The Difficulty of Combining Research and Clinical Practice

On the last day of the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting, on the boat leaving Mainau island we asked ourselves what we were taking home from that incredible week. One aspect of the meeting impressed me from the very first day: the number of physician scientists attending, at various stages of their careers, from medical students to Nobel laureates who had practiced medicine. As a physician who dived into a basic research PhD programme, I have always struggled to find people with a similar story. Surrounded by biologists, chemists and bioinformaticians, I can count the MDs in my institute on the fingers of one hand.

Indeed, combining basic research and clinical training raises many essential questions, that I found out were shared among us, even with those who got exposed to basic research during medical school, within MD-PhD programmes. “My biggest challenge has been to identify the proper niche for myself”, says Vladislav Sviderskiy, MD-PhD candidate at the New York University School of Medicine, “If I get the opportunity to have my own lab, I would still like to see patients part-time to identify the direst questions in the clinic and to continuously remind myself that my research should push to benefit patients”.

Given that many of us have this aspiration, is it more difficult nowadays than in the past to combine research and clinical practice? Are dedicated training options well formulated, at all career stages? Can anything be done to ease the great burden in terms of workload, bureaucracy and responsibility that a clinician faces every day, in order to guarantee a protected time for research? Is it actually worth to embark both in clinics and research, with the risk of not being good at either, considering the massive wealth of continuously evolving knowledge to keep up with?

Elisabetta Cacace with Nobel Laureate J. Michael Bishop at #LINO18
Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Elisabetta Cacace

“It’s a very difficult decision”, said Michael Bishop, MD and Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine in 1989. He remains of the opinion that, especially in cancer research, knowing the disease and its clinical implications is useful for those who do basic research on it. This is the same reason why, in 2006, his colleague and Nobel prize co-recipient Harold Varmus has contributed to set up the Gerstner Sloan Kettering Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, to provide biologists with an understanding of the disease and with “the big picture. They have to understand that they do biology with humans”.

When questioned why physician scientists are a vanishing species, the two agree that the problems are the high expectations and demands placed on them in terms of clinical activity and responsibilities. In this respect, while MD-PhD programmes are quite established and in good health, at least in the US, training programmes for junior faculties are critically lacking.

Since a mixed career as physician scientist remains extremely demanding, the question arises: why should we still grant doctors with dedicated options to do research? “I believe physician scientists are uniquely equipped to act as liaisons between the two disciplines. Translating scientific discoveries to clinical practice or understanding clinical results mechanistically requires communication between the scientific and medical communities and physician scientists can help to bridge the gap”, says Vlad.

Discussing with other young scientists and Nobel Laureates, it clearly seems that such a gap exists, and that communication must be fostered between basic scientists, clinicians and global health specialists. In a wonderful session Peter Agre, MD and 2003 Nobel Laureate for Chemistry, reminded us all, with his life experience and current work as director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, that these different figures share the same scientific objective, that is to understand the world and manipulate this knowledge for the benefit of mankind.

When questioned about this matter, Alice Accorroni, MD PhD and Lindau Alumna 2015, says: “I truly believe that we should encourage the formation of large research groups to study a specific condition at different levels, from basic research to clinical trials. Most of the meetings that I attended have separate sessions for basic scientists and clinicians: we should discourage this habit and facilitate multidisciplinary sessions where both groups of researchers have a chance to exchange ideas”.

What I ultimately brought back from Lindau is the awareness that the decrease of physician scientists is “a sociological problem”, as Harold Varmus said, and that it should be tackled as such, from many angles. Both Varmus and Bishop stressed some points that could improve the current scenario: apart from reducing the clinical responsibility burden, it is important to establish tight collaborations with pure basic scientists and have people educated enough to understand basic research, clinical practice and their demands, possibly recapitulating the kind of experience that many of the Laureates had, passing from clinical practice to fundamental research. Especially in Europe, where MD-PhD programmes are not as widespread as in the US, many measures must still be taken to assist the training of physician scientists. As Alice remarks, “these should include: defining a specific path of clinical training for those physicians interested in pursuing an academic career; promoting the access to research facilities during medical school to foster the interest of medical students for research, but also to make them realise what are the challenges of doing full-time research”.

After the Lindau meeting, I definitely feel more confident about my choices so far, and I do have hopes that I will not necessarily have to choose between the lab and the ward. A lot has yet to be done by our generation of researchers and doctors to make science more interdisciplinary and ultimately faster in advancing our knowledge of the world.

Elisabetta Cacace with Nobel Laureate Peter Agre and fellow young scientists.
Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Elisabetta Cacace

Die stille Krise in der Krebsbehandlung

Für Menschen, die eine lebensverändernde Krebsdiagnose erhalten, wird die „Geburtslotterie“ zu einem entscheidenden Überlebensfaktor. So ist beispielsweise die Überlebenschance bei Brustkrebs in westlichen Ländern mehr als doppelt so hoch wie in Niedrigeinkommensländern.

Diese Ungleichheit lässt sich jedoch nur durch vielfältige Interventionen beheben, die von präventiven Maßnahmen im öffentlichen Gesundheitswesen bis hin zu einem besseren Behandlungszugang reichen. Verschärft werden die Probleme noch durch einen Mangel an medizinischen Fachkräften sowie deren unzureichende Aus- und Weiterbildung. Die Technologie ist ein wichtiger Bereich, in dem Forschung einen Beitrag zur Verbesserung dieser Situation leisten kann.

 

Ein von der IAEA veröffentlichtes weltweites Verzeichnis der Behandlungsgeräte pro Millionen Einwohner verdeutlicht die „Lücke“ in der Strahlentherapie. Während ganz Senegal bspw. über zwei Geräte verfügt, stehen in der Schweiz für eine rund halb so große Bevölkerung 74 Geräte zur Verfügung. Credit: DIRAC Project, IAEA

Linearbeschleuniger oder LINACs sind die Arbeitstiere der Radiotherapie und ein typisches Beispiel. Schätzungen gehen davon aus, dass rund 50% der an Krebs erkrankten Menschen von Radiotherapie profitieren würden, aber nur 10% der Menschen in Niedrigeinkommensländern Zugang zu dieser Option haben – dies hat die International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) als die „stille Krise“ bezeichnet.

Und dieser Bedarf wird noch wachsen: Zusätzlich 25 Millionen Krebserkrankungen pro Jahr bis 2035, eine Steigerung gegenüber 2015 um 67%, wurden prognostiziert, wovon rund zwei Drittel auf Länder mit geringem bis mittlerem Einkommen (sog. LMIC-Länder) entfallen.

Das Problem mit den Beschleunigern

LINACs sind komplexe Kreaturen, die mehrere Millionen Dollar kosten und regelmäßig überprüft und gewartet werden müssen, damit die Strahlentherapie sicher und präzise durchgeführt werden kann. Geschichten über LINACs, die nach einer Störung nicht mehr einsetzbar sind, weil finanzielle Mittel oder Servicekompetenzen fehlen, sind deshalb in LMIC-Ländern nichts Ungewöhnliches.

Die Linacs des Onkologischen Zentrums für Strahlentherapie in Singen werden im Sommer ausschließlich über Photovoltaik-Anlagen betrieben. Credit: Holger Wirtz

Zur Bewältigung dieses Problems arbeiten Wissenschaftler an robusteren und kostengünstigeren LINACs. Eine koordinierte globale Initiative, in der u. a. Experten von CERN, IAEA und acht LMIC-Ländern zusammenarbeiten, entwickelt in ihrer Frühphase Spezifikationen für ein komplettes Strahlungstherapiesystem und eine entsprechende Konzeption.

