Annual Report 2018

Hot off the press: The Annual Report 2018. Photo/Credit: Christoph Schumacher/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

The Annual Report 2018 of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings is out now.

The report features highlights of the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting (Physiology/Medicine), including articles on the new programme sessions in the modernised Inselhalle as well as inspiring reviews by Nobel Laureates and young scientists.

The digital edition of the Annual Report can be dowloaded here.

#LINO18 Exceeded My Expectations

Before the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, I interviewed several talented female participants about their career path, their passion for science, their struggles and successes for my “Women in Research” blog – a blog to increase the visibility of women in research. Now after the meeting they shared their #LINO18 highlights with me. Be prepared to be blown away!

Future #LINO19 participants may find more information about the application process here.


Amy Shepherd from New Zealand

“The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was honestly one of the most surreal experiences of my life. The chance to hear and talk to some of the laureates was a super exciting thought, and it didn’t disappoint. From Richard Roberts’ impassioned talk on how the anti-GMO campaign has led to the unnecessary death of millions of people to Martin Chalfie’s joking advocacy for slightly sloppy science when starting something new, I learnt not about my specific branch of science, but much more about the scientific landscape and our role as young scientists in it.

Amy Shepherd and Harold Varmus during the #LINO18 panel discussion ‘Publish or Perish’. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

A question the laureates get constantly is “How do you win a Nobel Prize?”, but I think the much more interesting one is “What do you do IF you win it?”. A common theme was that after the prize, you really are in the limelight and have a platform to make change. Two examples of Nobel Laureates using their prizes to change the scientific community are Harold Varmus and Randy Scheckman, founders of PLOS one and eLife, respectively, who I was lucky enough to be on a panel with (along with EMBO President Maria Leptin and Springer Nature CEO Daniel Ropers) to discuss the role of ‘Publish or Perish’ in shaping the careers of young scientists – a life changing and exciting experience that’s going to be hard to beat!

What I found the most inspiring and valuable was meeting the other young scientists – representing 84 countries, the different fields and life experience we’ve all had, led to interesting and engaging discussions about specific scientific problems to the scientific community to world issues. I was incredibly lucky to be part of the #LindauAussies, and I think those friendships will last a lifetime. If you have the opportunity to go to this bizarre and wonderful meeting, I would highly recommend it.”

>>Read more about Amy


Rhiannon Edge from the UK

“Every young person with an interest in science should go to this event! Trust me, I’m a Doctor.

The meeting was like a conference on steroids – every speaker a keynote, and the programme packed – I doubt I got more than five hours sleep a night. The Nobel Laureates discussed both their work and their life journeys. Ada Yonath gave a particularly clear, concise, and engaging talk about her research on the ribosome, but she also spoke about her family and the families of her colleagues. She is proof that woman can have multiple roles in their working and personal lives and more importantly that it shouldn’t even be a big deal anymore.  

Rhiannon Edge and Nobel Laureate Ada Yonath during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Rhiannon Edge

For me one of the nicest things about Lindau is the opportunity to connect with the Nobel Laureates on a personal level. Sitting next to Michael Rosbash for dinner and discussing our mutual respect for the determination of sports-people was something quite surreal. Lindau showed that Nobel Laureates are not that different from the rest of us – (in some cases) they still look forwards to a nice cold beer at the end of a long day! During our time at Lindau the differences between the young scientists and the Nobel Laureates began to blur – they were sympathetic to many of the challenges facing those who are working in science. I think that this is important to take away from the meeting – even the pinnacle of scientific achievement can be reached and surpassed – not by heroes but by people, with a little hard work, luck and an inquisitive mind.  

Many of the laureates used their notoriety associated with the award to pursue political issues. We already know the answers to many of the health issues affecting millions of people but often we choose not to help people. During a lunch with Peter Agre, he talked at length about his recent work as an advocate for improvements in global health (particularly focused on Malaria). I think these individuals should give us hope. I think we need to find our voices as advocates without first having to get a Nobel Prize and really speak up for the issues that still exist not because of a lack of understanding but because of a lack of political will!

As you may have realised, the conference was pretty inspiring!

The young scientists were the very best thing about Lindau. Everyone I met was interesting, engaging and enthusiastic. This made for an atmosphere of togetherness and scientific success that will stay with me for a very long time – as will the memories that I made at Lindau with my fellow young scientists.”

