gathered despite the limited access to the labs, and got feedback on their ideas. Fernando described how in his project he is planning to use multi-specific antibodies to block immune checkpoints in cancer. This translational talk was followed by Amanda, who described how she aims to study both the architecture and organisation of ribonucleoprotein complex of the influenza virus. I gave a short talk about my aim to investigate a subset of macrophages in the context of inflammatory arthritis. Linnea presented her project in which she will study the role of ADAM10 in T cell activation and Helene told us about her research investigating the effect of circadian rhythm and hypoxia on HIV infection. Finally, Emma closed the 2nd-year talks with a very interesting talk about the crosstalk between the immune and nervous system in the adipose tissue.

The 3rd-years told us both about their progress and the hurdles they encountered due to disruptions to their work. Kate kicked off their talks with a presentation about the role of RNA-binding protein in HIV-1. Since last year, Vivian’s project slightly changed so she updated us on her current work in which she was investigating the cross-presentation of antigens to T cells in the tumour microenvironment. Oliver’s lab has been involved in the COVID19 research, but he still managed to present some news on his research work studying sex-specific responses of macrophages in HIV infection. Alex gave us an exciting insight into the usage of state-of-the-art imaging and spectroscopy techniques to study lymphocyte signalling. João discussed similar method, super-resolution microscopy, to study BCR triggering and finally, Rebecca gave us a talk about the longitudinal changes in the microbiome in a model of colitis.

In the last session of student presentations, the final year students discussed their almost finished projects that they are now wrapping up. Lea started this session by talking about CD1d-mediated immune responses in regulatory T cells. After this immunological talk, we heard from Mari who told us about her research studying the immune response induced by Typhi vaccine challenge. Robert talked about superagonistic antibodies, their potential as therapeutics and finally emphasized the role of a magical llama to derive these superagonistic antibodies. Hannah’s work has been heavily affected by the pandemic and her lab fully re-oriented to study COVID19, therefore, she updated us not only on her work on cytomegalovirus but also on her contribution to the understanding of COVID19. Iva showed us a very promising work on alternatives of antibiotics to target Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Sarah closed the student presentations with an exciting talk on the role of iron uptake in a model of malaria. 

Keynote lectures this year were given by an alumni speaker Joe Illingworth, CSO and co-founder of a biotech company DJS Antibodies, and by a guest speaker Julian Savulescu, director for the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and Humanities, co-director of the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities and director of the Oxford Marting Programme for Collective Responsibility for Infectious Disease.

Joe Illingworth talked not only about the work of DJS Antibodies but also about the importance of building relevant experience for your CV early during your PhD, choosing the right work “teammates”, and explained the difference between industry and academic research. Alumni speakers each year show us the work opportunities both inside and outside of academia. I am certain that Joe’s talk motivated some students to consider joining the industry research and potentially even establishing their own biotech start-ups.

Joe Illingworth

Julian Savulescu discussed the importance of “immunity passports” linking the current global pandemic, research of infectious disease to ethics and human rights – his domain of expertise. This topic truly sparked a debate about equality and discrepancies between research and policy making. Discussions like these are especially important for us students to see how our work can influence new policies, but it is also crucial for the personnel working in the areas of ethics, politics, or economy. We do not have to go far to see the importance of this interconnection highlighted in the current global health and economic crisis.

Julian Savulescu
source: @juliansavulescu

Usually, symposia are places where scientists not only update each other on their work through presentations or posters but also through the conversations held outside of the lecture halls. To simulate this environment, this year’s symposium had a “virtual luncheon” in which we could discuss our work, hurdles we are facing, and variety of other science-unrelated topics. It was certainly good to catch-up as well!   

All of the students did a great job in describing their work, their results and ideas, and conveying passion for their projects so I would like to thank everyone for their excellent presentations. Finally, this year’s symposium would not be possible without the amazing 4th-year students who stepped in to organise the IITM symposium 2020. Therefore, I would like to thank Hannah, Iva, Lea, Mari, Robert, and Sarah, who put this event together for their hard work and another great symposium.

See you next year!

Written by Barbora Schonfeldova

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