Strommangel ist ein kritisches Problem, denn LINACs fressen Strom und sind auf eine stabile Stromversorgung angewiesen – in LMIC-Ländern keine Selbstverständlichkeit. Eine der möglichen Lösungen ist in der Nähe von Lindau im Onkologischen Zentrum für Strahlentherapie in Singen zu besichtigen. Als einzige weltweit werden die LINACs des Zentrums – den ganzen Sommer über – direkt mit Energie von Sonnenkollektoren versorgt.  Der Leitende Medizinphysikexperte der Gemeinschaftspraxis, Holger Wirtz, plant mit Hilfe bestehender Batterietechnologie den Bau einer hundertprozentig netzunabhängigen Klinik in Deutschland, die als Demonstrationsstandort für Kliniken in LMIC-Ländern dienen kann.

Ein robusterer LINAC

Andere Projekte beschäftigen sich mit der Vereinfachung der LINAC-Hardware. So entwickelt das US-Unternehmen RadiaBeam  auf der Grundlage eines an der UCLA entwickelten Konzepts einen erschwinglichen LINAC, der weniger Strom verbraucht und robuster ist, aber gleichzeitig eine qualitativ hochwertige Behandlung ermöglicht. “[Studien zeigen], dass die Entwicklungsländer keine zweitklassigen Produkte wollen”, sagt CEO Salime Boucher.

Eine wichtige Neuerung ist der Kollimator des Linacs – die strahlenfokussierende Vorrichtung, die das gesunde Gewebe der Patienten während der Bestrahlung schützt. Konventionelle Kollimatoren sind komplexe Geräte, die typischerweise aus über 100 einzeln betriebenen fingerartigen Metall-Lamellen bestehen und zu einem erheblichen Teil zu Störungen an Linacs beitragen. Das neue Design arbeitet nur noch mit acht solcher Lamellen, die durch größere, stabilere Motoren gesteuert werden und eine bewegliche Blendenöffnung für die Tumorbestrahlung bilden.

In einem anderen Projekt wird an der University of Sydney, Australien, eine einfachere Gantry (die Struktur, von der die Bestrahlung abgegeben wird) entwickelt. Während konventionelle Gantrys um den Patienten rotieren, um den Tumor von allen Seiten mit Strahlen zu befeuern, ist die Nano-X Gantry fest installiert und schießt die Strahlen in den Boden. Dabei wird nicht mehr die Maschine, sondern der kleinere, leichtere Patient rotiert – ein wesentlich leichter zu lösendes technisches Problem.

Möglich wird dieser Wechsel durch hochpräzise Bildgebungsverfahren und Verarbeitungsalgorithmen. Während der Rotation des Patienten detektieren Röntgenstrahlen die neue Position des Tumors und die aus der Rotation resultierende Deformation. Mit Hilfe dieser Daten werden die Strahleneinstellungen dann aktualisiert, was eine punktgenaue Behandlung von Tumoren ermöglicht. Das Design ist kompakt und reduziert den erforderlichen Abschirmungsaufwand in Wänden und Decken der Behandlungsräume. Ein angegliedertes Start-up, ebenfalls in Sydney ansässig, arbeitet an einer vergleichbaren Lösung.

Bildgebung durch EDV verbessern

Bildgebungsverfahren wie Ultraschall, CT oder MRT erfüllen verschiedene Aufgaben in der Krebsbehandlung. Das reicht von Screening-Programmen bis zur Überwachung von Behandlungserfolgen. Hier könnten computergestützte Techniken, die Bilder rekonstruieren und deren Analyse automatisieren, zur Reduzierung der Arbeitsbelastung in den Kliniken weltweit beitragen.

Harshita Sharma, eine junge Wissenschaftlerin von der University of Oxford und Teilnehmerin der 68. Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung, entwickelt solche Methoden im Rahmen ihrer Forschungsarbeiten. Dazu zählen auch maschinelle Lernverfahren, ein hochaktuelles Thema in der biomedizinischen Bildgebung. „Wir wollen diese Anwendungen als zeitsparende und arbeitserleichternde Lösungen für Mediziner entwickeln”, sagt Sharma. Das käme besonders LMIC-Ländern zugute, wo Personalmangel und überlastete Ärzte noch weiter verbreitet sind als woanders, so Sharma.

Mit computergestützten Analysen lässt sich auch Geld sparen. Für ihre Doktorarbeit im Bereich der digitalen Pathologie untersuchte Sharma beispielsweise, ob eine preisgünstigere, effiziente Färbetechnik für Magenkarzinome, die HE-Färbung, mit Hilfe des maschinellen Lernens bessere Ergebnisse liefern würde. Derzeit ist diese Technik nicht die erste Wahl der Pathologen, da sich bestimmte Krebsarten dabei nicht so leicht mit dem Auge differenzieren lassen. Erste Genauigkeitswerte von 75 bis 80% sind vielversprechend.

Entwicklungen im Bereich des Maschinellen Lernens werden enorme Auswirkungen auf die Radiologie haben, meint Ge Wang vom Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York. Im Kern wird dadurch die Komplexität der Bildgebung von der Hardware auf die Software verlagert. „Mittels künstlicher Intelligenz für die tomographische Rekonstruktion können preisgünstigere Scanner bessere Bilder machen”, erläutert Wang.

Wang ist dabei, einen kompakten und mobilen CT-Scanner zu entwickeln, der mit einfacherer Hardware weniger Daten beim Patienten erfasst, was durch eine komplexe Bildrekonstruktion kompensiert wird. In einer kühnen Vision, dem AVATAR, sieht er den Scanner auf einem autonomen selbstfahrenden LKW, der die Tomographie in entlegene Gemeinden bringt.

 

Ein minderwertiges, niedrigdosiertes CT-Bild (links) wird mit Hilfe von maschinellem Lernen zu einer Version (rechts) aufgewertet, die mit einem standarddosierten CT-Scan (Mitte) vergleichbar ist. Maschinelles Lernen könnte einfachere, preisgünstigere und sicherere Scanner ermöglichen. Bildnachweis: Ge Wang, in einer Kooperation zwischen RPI, Sichuan Univ. & MGH/Harvard

Das Potenzial für effektive, leichter zugängliche Technologien ist enorm. Damit sie aber etwas bewirken können, müssen solche Innovationsbestrebungen Teil einer größeren Bewegung werden. Finanzielle Mittel und der Wille der Regierungen, die stille Krise zu bewältigen, sind entscheidende Voraussetzungen dafür. Einem neueren WHO-Bericht zufolge bleiben die langfristigen Bemühungen um eine Reduzierung vorzeitiger Todesfälle durch nichtübertragbare Krankheiten wie Krebs hinter den Zielen zurück. Lässt sich das Ruder noch herumreißen? Man darf gespannt sein. 

Continue reading

Tackling the Silent Crisis in Cancer Care

For those receiving a life-changing diagnosis of cancer, the lottery of birth is a decisive factor in survival. Breast cancer survival rates in the West, for example, are over double that in low-income countries.

