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News from the vaccine world

My training experiences at two international conferences on Spirochetes, by Abhijeet Nayak

Blog VacTrain Posted on 11 Feb, 2016 15:33

“Continuous
improvement is better than delayed perfection.” Mark Twain

This is
what I learned from the remarkable scientific community in the last two
international conferences, I had the opportunity to attend.

The
International Conference on Lyme Borreliosis was held in the beautiful city of
Vienna where I also have the privilege to pursue my studies. Moreover, the
Gordon Research Seminar (GRS) and Conference on Biology of Spirochetes took
place recently in Ventura, California. Both these conferences had two things in
common, excellent science and the enthusiasm of dynamic researchers to learn,
discuss and share ideas comprehensively with each other.

As a
PhD student, taking toddler’s steps in scientific research, it was highly
inspiring to present my results in front of experts in the field. Besides, the GRS
for students organized by students
was an outstanding concept. This enabled
scientific communication in a relaxed environment between early stage and experienced
research students to exchange their know-how in spirochete research. The career
development session held during the GRS was of particular interest and included
seven scientists at
different stages in their career and from diverse employment sectors (academia
and industry). The session focussed on funding opportunities for PhD students
and postdocs to find their way in the extensive world of research and
development. During the poster and oral
sessions, I acquired knowledge about diverse biological aspects of the pathogen
as well as clinical and translational aspects of the disease. This also provided me with concepts appropriate
for my own research, leaving me with the anticipation that there is so much
more to know and decipher.

“If we knew what we were
doing, it would not be called research, would it?” Albert Einstein



NETWORK, by Roberta Rovito

Blog VacTrain Posted on 02 Dec, 2015 10:35

The “Marie Curie Initial Training
Network VacTrain” title already contains what I consider one of the most
important tools, if not the most, that allows performing good research:
NETWORK. This pre-built network of high quality researchers, sharing the same
interests, helps in defining productive working relationships that you would
struggle in establishing from scratch during your PhD. This is beneficial not
only for the PhD project itself but also for ones future career. Indeed, you
get to learn new techniques and different ways of working outside your home
institute and your comfort zone as well as thinking outside the box. What is
more, this network of people will last after the end of the PhD program regardless
the position you are going to apply for. Just invest some time in maintaining
this network.

I have chosen to do part of my secondment in
Berlin, at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in order to learn how
to perform and analyse Next Generation Sequence data using Illumina HiSeq
platform. Vaccine development might be quite challenging when little is known
about specific virus-host interactions and how this influences the process of
discovering correlates of protection. Additionally, things get more complicated
when infants are the protagonists, e.g. when infections get transmitted during
pregnancy. As you might understand, this raises all kinds of Ethical issues
that make this field of research even more demanding. Finally, to make things
even more challenging the lack of a proper animal model that can resemble the
human situation plays a crucial role. Therefore, performing deep sequencing on
easily accessible samples from infants might help in defining at least the
appropriate direction to find the reasons why some patients manage to control
the disease and others do not. This will be essential in defining correlates of
protection for the future vaccine development for what might be one of the likely
target population, toddlers. You never know what to expect when you start
sequencing, like opening Pandora’s Box. Nevertheless be cautious, because “as we acquire more knowledge, things do not
become more comprehensible but more complex and mysterious
”, Albert
Schweitzer (1875-1965).

But
let’s not forget what these exchanges entail in addition to the improvement of
your scientific skills. First of all, you have the opportunity to discover beautiful
cities full of history that you would not have the chance otherwise. The interminable
hours spent in the lab and in front of the computer analysing data as a conditio sine qua non of being a PhD
student does not exactly help simplifying what is commonly needed in terms of
social relationships and trips! Finally, and outstandingly, if you are lucky
enough you might find that rare connection with some other PhD students that
soon enough become friends.

Roberta



VacTrainees at CMV conference in Brisbane, by Ilona Baraniak

Blog VacTrain Posted on 01 Jun, 2015 10:01

G’day from
Australia!

Although
the life of a PhD student can involve long days in the lab and seemingly
endless hours in front of computers analyzing data, occasionally we are
afforded the opportunity and privilege to travel and see the world. So I was
overjoyed when I and two other vactrainees- Roberta and Eleni received the
opportunity to attend the 5th International Congenital CMV Conference and 15th
international CMV/Beta herpes virus workshop which was held in Brisbane,
Australia.

After a
long and tiring journey from London via Hong Kong I arrived in the city of
Brisbane on Australia’s east coast. Coming from Europe’s spring to the almost
tropical temperature of Brisbane was a little strange but I soon acclimatized
and fell in love with this beautiful modern city (although the fear of
poisonous snakes and spiders was never far from my mind).

The
conference did not disappoint! Taking place in Brisbane’s fantastic conference
centre on the south bank of the river, all our needs were catered for. It was
an amazing experience, a chance to present our research and talk face to face
with many experienced researchers in the field of CMV from different parts of
the world was very beneficial for our future carriers. I was very happy to
receive constructive feedback on my work from emeritus Prof Stanley Plotkin,
one of the leaders in the field of vaccinology and an inspirational scientist. Moreover,
the organizers prepared a variety of social events –so meeting, making friends
and sharing experiences with many other young researchers could not be any
easier.

Of course no trip to Australia would be complete
without seeing the amazing wild life that the country has to offer. So I was
very excited when on our last day we were taken on an exciting trip to an
animal sanctuary just outside Brisbane. Holding a koala in my arms and playing
with little kangaroos is an experience I will always remember.