>>Read more about Rhiannon


Edith Phalane from South Africa

“My first impression and a joy-dropping moment was finally being able to see, speak one-one and shake hands with the Nobel Laureates. I have always read about the Nobel Laureates in textbooks and seen them on TV and the internet, so that moment when I finally saw and interacted with them was priceless.

Edith Phalane was a panellist during a Partner Breakfast by the Global Prespectives Initiative at #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

I enjoyed the talks by laureate Elizabeth Blackburn. She is one of the people that I look up to as a female scientist and Nobel Prize winner. Her talk on global science is something that is very close to my heart since I engage a lot in science communication for the public in disadvantaged communities. The talk captured my attention and ignited more hunger in me to do more in terms of sharing science with the public.

One of the other greatest highlights was participating in a partner breakfast hosted by the Global Perspective Initiative as part of the panel where we were discussing ‘Health Innovation in Africa: The Way Forward’. It was really an honour and a privilege to sit and discuss matters that concern Africa; I have never been given such an opportunity. The after effect of the discussion was even more touching and humbling as I witnessed us, the African young scientists, coming together to form a group and collaboration that we want to expand beyond Lindau to discuss, write and publish matters that we face in Africa and implement solution for challenges we face in Africa in our own capacity.”

>>Read more about Edith


Arunima Roy from India

“What I loved the most about Lindau was to hear of each laureate’s journey from their training to their important discoveries. It made me appreciate that each one of us has a unique path ahead of us and that there is no standard blueprint for doing research. Indeed, most laureates stressed the importance of enjoying our work instead of actively planning for a career. It was inspiring, comforting, to hear of their serendipitous discoveries, their errors and of the times they had faltered. It made me understand that no one miraculously conceives of an award-winning experiment or wakes up one day to write their career-defining manuscript. It takes time, effort and a bit of luck. Bottom-line: there is no scientific way to doing science. It is important to understand this, because we often get sucked into habitual pessimism given our frequently failed experiments, paper rejections, unsuccessful grants and so forth. What the laureates taught us is that it is okay to fail, that they, too, have faced such instances numerous times over their scientific careers.

Arunima Roy participated as a panellist in the #LINO18 panel discussion ‘Science in a Post-Factual World’. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

The Lindau Meeting exceeded my expectations. I think every young scientist that has the opportunity to participate in this meeting, should definitely do so. I doubt we will come across any other opportunity to engage with Nobel Laureates so closely. Outside, there may be the occasional opportunity to hear a lecture or two, but one-to-one interactions like this can only be found at Lindau. I also benefited from this meeting in numerous other ways. One was that it gave me the opportunity to discuss and present my research. Moreover, on a day-to-day basis, I am entirely engaged with my own specific field. The Lindau lectures as well as interactions with other researchers represent a full week immersed in scientific knowledge from across dozens of disciplines. The kid in me was lost in this candy store of exciting research possibilities. It also provides some food for thought and perhaps new ways to think of our own research. It is invigorating to discuss research from other areas, and it is an eye-opening experience; who knows where the next idea will come from or if that interesting researcher you met at the Lindau meeting turns out to be your next collaborator.”

>>Read more about Arunima


Mieke Metzemaekers from the Netherlands

“The 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting exceeded all my expectations and definitely was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I have met many inspiring people from all over the world, of all levels and ages, ranging from undergraduate students to Nobel Laureates. Right from the start, everyone was so enthusiastic and friendly! All participants, each with his or her own cultural and professional background, had one major thing in common: a strong passion for science. It was amazing to see how such shared ambitions are sufficient to let people connect, inspire and motivate each other, while creating a sense of belonging between people from not less than 84 countries. It must be the so-called Lindau Spirit!

Mieke (second from right) with other young scientists during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Mieke Metzemaekers

The meeting was extraordinarily well organised. The programme was highly diverse and interactive and not dedicated to any specific research field in particular. On the contrary, we mostly discussed the more global issues which all scientists are confronted with, regardless their field of interest or level – such as science and society, leadership, impact factors and how to choose your career path. Therefore, the Lindau Meeting offers unique opportunities to exchange experiences with other researchers; it really allows you to broaden your horizon.

A regular day in Lindau started with a scientific breakfast, followed by lectures, panel discussions, agora talks, master classes and open exchange sessions. These scientific sessions were followed by social events in the evening. The programme was intense, but every evening I went back to my hotel feeling very energetic. In my opinion, the Lindau Meetings are extremely valuable, not only from a professional but also from a personal point of view. It is obvious that I fully recommend every young scientist to apply for this meeting!”