Fixing this inequality, however, demands multiple interventions – from preventative public health measures to improved access to treatment. Other issues include a shortage of medical professionals and inadequate education and training. Technology is one important area where researchers can contribute.

 

An IAEA global directory of treatment machines per million people shows the radiotherapy ‘gap’. Senegal, for example, has two while Switzerland has 74 for around half the population. Credit: DIRAC Project, IAEA

Linear accelerators, or linacs, are the workhorses of radiotherapy and a case in point. While it’s estimated that around 50% of people with cancer would benefit from radiotherapy, only 10% of people in low income countries have access – dubbed the ‘silent crisis’ by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

That need is only set to get bigger. An increase to 25 million annual cases by 2035, a 67% jump on 2015, has been predicted. Around two thirds will be in low-middle income countries (LMIC).

The problem with accelerators

Linacs, however, are complex creatures costing several million dollars. They demand regular checks and services to deliver radiation safely and accurately. Consequently, stories of linacs sitting idle following a breakdown through a lack of money or support are not unusual in LMIC.

 

Linacs at the Lake Constance Radiation Oncology Centre in Singen are exclusively powered by solar panels in the summer. Credit: Holger Wirtz

Tackling this, researchers are working towards more robust and affordable linacs. One coordinated global effort is bringing together experts, including from CERN, the IAEA and eight LMIC. In its early days, the collaboration is developing specifications for a complete radiotherapy treatment system and a conceptual design.

Lack of power is a critical problem. Linacs devour electricity and need a stable supply, something not always available in LMIC. One potential solution can be found near Lindau at the Lake Constance Radiation Oncology Centre in Singen. The clinic’s linacs are the only ones in the world to be powered directly by solar panels – entirely so in summer.  Chief physicist Holger Wirtz plans to build a 100% off-the-grid clinic in Germany, using existing battery technology, as a demonstration site for clinics in LMIC.

A more robust linac

Other projects are working to simplify linac hardware. Applying a concept invented at UCLA, US firm RadiaBeam is developing an affordable linac that uses less power, is more robust, but should still deliver high-quality treatment. “[Research shows] the developing world doesn’t want a second-class product,” says CEO Salime Boucher.

One major innovation is the linac’s collimator – the beam-shaping aperture that shields healthy tissue during treatment. Conventional collimators are complex, typically comprising more than 100 individually driven finger-like metal leaves and are responsible for a significant share of linac-downtime. The new design uses just eight leaves controlled by larger, sturdier motors to form a single, moving aperture that paints the tumour with radiation.

In another project, a simpler gantry, the structure from which radiation is fired, is being developed at the University of Sydney, Australia. While conventional gantries rotate around the patient to zap the tumour from all directions, the Nano-X gantry is fixed and fires into the floor. Instead, the smaller, lighter patient is rotated – a much easier engineering problem.

Precision imaging and processing algorithms make the switch possible. As the patient rotates, X-rays detect the tumour’s new position and deformation caused by the rotation. The data is then used to update the beam settings, ensuring accurate treatment. The design is compact and reduces the shielding needed in the walls and ceiling of the treatment room. An associated start-up, also in Sydney, is working on a similar solution.

 

The smaller Nano-X gantry (L) compared to a conventional linac and associated room shielding (R). This was originally published in Advances in Radiation Oncology, Vol 1, Feain et al, Functional imaging equivalence and proof of concept for image-guided adaptive radiotherapy with fixed gantry and rotating couch, 365–372, (c) the Authors, 2016.

Computing to improve imaging

Imaging, such as ultrasound, CT and MRI, has several jobs in cancer care, from screening populations to monitoring treatment response. Here, computational techniques that reconstruct images and automate their analysis could ease workloads in hospitals across the globe.

Harshita Sharma of the University of Oxford, a young scientist who attended the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, develops such methods in her research. They include machine learning techniques, a hot topic in biomedical imaging. “We want to develop these applications for medical professionals so that it saves them time and effort,” says Sharma. The benefits could be particularly great in LMIC, where staff shortages and over-loaded clinicians are more common, adds Sharma.

Computational analyses can also save money. Focusing on digital pathology,  Sharma investigated during her PhD whether a more affordable, efficient staining technique for gastric carcinoma, H&E, could provide better analyses using machine learning. Currently, it is not the preferred choice of pathologists, as certain types of cancers are not easy to differentiate by eye using the technique. Initial accuracies of 75-80% are promising.

Machine learning is set to have a large global impact on radiology, says Ge Wang of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York. In essence, it shifts the complexity of imaging from the hardware to the software. “By using artificial intelligence for tomographic reconstruction, cheaper scanners can make better images,” says Wang.

Wang is developing a compact, mobile CT scanner that uses simpler hardware to acquire less data from the patient than a conventional scanner, compensated by sophisticated image reconstruction. In an audacious vision, AVATAR, he sees the scanner on an autonomous self-driving truck taking imaging to remote communities.

 

A low-quality, low-dose CT scan (L) is improved using machine learning into a version (R) comparable to a standard-dose CT image (M). Machine learning could enable simpler, cheaper, safer scanners. Credit: Ge Wang, in a collaboration between RPI, Sichuan Univ. & MGH/Harvard

Altogether, there is great potential for effective, more accessible technologies. However, innovation must be part of a bigger movement if it is to make a difference. Funding and governmental will to address the silent crisis, for example, are critical. According to a recent WHO report, long-term efforts to reduce premature deaths by non-communicable diseases, including cancer, are not on track. Can the boat be turned around? Watch this space. 

 

Continue reading

Neue Freunde und Forschungspartner auf der ganzen Welt

Marlene Heckl und Nobelpreisträger Robin Warren bei #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Marlene Heckl

Vor einigen Jahren bekam ich einmal die Frage gestellt: „Mit welcher bedeutenden Persönlichkeit würdest du gerne einmal zu Abend essen?“ Meine Antwort war ganz klar: mit einem Nobelpreisträger! Ich hätte mir nie erträumen lassen, dass dies tatsächlich einmal Realität werden könnte und doch fand ich mich nun an einem Tisch mit J. Robin Warren, der mit seinem Kollegen Barry Marshall 2005 den Nobelpreis für Physiologie oder Medizin für seine Forschungen zum Bakterium Helicobacter pylori und dessen Rolle bei der Entstehung von Magenkrebs verliehen bekam. Im Rahmen der diesjährigen Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung, die vom 24. bis 30. Juni am wunderschönen Bodensee stattfand, hatten 600 junge Nachwuchswissenschaftler die Möglichkeit gleich 39 bedeutenden Laureaten zu begegnen und ja auch mit ihnen zu essen und ganz persönliche Gespräche zu führen. So erzählte mir der australische Pathologe Warren während des Bayerischen Abends, an dem es reichlich Bier, Leberkäse und andere bayerische Schmankerl gab, wie sein Mitarbeiter Marshall die Idee zu seinem berühmten Selbstversuch hatte. „Ich dachte am Anfang er wäre verrückt, als er mir erzählte er wolle ein ganzes Reagenzglas voll Bakterien trinken, um zu zeigen, dass sie eine Gastritis verursachen können.“ Zum Glück ging der Versuch glimpflich aus und Marshall konnte anschließend mit Antibiotika geheilt werden. Doch Warren gestand mir auch: „Manchmal muss man einfach ein bisschen verrückt sein, um gute Forschung zu leisten… und um den Nobelpreis zu gewinnen.“

