News from the vaccine world

News from the vaccine world

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

Blog VacTrainPosted by Wendy van Hemmen 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 VacTrainPosted by Wendy van Hemmen 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.


VacTrainees at CMV conference in Brisbane, by Ilona Baraniak

Blog VacTrainPosted by Wendy van Hemmen 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.