>>Read more about Mieke


Gintvile Valinciute from Lithuania

“The 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was an amazing experience full of interesting people and inspiring interactions. I felt as a part of something bigger, an international, caring and active community of people who either shaped the science as it is today or will create the science of tomorrow.

Gintvile Valinciute was speaking during the #LINO18 panel discussion ‘Challenges in Personalised Medicine’. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Every lecture, every workshop, even the discussions in the line for lunch were enriching and very positive. Personally, I enjoyed the discussions on science communication, career choices and current problems of science the most. I believe 600+ people from all around the globe putting their heads together to solve few of the discussed issues could make a great impact on society. Another personal highlight for me was the panel discussion “Challenges in Personalised Medicine” where I was invited to be a panellist. Even though I was nervous, I enjoyed being able to contribute to the meeting with ideas of my own.

Before coming to the Lindau Meeting, I had no idea how to meet new people at conferences, how to approach them, in general, how to network. I think the networking skills and the new contacts, not only the Nobel Laureates, but also the young scientists are the most valuable gifts I brought from Lindau. I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this amazing celebration of science and scientists.”

>>Read more about Gintvile


Menattallah Elserafy from Egypt

“The 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was a true inspiration for me. The lectures, Agora Talks, science walks and discussions were really enlightening, as they touched on many different topics including publishing, ethics, clinical relevance of research and how the world can benefit from science.

I enjoyed listening to the various talks and learning new lessons that will help me along my career in science. These lessons include the importance of basic research, which is mainly driven by curiosity and passion. The laureates described their research with great passion and explained how their findings were not planned, but their hard work and persistence enabled them to explain new mechanisms that no one understood before.

Menattallah (left) with Nobel Laureate Ferid Murad and Ahmed El-badawy during #LINO18. Picture/Credit: Courtesy of Menattallah Elserafy

I also realised the importance of facilitating the application of research findings to solve global problems. For example, Sir Richard J. Roberts discussed the issue of strict regulations that delay the usage of genetically modified food, which could be a great solution for eradicating hunger in Africa. The discussions with Prof. Randy Schekman taught us that science should be judged by its quality rather than where it is published. Finally, all laureates explained that the drive behind research should be the curiosity to answer specific questions and not rewards and prizes.

The participation of young researches from 84 countries made us realise that the world is very small and that researchers from our generation across the globe have the same dreams and aspirations.  I encourage young researches to apply for the next Lindau Meetings to benefit from the experience and enjoy the interaction with the Nobel Laureates as much as we did.”

>>Read more about Menattallah


Rushita Bagchi from Canada

“No words can do perfect justice in describing the week at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. It was an extraordinary and unforgettable week, and it was truly inspiring in all aspects. The meeting provided the perfect platform to share the experience and knowledge of the greatest leaders in science with the next generation of scientists to encourage us to work hard for the benefit of mankind. A common thread existed among each of the laureates’ stories and their path to success: curiosity, tenacity, persistence, creativity and enthusiasm. The opportunity to meet these great minds allowed me to better appreciate them not just as Nobel Prize winners but as individuals who have overcome many of the same obstacles we all face in our pursuit of science every day. All their stories have resonated with me and will continue to inspire me to never give up and to never lose sight of why I chose to pursue science. The broad diversity of topics discussed in the newly introduced Agora Talks at this meeting was impressive, ranging from the laureates’ journey to the Nobel Prize to personalised medicine to careers in science. It was inspiring to witness the motivation and passion these laureates still showed after decades of pursuing scientific research.

Rushita Bagchi with Nobel Laureate Walter Gilbert. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Rushita Bagchi

The great networking effort and willingness to discuss science by all young scientists was seen every day throughout the meeting. I have gained tremendous knowledge, made new friends as well as potential colleagues at this meeting – a whole new world has opened up to me. Peter Agre said: “Science is an amazing trip; you will never know where it is going to take you”. Science is what brought me to this meeting and enriched me with this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Every young scientist, especially aspiring young women scientists, should find an opportunity to be a part of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings – it will change your perspective of science and its pursuit. A week on the beautiful island of Lindau on Lake Constance, this meeting will truly educate, inspire and connect you with the brightest young and experienced minds in science beyond any boundaries.”