 

Marlene Heckl (Mitte) mit anderen Nachwuchswissenschaftlern beim Bayerischen Abend. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Marlene Heckl

Neben Partnerfrühstücken, Mittag- und Abendessen, gab es viele weitere Gelegenheiten, um einen echten Nobelpreisträger einmal persönlich zu treffen. Vormittags durften wir den Laureaten bei ihren spannenden Vorträgen lauschen, nachmittags gab es dann die Gelegenheit bei „Agora Talks“, „Science Walks“ und „Open Exchanges“ den Preisträgern persönliche Fragen zu stellen und auch mit ihnen über unsere Forschungsarbeiten zu diskutieren. In den „Master Classes“ hatten ausgewählte Nachwuchswissenschaftler zusätzlich die Möglichkeit ihre Forschung den Preisträgern vorzustellen und hilfreiches Feedback zu ihrer Präsentation zu bekommen. Laureat Peter C. Doherty, einer der Master Class Leiter und Referent über Wissenschaftskommunikation, klärte uns auf, wie wichtig es dabei ist, den Menschen eine Geschichte zu erzählen und nicht nur Fakten und Zahlen zu zeigen. „Ihr sollt die Zuhörer von eurer Forschung begeistern und sie in den Bann ziehen, dabei müssen Details auch mal weggelassen werden“.

Ein großes Thema der diesjährigen Tagung, das vor allem in einer Podiumsdiskussion angesprochen wurde, war außerdem der große Publikationsdruck in der Wissenschaft und die Frage, welchen Einfluss Journals mit Impact Factor und ohne Open-Access-Format auf die Forschung haben. Viele Preisträger äußerten sich kritisch und auch junge Kollegen sahen Notwendigkeit etwas am System zu ändern. Eine sehr lebendige und spannende Diskussion, da das Publikum aus Nachwuchswissenschaftlern hartnäckig reflektierte und nicht mit provokanten Fragen hinter dem Berg hielt.

Auch zwei der Medizinnobelpreisträger von 2017 waren dieses Jahr in Lindau anwesend: Michael Rosbash und Michael Young, die gleich zu Beginn ihre brandaktuellen Forschungen zum zirkadianen Rhythmus vorstellten. Natürlich musste ich da gleich mal nachhaken: Was empfehlen denn die Laureaten, um die innere Uhr beim Jetlag nicht ganz so stark durcheinanderzubringen? „Wir leiden und nehmen Medikamente dagegen, so wie ihr“, war die überraschend ehrliche und humorvolle Antwort der Experten. Die wohl am meisten gestellte Frage auf der Konferenz war aber sicherlich die nach dem Patentrezept für den Erhalt des Nobelpreises. Hartmut Michel, dem es 1988 gelang die höchste wissenschaftliche Auszeichnung in Stockholm verliehen zu bekommen, stellte dafür einen ganz simplen Drei-Punkte-Plan vor: „Erstens: Beantworte eine fast unmöglich zu beantwortende Frage der Biomedizin. Zweitens: Sei dir der Bedeutung einer zufälligen Entdeckung bewusst. Drittens: Entwickle eine große, neue Technologie“ – so einfach kann es also sein!

 

Nobelpreisträger Michael Young und Marlene Heckl bei #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Marlene Heckl

Im Großen und Ganzen kann man nur sagen, dass die Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung ein unvergessliches Erlebnis war, das seinem Motto „Educate. Inspire. Connect.“ mehr als gerecht wird. Nicht nur der Austausch mit so vielen inspirierenden Nobelpreisträgern ist gelungen, besonders die Möglichkeit mit gleichgesinnten jungen Wissenschaftlern aus aller Welt zusammenzutreffen und neue Freundschaften fürs Leben zu schließen, hat meine Erwartungen weit übertroffen. Die Zeit in Lindau endete mit einer wunderschönen Bootsfahrt auf die Blumeninsel Mainau, bei der die Nobelpreisträger noch einmal gebührend mit Standing Ovations gefeiert und verabschiedet wurden. Ich habe den Bodensee mit einer Menge bereichernder Erfahrungen, großartigen Ratschlägen, schönen Erinnerungen sowie neuen Freunden und künftigen Forschungspartnern überall auf der Welt im Gepäck verlassen. Falls ihr die Möglichkeit habt, euch selbst einmal für die Tagung vorschlagen zu lassen, kann ich euch nur ans Herz legen, eine der besten Wochen eures Lebens dort zu verbringen und den „Lindau Spirit“ hautnah zu erleben.

New Friends and Research Partners From All Over the World

Marlene Heckl and Nobel Laureate Robin Warren at #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Marlene Heckl

A few years ago, I was asked the question: “Which important personality would you like to have dinner with?” My definite answer was: with a Nobel Prize winner! I have never imagined that this could actually become reality, and yet last week I found myself at a table with J. Robin Warren, who, along with his colleague Barry Marshall, won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his research on the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in the development of gastric cancer. As part of this year’s Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, which took place from 24 to 29 June on the beautiful Lake Constance, 600 young scientists had the chance to meet 39 Nobel Laureates, to dine with them and even to have some more personal conversation. It was during this very Bavarian evening, where we were served plenty of beer, Leberkäse and other traditional delicacies, that the Australian pathologist Warren told me how his colleague Marshall had the idea for his famous self-experiment. “At first I thought he was crazy when he told me he wanted to drink a whole test tube full of bacteria to show that they could cause gastritis.” Fortunately, it all turned out well and Marshall could be cured with antibiotics afterwards. But Warren also admitted: “Sometimes you just have to be a little bit crazy to do good research… and to win the Nobel Prize.”

Marlene Heckl (middle) with other young scientists at the Bavarian Evening. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Marlene Heckl

In addition to Partner Breakfasts, lunches and dinners, there were many other opportunities to meet a true Nobel Laureate in person. In the mornings we could attend exciting lectures held by the laureates and in the afternoons we had the chance to ask them personal questions and discuss our research with them during “Agora Talks”, “Science Walks” and “Open Exchanges”. Furthermore, in the “Master Classes”, selected young scientists had the opportunity to present their research to the Nobelists and to receive helpful feedback on their presentations. Laureate Peter C. Doherty, one of the Master Class leaders and a lecturer of science communication, explained to us how important it is to tell people not just facts and figures but a story. “You should inspire the listeners of your research and draw them in – don’t put too much detail in your talk!”

A major theme of this year’s meeting, which was specifically addressed in panel discussions, was the large pressure to publish in science as well as the question what role journals with high impact factors and without an open access format play in the “Publish or Perish” debate. Many Nobel Laureates expressed critical views, and the young scientists saw the need to change the system. It was a very lively and exciting discussion, as the audience reflected upon the role of science in our society and dared to ask provocative questions.

Moreover, two of the current Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine 2017 were present in Lindau this year: Michael Rosbash and Michael Young, who both presented their brand-new research on the circadian rhythm. After their lecture, I just had to ask them the question that everybody had in mind: what do the laureates recommend to get over a jetlag and synchronize our internal clock with the day/night circle again? “We suffer and take medication, just like you,” was the surprisingly honest and humorous response of the experts. The most frequently asked question at the conference was certainly the one concerning the patent recipe for receiving a Nobel Prize. Hartmut Michel, who was awarded the highest scientific award in Stockholm in 1988, presented a very simple three-point plan: “First, answer an almost impossible question in biomedicine. Second, be aware of the significance of a serendipitous discovery. Third, develop a major new technology.” So that’s how easy it can be!

