Disease program annual meetings convene

Cross-institution, cross-lab, cross-disciplinary interactions are key to the success of HSCI’s disease programs. To spur these interactions, each program holds an annual “think tank” — a gathering of researchers to discuss their latest findings, assess the state of the science, and define the priorities of the program. Each program does this in its own way.

This year, the Cancer Program organized a meeting, limited to a small group of junior faculty, with the goal of identifying the bottlenecks in the research on cancer stem cells and to solicit proposals on the program’s projects. One of the outcomes was to issue a call for proposals aimed at identifying critical genes and pathways that sufficiently distinguish cancer stem cells from normal stem cells and hence serve as candidate targets for therapy. As a result, four new projects were just approved by the Executive Committee.

The Cardiovascular Program took a slightly different focus and looked at approaches, tools, and techniques that researchers could share across labs within the program with the ultimate goal of regenerating myocardium and treating heart failure. Eleven investigators gave scientific presentations, not aimed this time at showing the latest data generated in their labs, but at sharing an approach or technology that worked well in their experiments. Many young researchers, working in the different labs affiliated with HSCI, attended the meeting and numerous new collaborations were established as a result of this interaction.

Following the success of several previous think tanks, this year the Nervous System Diseases Program focused its meeting on “development and routes to regeneration of corticospinal to spinal motor neuron circuitry.” The meeting included a half-day symposium open to all participants during which local, national, and international speakers showed their latest results and laid out the main unanswered questions in the field. A subset of the group spent the next day and a half in closed interactive sessions considering the state of the field and developing ways to move forward collectively.

The Blood Program’s symposium focused on the science of chromatin remodeling with Constanze Bonifer, PhD, from the University of Leeds (UK), as a distinguished guest. The event, open to laboratories working on blood research, saw four speakers from HSCI labs — Benjamin Ebert, MD, Alexander Meissner, PhD, Peter J. Park, PhD, and Yang Shi, PhD, — present their latest related work. The subsequent poster session featuring work from many more labs allowed other junior scientists to present their latest results and interact with more senior investigators.

As one of the think tank participants remarked, “New topics, experimental techniques, even whole sub-areas of the field were introduced to me which I would not have been exposed to merely by talking with individuals in my own group or department.”