>>Read more about Rushita Bagchi


Nataly Naser Al Deen from Lebanon

“The 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it by far exceeded our expectations. The scientific spirit around the Inselhalle and the entire Lindau island was phenomenal. We got the chance to meet with Nobel Laureates in many interactive settings, including agora talks, open exchange and the master classes. I was very honoured to have gotten the chance to participate in a panel discussion along with Nobel Laureate Prof. Peter Agre on “Medical Innovations in Developing Nations”. I also was very honoured to conduct a video interview with one of my hero Nobel Laureates Prof. Michael Bishop, and got the chance to attend all the events and various lectures by Laureates, which we learned a lot from.

Nataly Naser Al Deen and Nobel Laureate Michael Bishop during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Nataly Naser Al Deen

Being able to connect with 600 talented young scientists from all over the world was very fruitful. We all discussed our scientific projects without any boundaries, and we also shared insights and experiences on future collaborations and scientific advice, be it exchanging ideas regarding experimental procedures or asking each other very insightful questions, which made us think of our research projects from various perspectives and multidisciplinary fields. One of my favourite moments was when I held the farewell speech on behalf of the young scientists to thank everyone that made this meeting happen and reflect upon this surreal week. I was also beyond happy to participate in the Max Planck post event that was on its own a very educational and inspiring trip.

I am forever grateful to my institution, AUB, and all the Lindau staff and partners that made this amazing experience possible for us, and I advise every woman in science to apply to the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, because it is certainly a life changing experience. Thank you Lindau!”

>>Read more about Nataly


Forough Khadem from Canada and Iran

“Attending the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was a once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable, astonishing adventure that started for me with the incredible moment of winning the Lindau award at the Canadian Student Health Research Forum and being nominated to attend the Lindau Meeting. Two years later, I received the exceptional selection email from the Lindau Meeting’s committee, the consequent emails from the staff (Nadine, Karen and Nasrin) which made the trip and the stay at Lindau very smooth and the personalised programme that was tailored for my scientific and professional development interests.

Forough Khadem on Mainau Island during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Forough Khadem

The amalgamation of the 39 Nobel Laureates, invited guests, undergrads, graduates and post-docs that created a vibrant group of researchers who instantly became a big family and communicated in a scientific and communal level during the meeting and in social events was incredible and hard to describe (it must be experienced!). We discussed topics from personalised medicine, gene modification, GMOs, international industry-academic research collaborations, better publication standards and ways to improve scientific communication. My take home messages from personal encounters with the laureates, guests at panels, dinners, lunches and lecture events are as follows:

1) “Innovative ways of measuring academic achievements other than via the impact factor are imaginable” – Nobel Laureate Randy Schekman

2) “One should follow their scientific interests and no other priorities in pursuing one’s interests.” – Nobel Laureate Bruce Beutler

3) “Don’t be scared to approach laureates and talk to them on a personal and intellectual level. Be persistent and take advantage of the opportunity that all laureates are here to spend quality time with you.” – Nobel Laureates Richard Roberts and Martin Chalfie

4) “Real scientists should spend more time to communicate their research to the community via any communication means especially social media” – Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty

5) “Go after YOUR career dreams no matter how ambitious they are” – guest speaker Alaina Levine (on the Mainau Island boat trip!)

I not only encourage all young scientists to attend a Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, I also recommend attending the Post Lindau Baden-Württemberg one-week visit to research institutes and universities organised by BW-International, which is an eye-opening experience, as I had the privilege to be among the 20 young scientists that went on this post Lindau Meeting trip.”

>>Read more about Forough


Harshita Sharma from India

“Participating in the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was an excellent opportunity and an unforgettable experience for me, both professionally and personally. The meeting motto ‘Educate. Inspire. Connect.’ summarises it the best, and being a postdoc and early-stage researcher, I could totally relate to the various aspects of science, education and research addressed and discussed by Nobel Laureates and young scientists. Every moment is special to me and words are not enough to describe this phenomenally fascinating week, but I will still attempt to describe my most favourite ones…

Firstly, I was ecstatic and thrilled to interact with the Noble Laureates. They shared with the young scientists their unique success stories in their fields of research and also common qualities which have helped them achieve the best in their scientific careers, such as perseverance, dedication, passion, kindness (and as they say, a little bit of luck!). The beauty of this meeting is how the renowned and early career scientists come together to share ideas, leading to a bidirectional exchange which not only inspires young scientists, but also stimulates the Nobel Laureates.