 

Nobel Laureate Michael Young and Marlene Heckl at #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Marlene Heckl

All in all, one can only say that the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was an unforgettable experience, in line with its motto “Educate. Inspire. Connect.”. Not only has the exchange with so many inspiring Nobel Laureates been a full success, but also the opportunity to meet with like-minded young scientists from all over the world and make new friendships for life has far exceeded my expectations. The time in Lindau ended with a beautiful boat trip to the flower island Mainau, where the Nobel Laureates were once again fittingly celebrated and given appropriate goodbyes with standing ovations. I have left Lake Constance with enriching experiences, great pieces of advice, amazing new memories and new friends and potential future research partners from all over the world. If you have the opportunity to be nominated for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, I can only recommend that you spend one of the best weeks of your entire life there and experience the “Lindau Spirit” first-hand.

Educated. Inspired. Connected.

Nobel Laureate Michael Rosbash was correct when stating during his 2017 Nobel Banquet that “scientific careers rely on inheritance, environment and random events like all biological phenomena.” Indeed, most laureates at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting attributed their Nobel recognition to hard-work, good decision making and a touch of luck. Such attributes may be applied to my participation at Lindau as I have taken an interdisciplinary path. As an undergraduate I looked at the potential use of erythropoietin to stimulate wound repair in certain types of human endothelial cells at University College Dublin. A PhD on skeletal muscle physiology and adaptation to hypoxia in animal models at University College Cork followed. Next, I spent two years working in an Irish bar in Cologne. Eventually, I found my way back into science with an occupational and environmental medicine and research institute at the University Hospital of Cologne. Needless to say, after 1.5 years as a post-doc and still learning the trade, I did not expect to receive the invitation to participate in such a prestigious event as the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting!

 

Philip Lewis (second from right) and other young scientists with Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn (fourth from right) in Lindau. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Philip Lewis

With excitement galore, preparation began almost immediately. After all, a scientist is what a scientist does, and the research must be done: websites, blogs, videos, tweets, profiles, even PubMed contains information on the Lindau Meetings! My research was geared toward answering the question: “What does one even say to a Nobel Prize winner?” Even after the meeting, I do not have a one-size-fits-all answer. However, a good place to start is to ask for opinions on scientific concerns beyond the lab bench. For instance, the laureates were happy to bare their experiences on navigating the academic industry including finding funding and publishing papers and to discuss each topic within the current academic climate.

I must admit that despite the excitement, it was difficult to keep the imposter syndrome at bay when reading about the work and achievements of the Nobel Laureates themselves. It quickly became clear, however, that the 600 invited young scientists from 84 countries were key to the meeting. Also, and more so than ‘traditional’ conferences, lab bench data receives equal footing alongside professional development, scientific history, collaboration, communication, global integration and scientific perspective. The imposter syndrome could, at least in part, be mitigated.

The most valuable research document is of course the programme published by the committee. Fittingly, the first words from the meeting’s Council in the welcome address of the programme take the form of a question: “Is post-factual the new normal?” The Council put forward a major challenge faced by the scientific community for the attendees to chew on: “The challenge may be to reconnect science to the public and to political decision makers.” Indeed, from my research of the meeting, it is clear that the science-society interface goes back a ways as an ingrained meeting thread. I count myself lucky that my first day in Lindau included some coaching and rehearsal in presenting my research to a non-scientific audience for a German television programme. Moreover, another of the attendees at this rehearsal, Arunima Roy, has written a blog post for the meeting on post-facts and communication issues. The meeting had not yet officially started, and I was already learning important lessons for scientists.

It gets better – the very first lectures were given by Michael Rosbash and Michael Young, joint recipients of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the work on the genetic basis of the circadian system in the fruit fly and other organisms. In other words, two of the top-dogs of the field I work in are presenting first. I couldn’t help but note the irony in these laureates being invited to give speeches all around the world, thus, being increasingly challenged with jet-lag which stems from perturbment to the very system they worked on to win the Nobel Prize! The lectures were stimulating and offered research into circadian systems as a basis to understand and eventually shape health and disease in coming years. That evening I was fortunate to sit at Michael Young’s table for dinner. There were exacerbations of my imposter syndrome but that was quickly eased. A laureate’s approval of your current scientific investigation can do that (who said you should never meet your heroes?).

 

Nobel Laureate Michael Young during dinner with Philip Lewis and other young scientists at the International Get-Together of #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

As the meeting drew on, it got better still. The young scientists were the key. Almost no one knew each other beforehand and we were outside of the traditional lab group comfort zone clique that can occur at some conferences. Interaction was inevitable, and the first question of “so what do you research” put people into their comfort zones from the start. It quickly became clear that when two or more scientists sit down and start talking research, everything in the background that could be a distraction disappears. Over six hundred people in one room having conversations and only being able to hear the person sitting next to you talking about their research is quite the physiological adaptation – I wonder is it just scientists who have adapted in such a way?

The laureate lectures and discussion groups ranged from bench science to life experiences and from improving science dissemination to flying the flag for important causes. Edvard Moser spoke about the mapping of the surrounding environment in rodent brains with grid cells which was fascinating from a scientific curiosity perspective. Ada Yonath gave arguably the best lecture with her explanations of ribosome functioning and targets for drug interventions both understandable and entertaining for the lay audience members (like me). She highlighted the number of top female scientists in her working group who have several children which shows that all working systems are able to allow for female scientists with families. In other words, if a working system does not allow for this, it can and should be changed for the better. Her talk extended beyond her allotted time but there was nobody in the audience rushing out of the hall to attend another session. She could have held the stage for the day and she definitely and deservedly got the longest applause of the week. Referring to antibiotics preventing ribosomal function showed that you don’t have to be big to be strong. She could have used herself as proof for the validity of this statement. Michael Levitt provided an assessment of funding struggles facing young scientists and emphasised values needed to be the right kind of scientist. Sir Richard Roberts led an impassioned and highly motivating discussion on the use of GMO’s to save several millions of lives around the world, and his use of the Nobel Prize status to provide a recognisable scientific voice to such campaigns. He had almost every young scientist in the room asking where we can sign up to join the cause. Chatting with Peter C. Doherty about his experiences after lunch on Mainau Island was another highlight.

Now, this may sound like a conference of stroking egos, but there was a fair share of controversy and contrasting views amongst the laureates themselves, the young scientists themselves and between the laureates and the young scientists. This, of course, is to be expected with frontier research, a wide range of age differences and experiences and having over 80 different countries represented. However, contrasting viewpoints served only to improve the scientific discussion. Indeed, many laureate views were challenged as being outdated or naïve. The panel discussion on “publish or perish” got quite feisty from time to time regarding ethics and responsibility, impact on scientific lives and asking what can be done to improve the process. Young scientist Amy Shepherd, who had already written an excellent blog on pressures in academia, provided a powerful voice for young scientists. She was not daunted in the verbal boxing match between Nobel Laureates Randy W. Sheckman and Harold E. Varmus who are pioneering ways for the dissemination of information in the life sciences, CEO of Springer Nature Daniel Ropers and EMBO director Maria Leptin.

