Royal Society of New Zealand, Canterbury Branch
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Travel Grant Reports 2010

June

25th International Symposium on Cerebral Blood Flow, Metabolism and Function (BRAIN 2011), in Barcelona, Spain, 20 June 2011

Hannah Farr, Centre for Bioengineering, University of Canterbury, New Zealand and Van der Veer Institute for Parkinson’s and Brain Research, Christchurch, New Zealand

I would like to thank the Canterbury Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand for the financial support which enabled me to attend the 25th International Symposium on Cerebral Blood Flow, Metabolism and Function (BRAIN 2011), in Barcelona, Spain.

BRAIN provides a forum for a diverse group of leading international brain researchers and professionals to present the latest available information, research, and treatments in fields such as cerebrovascular regulation, brain imaging, ischemia/stroke, neurotrauma, and brain protection.

Overview of Conference Presentations

The quality of the oral presentations from both young scientists and well established researchers was superb. The conference consisted of a combination of workshops, oral sessions, poster sessions, and special symposiums.

On the first day of the conference, I attended a workshop that was specifically focused on neurovascular coupling (my area of research). The highlight was the last speaker of the day: Elizabeth Hillman from Columbia Univeristy, who has penned many articles that I have used while developing my model. Not only was she a leader in her field of optical imaging of the cerebrovasculature, and an excellent and enthusiastic speaker, but she was very willing to discuss her new unpublished results and hypotheses. Although she was an experimentalist by trade, she had applied simple mathematical models to help understand the reasons behind the brain’s complex regulatory mechanisms. She was kept busy with questions for most of the conference but I was lucky to be able to discuss my own model with her as she was leaving on the very last day! She was keen to see the results I am planning to publish next month.

Another highlight was the plenary lecture given by Berislav Zlokovic who spoke on the neurovascular pathways to neurodegeneration—a topic which forms the focus of one of my thesis chapters.

Personally, I found that the poster sessions were more helpful than the oral sessions, perhaps because they tended to include very new and unpublished work. This newer research seemed to cover a wider range of research methods (including mathematical modelling) to help elucidate the hidden mechanisms involved in the brain’s metabolism and function.

My Presentation

I presented one poster at this conference: Potassium and EET mediated functional hyperemia: a mathematical model. A copy of the presented poster is attached.

Most questions I received were asked by researchers who are also involved in various kinds of modelling. It was fascinating to see the very different methods we had employed to try and understand the same mystery: how and why the brain has decided to regulate its blood supply in such a complex way. We traded modelling tips, references and hypotheses and have promised to continue to exchange information as we progress with our models.

Attending the conference was a very positive experience. I was exposed to exciting, new research and established new connections with fellow researchers. Once again I would like to thank the Canterbury Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand for supporting me in this worthwhile experience.


November

Society for Free Radical Biology and Medicine (SFRBM) 17th Annual Meeting, a joint meeting with the Society for Free Radical Research International (SFRRI), Orlando, Florida, 17-21 November 2010

Nick Magon, PhD Student, Free Radical Research Group, University of Otago, Christchurch

Neutrophils are the most abundant white blood cell in mammals. Upon activation they generate a burst of reactive oxidants to facilitate the destruction of invading pathogens. In inflammatory diseases these oxidants can damage host tissue and prolong inflammation. The oxidants are short-lived, but leave a footprint of their presence through the oxidative modification of proteins. My research involves investigating how these neutrophil-derived oxidants modify neutrophil proteins and which of these stable products may be useful as biomarkers that aid in the diagnosis and prognosis of inflammatory disease.

The conference program had a wide variety of topics including major sessions on highly relevant aspects of my research including ‘Inflammation and Immunity’ and ‘Oxidation of Macromolecules’. Sessions were short (1-2 hours) with generous breaks which made it much easier for a jet-lagged attendee such as myself to stay focussed. I learnt a great deal at the educational sessions and methods workshops and was also able to gain good insight into research that is happening outside of my area. The majority of the oral presentations from invited speakers were of a high standard and it was great to finally be able to put faces to names that I had previously heard of or read in journals.

I found the poster sessions to be extremely useful, all of which were well attended. During the sessions where I wasn’t presenting I was able to interact with other students and discuss experiences with different methodologies. I presented a poster detailing a novel modification that is formed on the neutrophil protein calprotectin following neutrophil activation and may potentially be useful as a biomarker of inflammatory disease. My poster was well received with an almost constant flow of people discussing my results with me over the 2 hour session. I came away with many new ideas and different perspectives on my work.

Overall I thought the conference was very well organised and managed and enabled me to get a good insight into research that is happening outside of my area and also gave me many new ideas for my own work. Finally, I would like to thank the RSNZ Canterbury Branch for providing me with a Student Travel Award which allowed me to attend and present my work at this conference.


September

Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference 2010 (ABIC 2010) in Saskatoon, Canada, 12–15 September 2010

Jin Han, PhD student, Agriculture Department, Lincoln University

Thanks to the generous funding support from the Royal Society of New Zealand, Canterbury branch to assist with my expenses in attending the Conference. The theme was Bridging Biology and Business, it offered a comprehensive overview on the biotechnology research, development and commercialization of new biotechnology to improve human health, create a sustainable food supply and foster new energy sources for all the nations, including the developing world.

My PhD research is focused on the investigation of genetic variation of the Myostatin (MSTN) gene and how this variation may affect carcass traits and production in common New Zealand sheep breed. Myostatin acts as a negative regulator of skeletal muscle growth, and may also contribute both to the regulation of adipogenesis and affect tendon structure and function during pre-natal and post-natal development. Genetic variations in the myostatin gene (MSTN) have been associated with a “double-muscling” phenotype in certain “meaty” sheep breeds. Hence, MSTN has been recognized as a useful gene as regards increasing muscle mass in animals. Genetic variation in MSTN gene may therefore, be a useful way of increasing the value of sheep production systems in New Zealand.

A paper abstract from my preliminary work which entitled “Genetic variation of the Myostatin (MSTN) gene and its association with carcass traits and production in New Zealand (NZ) Romney sheep” was accepted by the conference committee, and a poster raised from this paper abstracted was also presented at the conference. A lot of kindly comments and valuable feedback about my work were given from the experienced researchers during the poster discussion sessions, which definitely contribute to my current research, and also provide insight into further research development in the future.


February

35th Lorne Conference on Protein Structure and Function, Lorne, Victoria Australia, 7–11 February 2010

David Tran
PhD Student, Department of Chemistry, University of Canterbury

The conference offered a variety of seminars ranging from translational control of proteins like ribosome, virology to enzyme and drug targets, with the latter being more relevant to what I'm doing.

My PhD work involves synthesising a range of substrate analogues to probe the substrate specificity of a biologically important enzyme called DAH7P synthase. This enzyme is part of the first step of the shikimate pathway. This pathway is responsible for synthesising the aromatic amino acids in microorganism and plants and therefore is essential for survival. By investigating the substrate specificity of DAH7P synthase we can identify the important features of substrates for binding to the enzyme and probe the substrate specificity of the different types of DAH7P synthase. This information could then be used in better inhibitor designs.

I presented a poster at the conference where I showed a portion of the work that I’ve been doing for my PhD. This included the structures of the substrates that I had synthesised and tested along with other substrates that had been tested in the past. From the poster I was able to receive feedback on my work from numerous attendees of the conference which further helped me in my direction of my PhD. I was also able to meet, in person, Ada Yonath the 2009 Noble Prize laureate, which was a highlight of Lorne 2010.

Finally, I would like to thank the RSNZ Canterbury branch for their generous support to attend this conference. It was a worth wild experience!


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