Harshita and Nobel Laureate Steven Chu during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Harshita Sharma

Moreover, it was great to meet vibrant and charismatic young scientists (or future laureates, as we were often addressed!) from 84 countries. I made friends for life and it also opened doors for future scientific collaborations!

Last but not the least, I loved the rich format of the meeting with diverse interactions, including laureate lectures, Agora Talks, panel discussions, poster sessions, open exchanges, special evening events and more. It gave us the opportunity to be involved in significant scientific, cultural and social exchange each day. On the last day, the boat trip to Mainau and picnic was also very exciting. A special thanks to the staff and support team as the entire meeting was superbly planned and organised.

Overall, I had a wonderful time at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting and will always cherish these memories. I would also encourage young researchers to apply and not to miss the amazing opportunity to achieve this once-in-a-lifetime experience! Thank you #LINO18 for a spectacular week in Lindau!”

>>Read more about Harshita


Lara Urban from Germany

Unless it is absolutely impossible, check it out – what good advice from Nobel Laureate Peter Agre. And I heard so many of them in just a week at Lindau. As I listened to the successful scientists talk candidly about their own experiences, with unassuming humour and self-awareness, I felt like I was part of their community, and for that I am very grateful.

Lara Urban (third from left) and other young scientists talking to Nobel Laureate Steven Chu (left) during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Lara Urban

What made the Nobel Laureates relatable is their willingness to share moments and aspects of their life that are independent of their breakthroughs. I enjoyed chatting to Elizabeth Blackburn about studying in Cambridge and exchanged jokes with J. Michael Bishop on working with poisonous animals during a very entertaining dinner on the waterfront of Lake Constance. I also admired how Steven Chu talked about political responsibilities of scientists in combating climate change on a boat trip to beautiful Mainau Island and the vigour with which Randy Schekman and Harold Varmus championed new standards in evaluating scientific achievements.

The Nobel Laureates are inspiring in that they are ordinary people with convictions, which means that all of our work and convictions, if carried through, can have positive impacts on this world, whether they are acknowledged with an award or not. After one week of listening to the Nobel Laureates reflect on their own lives and meeting like-minded young scientists with similar interests and values as myself, I am assured a life in scientific research is fun, varied and exciting, and we should face it with nothing less than confidence and curiosity. As Marie Curie puts it: Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.”

>>Read more about Lara


Jeerapond Leelawattanachai from Thailand

 

Jeerapond Leelawattanachai and Nobel Laureate Peter Agre during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Itthi Chatnuntawech

“Participating in the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting is a priceless once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I particularly enjoyed both the academic and social events as the meeting covers in-depth academic research as well as offering me a unique opportunity to interact with the Noble Laureates. During the meeting, I got to know more about them and how they overcame many obstacles in their careers to be able to achieve the research that transforms many people’s lives. Along with meeting these inspiring Nobel Prize winners, the meeting also offered me a wonderful opportunity to exchange academic ideas, update the trends of current research and make friends with the young scientists from all over the world. I really appreciate and cherish the friendships we have built since it is always my desires to expand the research boundary, broaden the perspective in the field, and help to support each other in the science community. In addition, I am beyond honoured to have been part of the wonderful panel discussion along with Noble Laureate Peter Agre and young scientists from Lebanon and Germany to discuss the important topics for developing countries. I am impressed by the insight and the tremendous care for the others from these panellists. It genuinely reiterates the spirit, “for the greatest benefit to mankind,” of this meeting. I am pleased and grateful for this opportunity to have my voice heard on this far-reaching stage.

With all these reasons, I wholeheartedly recommended this meeting to every young scientist all around the world. Please take this once-in-a-life time opportunity!”

>>Read more about Jeerapond


Shilpa Bisht from India

“The one week which I have spent at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting were the best days of my life. I realised that it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an early career researcher as it provides opportunity to meet a wide range of scientists ranging from Nobel Laureates to young scientists. This meeting has totally changed my vision and perspective towards science. The entire week in Lindau was dedicated to exchanging knowledge, ideas and scientific intellects and some of the Nobel Laureates even exchanged their ideas about “how to win a Nobel Prize”.  It was awesome to get tips from Prof. Robert Huber about scientific pursuits and maintaining a work-life balance. He had also shared his thoughts regarding facing difficulties in life, how to find balance during challenging times in life and shared his thoughts regarding moving ahead even after continuous failures.