 

Panel discussion ‘Publish or Perish’ at #LINO18 (from left): Alaina Levine, Daniel Ropers, Maria Leptin, Randy Shekman, Amy Shepherd and Harold Varmus. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Overall, it was a long week but a great one. This event was a unique experience that I wish every young scientist had the opportunity to benefit from because they undoubtedly would. The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting 2018 has surpassed all expectations and then some. There is so much more I could potentially include in this blog, from lunch with Elizabeth Blackburn to the dancing on the boat from Mainau, but there would not be enough space in a novel for everything.

From this meeting, I can take away friendships from all over the world, new potential collaborators, an increased sense of responsibility to confront and discuss the most important issues facing our society, and confidence that we have young scientists all over the world with the capabilities to address these major issues both in the laboratory and in conveying the appropriate messages to society. The Federal Minister of Education and Research, Anja Karliczek, stated at the outset, “If we want to save the world, we need researchers who stand up and speak up.” I have been motivated to do so, and I know the other young scientists have as well.

Lindau is a special place and the meeting is a special time. I have been educated, inspired, and connected and I now understand what is meant by the Lindau spirit! There is something at this meeting for everybody. To everyone involved in making the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting possible, thank you!

Crowdsourcing im Kampf gegen Aflatoxin

Nobelpreisträger Michael Levitt  und andere #LINO18 Teilnehmer spielen Foldit während des Mars Partner Frühstücks. Credit: Mars, Incorporated

 

Junge Wissenschaftler spielten während der 68. Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung ein Online-Proteinfaltungsspiel und lieferten damit neue Proteinstrukturen, die zukünftig ein Pilzgift bekämpfen könnten, das Grundnahrungsmittel wie Mais, Erdnüssen und Maniok kontaminiert. Das Gift mit dem Namen Aflatoxin verdirbt Feldfrüchte auf dem Acker und kann bei unsachgemäßer Lagerung, insbesondere in heißer, feuchter Umgebung, auch zu Kontaminierung der Ernte führen.

Über 4,5 Milliarden Menschen sind weltweit Aflatoxinen in Lebensmitteln in unterschiedlichem Ausmaß ausgesetzt. Laut eines gemeinsamen Ausschusses der World Health Organization und der Food and Agriculture Organization zählen diese Toxine  zu den verheerendsten Substanzen, die Leberkrebs verursachen können. Aflatoxine lassen sich bisher nicht aus Lebensmitteln entfernen. Deshalb wird ihr Gehalt in Lebensmitteln und Tierfuttermitteln durch Vorschriften begrenzt. 

Mars, Incorporated, einer der weltweit größten Lebensmittelproduzenten und langjähriger Partner der Lindauer Tagungen, muss in Indien über 70% der Erdnusslieferungen wegen erhöhten Aflatoxingehalts zurückweisen, sagt Howard Yana-Shapiro, Chief Agricultural Officer bei Mars. Allerdings werden diese beanstandeten Produkte trotzdem als Lebens- und Futtermittel verwendet. Durch die Ablehnung von kontaminierten Lebensmitteln trägt das Unternehmen also nicht zur Verbesserung der Lebensmittelsicherheit für andere Gemeinschaften bei, sagt er.

Yana-Shapiro hat es sich persönlich zur Aufgabe gemacht, große Herausforderungen der Lebensmittel- und Nahrungsunsicherheit anzugehen. Seit er das Problem Aflatoxin kennt, hat er eine Partnerschaft mit Hochschulforschern, einem führenden Anbieter von biowissenschaftlicher Ausrüstung und einer Organisation, die an der Aflatoxinbekämpfung in Afrika arbeitet, initiiert. Dieses Team ist jetzt damit beschäftigt, ein Enzym zu entwickeln, das industriell genutzt werden kann, um Aflatoxin auf Feldfrüchten abzubauen.

Crowdsourcing für die Entgiftung

Forscher wissen bereits, dass bestimmte Enzyme Aflatoxin natürlich abbauen, indem diese Proteine eine Bindung im Toxin aufbrechen und es damit unschädlich machen. Diese Enzyme funktionieren jedoch alle nur mit Zusatzstoffen, deren Einsatz in großem Rahmen teuer wäre. Um die enzymatische Wirkung zu vereinfachen, wollen Forscher jetzt ein Enzym finden, das im Zusammenspiel mit Wasser denselben entgiftenden Bindungsaufbruch bewirkt.

Die Herausforderung besteht nun darin, das Enzym so umzubauen, dass es speziell Aflatoxin entgegenwirkt. Die Anzahl möglicher Strukturen für ein umgestaltetes Enzym ist allerdings im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes astronomisch hoch. „Diese Zahl übersteigt die Anzahl der Sterne am Himmel”, sagt Justin Siegel, ein synthetischer Biologe an der University of California, Davis.

Um die Suche nach einem aflatoxin-spezifischen Enzym zu beschleunigen, wurden Siegel und seine Kollegen zu Akteuren eines Online-Videospiels für Proteinfaltung. Das Spiel mit der Bezeichnung Foldit ist eines von mehreren web-basierten Plattformen, die sich der menschlichen Fähigkeiten der visuellen Mustererkennung bedienen, um die wissenschaftliche Forschung voranzubringen. In den zehn Jahren seit Herausgabe des Spiels haben Foldit-Mitspieler, bei denen es sich übrigens nicht unbedingt um Wissenschaftler handeln muss, die Aktivität eines Enzyms verbessert, das von Grund auf neu entwickelt wurde, um eine bestimmte Funktion zu erfüllen. Innerhalb von gerade einmal zehn Tagen ist ihnen auch die Aufklärung der Struktur eines viralen Proteins gelungen, das Forscher vorher schon 15 Jahre lang beschäftigt hatte.

 

Justin Siegel und Nachwuchswissenschaftler auf der 68. Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung. Credit: Mars, Incorporated

Siegel und seine Studenten legen den Foldit-Spielern Puzzles vor, die einen Teil des ausgewählten Enzyms enthalten. Die Spieler passen die Hauptkette des Proteins oder die Seitenketten seiner Aminosäure-Bausteinen an verschiedene Formen an. Die Foldit-Software errechnet dann die Energie des veränderten Proteins und weist dem Spieler eine Punktzahl zu. Proteine mit geringer Energie und Merkmalen, die ihre physische Stabilität gewährleisten, erhalten höhere Punktwerte als Proteine mit hoher Energie und physisch unerwünschten Eigenschaften.

Nachdem Spieler mit etlichen Puzzles herausgefordert werden, erfassen Siegel und sein Team hundert der am höchsten eingestuften Proteinstrukturen. Wissenschaftler von Thermo Fisher Scientific synthetisieren dann die DNA, die jedes Protein entschlüsselt. Siegel und seine Kollegen bringen jedes dieser DNA-Stücke in Bakterien ein, isolieren anschließend das von den Bakterien auf Grundlage der DNA-Baupläne hergestellte Protein und testen es auf seine Fähigkeit, Aflatoxin abzubauen. Schließlich nutzen sie die bei der Proteinherstellung gewonnenen Informationen, um die nächsten Puzzles für die Foldit-Spieler entsprechend zu verfeinern.