Shilpa Bisht (second from right) with other young scientists from India during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Shilpa Bisht

In addition, this meeting also comprised group discussion activities like the Mars Partner Breakfast, Agora Talks, open scientific discussions to exchange views on current scientific issues. These discussions and sessions have given me a great thrust, and now I am more motivated and confident than ever to try my very best in research. In addition to all this, I enjoyed this meeting to the fullest and made new friends from all around the world.

The Lindau Meeting is a one-of-a-kind meeting and provides a terrific opportunity to network with scientists across the globe, be it networking with Nobel Laureates or with other young scientists. It is one of the rarest opportunity that one researcher can have in his/her life and every young scientist must apply and go for it.

In brief, the Lindau experience is incomparable, and one must go for it!”

>>Read more about Shilpa

Do not Lose Confidence in Yourself

Interview with Lindau Alumna Martine Abboud

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

Martine Abboud from Lebanon is a Junior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. She participated in the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting as an Eddy Fischer Lindau Fellow. Her doctoral research made use of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to study the activity of two classes of enzymes in important biological processes. Her work has led to novel method applications, the mechanistic understanding of these enzymes, and the development of inhibitors for them. She is currently working on metabolic enzymes involved in cancer.

 

Martine Abboud in her lab. Photo/Credit: Martine Abboud

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

I have always been driven by curiosity. I grew up asking my parents loads of questions about everything around us. I was so fascinated by the stars and galaxies that I wanted to become an astronaut. However, during my teenage years my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. He was one of the closest people to my heart, and his illness made me question my career choices. I wanted to help people but did not feel suited to working in a hospital, so I decided to pursue a career in scientific research.

 

Who are your role models?

My role model in science is a bright mind, who makes impactful contributions, and who is a beautiful human being at the same time. To me, academic merit is as equally important as being kind.
During my time in Oxford, I have discovered a genuine enthusiasm for scientific research, which has undoubtedly been enhanced by my supervisor’s support and positive attitude. Prof C. Schofield has given me the freedom to work on various fascinating and rewarding projects which span multiple areas of research. His guidance style suits my curious nature and has helped my development as a scientist enormously, allowing me to acquire practical skills in a range of topics and biochemical/physical techniques. My NMR work with Prof T. Claridge has also nurtured my passion for research even further. These two along with former mentors at LAU, Profs S. Tokajian, C. Daher, R. Taleb, and S. Ammous, are people I look up to. They have inspired me to thrive.

 

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

At the undergraduate level, I started by learning biology to better understand physiological processes and their pathological implications. Soon after, I realised that biology and chemistry are complementary and that an understanding of both fields is important to achieve results of clinical relevance. Hence, I went for a secondary focus in chemistry, both at the Lebanese American University (LAU), from which I graduated with the President’s award for excellence and leadership skills.
The interdisciplinary doctoral programme in Chemical Biology at the University of Oxford caught my attention as I was excited to work at this interface. Coming from a minority background, I was scared of applying to Oxford because of how competitive and prestigious it is, but my mother was right – not applying is a definite rejection. I am glad I did. During my time there, I was provided with opportunities I never dreamt I would be lucky enough to have. Three years later, I graduated with a Thesis Commendation at the university divisional level, winning awards from both academia and industry.
Being Lebanese, another major challenge was securing funding. The government does not have support funds and most non-Lebanese funds are available to select nationalities. My doctoral studies would not have been possible without the support of the British Biochemical Society through the Sir Hans Krebs Memorial Award, college and departmental grants and prizes, and the guidance of my former and current mentors, to whom I am beyond grateful.
Having been granted a Junior Research Fellowship from Kellogg College, Oxford, last year, I am developing my skills further. I think basic research is important in understanding molecular mechanisms and I have enjoyed doing both proof-of-principle and applied studies. I am interested in enabling science, community, and policy to combat antimicrobial resistance and I am pursuing work on the metabolic enzymes involved in cancer with the aim of starting my independent academic group in the future.

 

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

During my doctoral studies, I worked on antibiotic resistance and, more specifically, on metallo-β-lactamases (MBLs) which degrade the β-lactam antibiotics: the most commonly used class of antibiotics. My method development using protein-observe 19F-NMR has provided new structural insights into MBL catalysis and the requirements for inhibitor development. My work with cyclobutanone shed light on MBL mechanism and showed that it may mimic the formation of the oxyanion tetrahedral intermediate in β-lactam hydrolysis. I have studied the susceptibility of avibactam, the first clinically useful non-β-lactam β-lactamase inhibitor, to MBL-catalysed hydrolysis. The results revealed that avibactam is not an MBL inhibitor and a poor substrate of most members of all three clinically relevant subclasses of MBLs.
I have also applied NMR methods to study the human prolyl hydroxylase domain-containing protein 2 (PHD2), which is crucially involved in the chronic hypoxic response. The hypoxic response is important under normal conditions, but also at high altitudes and in cancerous conditions. My work showed that the substitution of a single amino acid, as occurs with PHD2 variants linked to erythrocytosis and breast cancer, can alter the selectivity of PHD2 towards its substrates. Competition and displacement assays were designed and applied to investigate PHD inhibitor binding modes. Comparative studies on the activities and selectivities of PHD inhibitors in clinical trials should aid in the work on the therapeutic manipulation of the natural hypoxic response.

 

Eddy Fischer Lindau Fellow Martine Abboud with Nikolaus Turner, Managing Director of the Foundation Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, and Ernst Ludwig Winnacker, Director of The Vallee Foundation. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

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

I was beyond thrilled to be selected to represent the university at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting and to be named a Future Leader in my field by the American Chemical Society CAS SciFinder programme. Unlike traditional conferences, these two meetings were focused on what shapes a scientist and on the importance of science communication, leadership, outreach activities, interdisciplinary science, and global integration. All of these topics are close to my heart as I have advocated for them on internal committees in our department. My proudest moments have always been about lobbying and succeeding in introducing change to internal policies. My recent achievement, along with other committee members, was introducing management trainings for new principal investigators/group leaders. I believe that being great at science and people management are not necessarily related; these trainings will help to further create a better environment for graduate students, ensure their wellbeing, and encourage a culture of proper life-work balance.

 

What is a ‘day in the life’ of Martine like?

A day in the lab is never typical. It varies a lot depending on what types of experiment are being done. But one thing is common: we always encounter surprises! Working in a lab environment is flexible but never boring, and that’s an aspect I enjoy. A protein preparation, for instance, requires spending a few hours in a cold room (4°C) while protein NMR-ing takes an overnight run in the basement. I have spent so much time with these machines that I have even given them nicknames! Experiments do not always go as planned and this is okay. Life in research has taught me how to deal with failures, enjoy the small successes, and keep going. It is important to troubleshoot all the time as some of the most exciting discoveries in science come from mistakes. Determination, perseverance, and serendipity are keys in scientific research.
My day will, however, always include a cup of tea. Our group is very international and we enjoy sharing a dynamic environment. I end up learning exciting cultural aspects over tea most of the time. Other days in the lab involve writing or meeting with collaborators and these are as important as doing the experimental work. It is crucial to communicate our findings with the scientific community: it puts our science into perspective, shapes our future direction and, sometimes, even helps in influencing policy.

 

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

I have come to realise that success in science is not an overnight effort. It is the accumulation of years of hard work. I would love to have an independent academic career and I aspire to meaningfully contribute to society. There is nothing better than leaving a legacy. My dream is to contribute back to my society by helping build a research centre in the Middle Eastern region. I have worked with Oxford Entrepreneurs earlier this year and helped in organising the Oxford Hackathon. Over 300 students from 90+ universities attended; there are so many bright minds and ideas out there that just need to be given the right opportunities. I hope to inspire the next generation of scientists through Oxford and build bridges between science and entrepreneurship in both regions as science has no nationality.

 

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

In my free time, I like painting and poetry writing. Science and art are complementary on various levels. Art sets me free; the alchemy of colours with no boundaries is very relaxing to me. I do enjoy attending events and talks which are stimulating and intellectually challenging. Recently, I have become interested in coding and computer science. Electronic information and machine learning are on the rise. Chemists are not meant to be lifetime technicians. Accordingly, we need to learn how to keep being creative in a technological era. Using the power of AI will help us with our daily tasks. I also write scientific articles to various magazines and blogs, contribute to different societies (including the Oxford Arab Society and Oxford Entrepreneurs), and run events and social media outlets. My ultimate guilty pleasures remain travelling and watching football though.