Derzeit wertet das Team die Proteine aus, die während der zweiten Puzzle-Runde entstanden sind. Seit dem Start der Aflatoxin-Puzzles im vergangenen Oktober haben Foldit-Spieler Anstrengungen beigesteuert, die der Arbeit von 100 Vollzeitarbeitskräften für ein ganzes Jahr entsprechen, so Siegel. Im Gegensatz zu einem bezahlten Job profitieren Foldit-Spieler nicht finanziell von ihrem Einsatz. Doch sobald dieses Enzym soweit optimiert ist, dass es Aflatoxin abbauen kann, soll seine Struktur der allgemeinen Öffentlichkeit zugänglich gemacht werden und dann frei zur Vermarktung zur Verfügung stehen.

Die Zukunft von Crowdsourcing

Foldit’s Mehrwert besteht darin, die einzigartige Problemlösungsfähigkeit von Menschen und Computern zu kombinieren.  Foldit-Spieler können einen kurzen Blick auf eine Proteinstruktur werfen und riesige Veränderungen seines Backbones oder seiner Aminosäure-Seitenketten erkennen, die es zu einem stabileren Protein machen könnten. Die Foldit-Software wird von Programmen unterstützt, die von Nobelpreisträger Michael Levitt entwickelt wurden. Die Software zeichnet sich vor allem durch ihre Fähigkeit aus, Proteinstabilität zu ermitteln, die auf sehr kleinen strukturellen Veränderungen basiert.

Indem die Forscher hunderten oder tausenden unterschiedlichen Spielern Puzzles vorlegen können, sammeln sie Lösungen aus einer Vielzahl unterschiedlicher Perspektiven.  Mit der Lösung von Foldit-Puzzles entwickeln die Spieler eine hohe technische Fähigkeit, die strukturellen Veränderungen eines Proteins mit Veränderungen seiner Funktion in Verbindung zu bringen. Die Spieler, so Levitt, werden für ihre harte Arbeit also mit Bildung belohnt.

 

Von links: Moderatorin Meeri Kim, Michael Levitt, Martina Mustroph und Justin Siegel während des Mars Partner Breakfasts bei #LINO18. Credit: Mars, Incorporated

Für Levitt ermöglicht die Zukunft des Proteinstruktur-Crowdsourcings den Spielern, ihre Fähigkeiten wie ein Wissenschaftler für die unabhängige Untersuchung eines Problems zu nutzen und damit Dinge zu tun, die sich früher niemand hätte vorstellen können. Vor diesem Hintergrund könnte die Wissenschaft tatsächlich von der Weisheit der Masse profitieren. „Ich glaube, dass Wissenschaft dem Zufallsprinzip folgt”, sagt er. „Man erhöht seine Chancen [etwas herauszufinden], indem man möglichst viele Menschen unkonventionell denken lässt.” 

Strategies for Science Communication in a Post-Factual Era

A panel discussion about science in a post-factual era engaged young scientists who travelled to Mainau Island on the last day of the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. The large amount of information available on the internet, combined with opinions easily shared through social media, fuel doubt about the authority of scientists and their knowledge when it comes to topics such as evolution, renewable energy and climate change.

 

The closing panel discussion of #LINO18 on Mainau Island: moderator Adam Smith, Arunima Roy, Peter Doherty, Adam Whisnant, Stven Chu and Brian Malow (from left to right). Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

The panellists, which included two Nobel Laureates, two young scientists and a science communicator, agreed that sharing the process and the human side of science to non-scientists was important to combat doubt. Strategies for successful communication that emerged from stories the panellists shared included speaking a common language and building trust.

Adam Whisnant, a young scientist studying virology at the University of Würzburg, grew up in a small town in North Carolina. Most of the town’s 400 inhabitants had one of four common surnames, and pastors were the community’s accepted authorities, he said. While teaching community college, a student visited Whisnant with questions about the theory of evolution. Knowing that the student had attended seminary school, Whisnant approached the discussion by speaking the student’s language first, using philosophy and biblical references to explore the root of the question. As the discussion progressed, Whisnant found the student became more receptive to talking about scientific aspects of evolution, such as DNA damage and replication. What Whisnant learned from that experience is that scientific facts aren’t always necessary to discuss questions about scientific topics.

 

Young scientist Arunima Roy. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Speaking the same language is a strategy that worked for Nobel Laureate Steven Chu, too. After his time as U.S. Secretary of Energy, Chu spoke at a gathering of rural electric providers. He expected the group to receive him with anti-government and anti-regulation views, so Chu started his talk by saying, “I hate regulations as much as you do.” Regulations occupied much of Chu’s time when he was director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “The audience started to listen after that.”

Getting to know a community well enough to speak their language can be challenging for young scientists who move frequently during their training. But that mobility can be also useful, said Arunima Roy, young scientist from West Bengal studying molecular psychiatry at the University of Würzburg. Living in new cities or countries provides an opportunity to get to know other cultures. An important part of community building is getting to know people through activities outside of the lab and politics, Chu added.

A shared language also contributes to building trust, which was another strategy for successful science communication that emerged from the panellists’ experiences. When Chu worked in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2013, he found that building personal trust over time was important to convincing sceptical politicians to accept scientific information. Part of trust building included not talking down to someone or delivering facts authoritatively, he said.

Laureate Peter Doherty also wants to help non-scientists understand that science is not an “authoritarian priesthood.” An author of six books about science for lay audiences, he is now working on another book that shows how science is a way of thinking about evidence and reality.

 

Steven Chu. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Young scientists also share Doherty’s interest in communicating the process of science. When science communicator Brian Malow talks to young scientists during the Lindau Meetings, he asks what they wish people understood about science. Often, they want others to understand that there will be mistakes in science, but the process is inherently self-correcting.

“The great triumph of science is wisdom built up over time,” Chu said. Experiment and observation are the final arbiter of debates over conflicting hypotheses. And when sceptics question uncertainties inherent in science, “new ways of making measurements win the day.”

During a question and answer session, audience members challenged the panellists with direct questions:

Strategies for science communication mentioned during the panel included tweeting, putting good visuals on YouTube, and publishing articles online. How do we communicate science in the developing world, specifically rural Africa, where many people are illiterate and do not have internet access?

And instead of talking about challenges in science communication from an arrogant perspective that centres on what the public doesn’t understand, why don’t scientists try to approach the challenges from a different angle?

Both questions brought audience applause, and the young scientists continued the discussion during lunch. With their engagement and critical thinking about science communication, perhaps they could be the ones to answer these questions through experimenting with efforts to communicate science to the public and policy makers.

 

Watch the #LINO18 panel discussion:

 

#LINO18 Daily Recap – Friday, 29 June 2018

After a week filled with impassionate lectures, insightful discussions and an abundance of scientific exchange we have come to the end of our  68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting – before we bid you farewell, take one more look at our highlights from Friday.

 

Picture of the day:

Farewell

Young scientist Nataly Naser Al Deen gave a heartfelt farewell speech to all #LINO18 participants.

Photo/Credit: Gero von der Stein/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

For even more pictures from the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, past and present, take a look at our Flickr account.

 

Blog post of the day: 

Young scientists attending a Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting frequently ask the laureates for career advice. In her latest blog post Tracing the Beginnings of a Scientific Career, Melissae Fellet describes  J. Michael Bishop’s and Harold Varmus’ experiences on career planning.  

Harold Varmus J. and Michael Bishop during the #LINO18 Agora Talk. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Do take a look at more exciting blog posts.

 

Tweets of the day:

https://twitter.com/MohamedBrolosy/status/1012684984447045632?s=09

https://twitter.com/Kiaraso/status/1012633901024661504?s=19

https://twitter.com/embl/status/1012683990795456512?s=19

Last but not least, follow us on Twitter @lindaunobel and Instagram @lindaunobel and keep an eye out for #LINO18

 

Video of the day:

A glimpse of the final day of #LINO18 filled with inspiring encounters, fruitful discussions and last but not least a great party.

 

Obviously, this is not the only video of #LINO18! You are more than welcome to browse through our mediatheque or our YouTube channel for more!

 

This was our last Daily Recap. We hope you enjoyed this week as much as we did and felt the Lindau Spirit!

Goodbye Lindau Alumni! Let’s stay connected!

Women in Research at #LINO18: Rushita Bagchi from India

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter).

 

Picture/Credit: Courtesy of Rushita Bagchi

#LINO18 young scientist Rushita Bagchi, 35, from India, is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Colorado Denver, USA.

Her research involves elucidating epigenetic mechanisms that govern the pathogenesis of obesity and diabetes contributing to cardiometabolic syndrome. This work has great translational impact for development of therapeutics for treatment of obesity and diabetes (T2D).

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

I have always been fascinated by the mysteries of nature and how scientific research helps unfold those in different ways. Curiosity has been my primary motivation for the pursuit of science in school and as a career choice. I always had an aptitude for biology, which formed the foundation of my continued interest in understanding physiological processes. Fortunately, I have had great mentors throughout my life who have inspired me to garner knowledge in various ways, and therefore helped me prepare to embark on this journey towards a career in biomedical research. The elements of challenge and surprise and my intrinsic curiosity continue to fuel my passion for science and research.

Who are your role models?

My parents have been my first and foremost role models. And I cannot express my gratitude in words for their unconditional love and encouragement.

When it comes to being influenced by ideals in science, I have been extremely fortunate to have had excellent mentors at every stage of my academic pursuit. Beginning with my teachers in grade school and professors in India, to my PhD and postdoctoral supervisors- each of them has had unique traits or skills that I have fancied of embodying someday. On a broader scale, I have been always in awe of the late Nobel Laureate Oliver Smithies for his simplicity and humble approach towards such an illustrious career in science. I had the opportunity of meeting him in person, and listen to him about his journey to the Nobel Prize. Being a woman in science myself, I have always found positive reinforcement looking up to women like the late Barbara McClintock who received the Nobel prize in 1983 for her pioneering work in the field of cytogenetics.  She was born in a family with lesser privileges, but overcame all obstacles to pursue her dream and devoted her entire life to research. Two other female scientists that I admire for their relentlessness are Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Elizabeth Blackburn. I continue to be inspired by these women even today.

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

While pursuing my undergraduate degree in zoology in India, I realised that my longing to learn was growing by leaps and bounds. To satisfy my curiosity and eagerness to learn more about physiology and allied sciences, I went on to do a master’s degree as well. Throughout both these degree programmes, I was blessed to have some extremely supportive mentors who always pushed me to set and achieve higher goals. My academic pursuit was put on hold for a short time due to personal reasons. But soon enough, thanks to my ever supportive husband, I was able to successfully enroll in the PhD program at the University of Manitoba in Canada. Dr. Michael Czubryt as my Ph.D. supervisor taught me valuable life skills, and most importantly to believe in myself. I began to understand and appreciate the intricacies of scientific research under his tutelage, and that continues even today in my postdoctoral training program at the University of Colorado Denver. My doctoral degree training taught me to be diligent, organized, critical and think independently. After successful completion of my PhD program, I moved to Colorado, USA to pursue my postdoctoral training under the supervision of Dr. Timothy McKinsey. My training in his lab so far has taught me to be fearless in doing the groundwork and pursuing novel research ideas. I am hoping that what I have learned from my mentors will help propel my career in biomedical research.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

Every project that I have worked on till date had its own defining moments. Being able to elucidate the novel role of a transcription factor in regulation of fibroblast function in the heart was an exciting and “cool” project during my PhD program. Successful completion of complex experiments in this project gave tremendous satisfaction. One of my postdoctoral research projects investigates the previously unknown role of a chromatin modifying enzyme in metabolic disease. This is a very exciting and yet another “cool” project to work on as this has great translational potential.

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself  or your work?

It is difficult to define a particular time when I have felt immense pride in myself and my work. The best rewards and proudest moments for me have been the recognition that I have received for my work in the form of opportunities to present my work at international meetings and grant support received from national funding agencies. Although, I must say that it is a matter of immense pride in being the first ever successful nominee from the University of Manitoba to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. I was selected through a national research competition for graduate students in Canada, and secured the top spot to earn the nomination.

Picture/Credit: Courtesy of Rushita Bagchi

What is a “day in the life” of  like?

My usual day starts early at 6 am when I wake up and take time to go through my emails and newly published articles or perspectives in my field of research. Sometimes before heading to work, I try to spend some time catching up with the rest of the world on social media or doing data analysis. It is pretty much time to hit the ground running as soon as I reach the lab. Around noon would be time for lunch with colleagues from my and other labs in the division. Early afternoon, I take a little time to catch up on emails before returning to the bench again to wrap up experiments for the day by the evening. Most evenings are long, but I attempt to plan out next day’s work in advance to save time the following day. I am usually back home by 8pm, when I prepare and have supper. Before bedtime, which is conventionally around midnight, I read articles or reviews to keep myself updated about research topics of interest.

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

As a young scientist in training now, I aspire to transition to the next step in my career as an independent investigator in recent future. Leading a research laboratory focused on studying mechanism of pathogenesis of cardiometabolic disease, I hope to contribute to the biomedical community through development of novel therapeutic strategies to treat patients suffering from debilitating conditions such as diabetes and heart failure. I am also committed towards training the next generation of biomedical researchers when I embark on my journey as an independent scientist.

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

Music is food for my soul, and culinary adventures teach me the art of experimentation. When I am not in the lab, I listen to relaxing classical music and am deeply investing my energy in creating my culinary “masterpieces” in the kitchen. Being able to create a unique dish in the kitchen somehow brings me the same joy and satisfaction that I would get from the successful completion of a complex experiment at the bench.

What advice do you have for other women interested in science?

Patience and perseverance is what will propel women in the sciences. One needs to find mentors who support women in science- it does get very lonely out there. It is important to create your own network which comprises colleagues, peers, and role models who are committed to helping one succeed even in the face of obstacles. Nothing is impossible to attain once you set your mind to it.

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physiology or medicine?

With the current trend in use of gene editing technologies, especially the CRISPR-Cas system, we are not far from seeing the use of this tool in its current or improvised form in the clinic to treat patients harboring rare life-threatening genome mutations. Our knowledge of drug discovery tools and platforms has grown tremendously in the past few years, and this will pave the foundation for the emergence of novel and highly efficacious therapeutics for treatment of difficult to treat pathologies.

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

Opportunities and incentives to be retained in research should be increased for women. More women go to school and complete their degree programs successfully now than ever before. But not all of them find themselves in careers in science long-term. Individuals in higher seats of administration and policy makers are the ones who can truly effect a change in the system and help retain women as scientists and professors in the workforce. It is high time that gender equity, whether it comes to opportunities or pay scale, becomes a priority in our societies beyond political and social boundaries. Women need to support and mentor women, but so do men.