 

Martine Abboud in conversation with Nobel Laureate Walter Gilbert at #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

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

As young women, we are more prone to being victims of implicit bias. We need to be more assertive in the workplace. Curiosity is the driving force of a scientist. The most exciting discoveries arise from mistakes. My advice is do not be afraid to make mistakes. Troubleshoot and think critically all the time. It might feel hard sometimes, but keep going. Do not lose confidence in yourself. Manage your time and do your tasks. There are networks of more experienced women who can help and support us; do not be afraid to speak out, reach out, and get involved.

 

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

Our understanding of the human brain and of driving forces in developmental biology is still very limited. Novel discoveries in these fields will definitely be breakthroughs. The same applies to developing novel and more powerful methods enabling quicker drug discovery and deeper biological understanding.

 

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

Encouraging women to become scientists is unfortunately not enough. If we do really want more women to be involved, we need to create the right environments for them to thrive. As much as mobility is important to provide scientists with wider perspectives, the current culture of “postdoctoral nomading” is very destabilising and difficult for people with partners and/or caring responsibilities. It should not be a prerequisite on fellowship applications; women should not feel pressurised into changing environments every couple of years. Another simple example for creating suitable environments is by not holding talks/seminars after 4 pm. People with caring responsibilities are directly excluded from these meetings and this can make them wrongly feel guilty and/or less dedicated than their colleagues. Proper life-work balance is important and nurturing; it enhances productivity and happiness.

 

Additional Note: A video interview with Martine Abboud at #LINO18 can be watched here.

Science Without Borders: New Nature Outlook Published

The new edition of Nature Outlook focuses on science in emerging economies. Illustration: Taj Francis; Copyright: Nature.

The latest issue of Nature Outlook, produced with support from Mars, Incorporated, is out! Our media partner Nature once again has published a special supplement to their scientific journal featuring the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. It focuses on empowering scientists in emerging economies and includes articles about #LINO18. Expect a profound insight into the current status of scientific research in low- and middle-income countries.

Thomas A. Steitz 1940–2018

Thomas Steitz with young scientists at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting 2018. Photo/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

The Council and Foundation Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings deeply mourns the loss of laureate Thomas Steitz, who sadly passed away on 9 October 2018 at the age of 78. He received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his studies on ribosomes.

Steitz completed his Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology at Harvard University in 1966. After research stays in Europe, he moved back to the US. He was a Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and Professor of Chemistry at Yale University.

Thomas Steitz participated in four Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, only recently in 2018. The Council and Foundation extend their deep sympathies to Thomas Steitz’ family.

Modeling Memories and Evolution with Computer Science

At the end of September, two hundred young researchers and 34 recipients of the most prestigious prizes in mathematics and computer science will gather together in southwest Germany for the Heidelberg Laureate Forum. The week-long meeting combines scientific, social, and outreach activities in a format that should sound very familiar to attendees of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. In fact, the organisers of the Heidelberg Laureate Forum wanted to provide mathematicians and computer scientists with an annual networking meeting modeled after the ones taking place for many decades in Lindau.

Heidelberg Lecture at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting with Leslie Valiant. Photo/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

While no Nobel Prize in Mathematics or Computer Science exists, the Heidelberg Laureate Forum invites its own version of laureates: recipients of the Abel Prize (mathematics), ACM A.M. Turing Award (computer science), ACM Prize in Computing (computer science), Fields Medal (mathematics), and the Nevanlinna Prize (mathematics/computer science). And every year, one of the Heidelberg Laureates gives a crossover lecture at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting to help foster the connection between the two sister forums.

At #LINO18, British computer scientist Leslie Valiant incorporated the meeting’s discipline of physiology and medicine into his Heidelberg Lecture, titled “Biology as Computation.” The 2010 recipient of the ACM A.M. Turing Award spoke about how our current understanding of computation can help advance our understanding of biology, and in particular, neuroscience and evolution. He began by stating what he would not talk about: the use of computers in biology research.

“The first useable computer was built in Cambridge around 1949 with a memory of about 500 words, and immediately, some biologists found some use of it in crystallography. So I take it that biologists don’t need any advice about technology or computing,” said Valiant. “What I’m really talking about is something which has equal potential but is much less developed: the use of computational models in biology.”

The idea of looking at biology as some kind of computation is far from new. In the 1950s, mathematicians Alan Turing and John von Neumann began publishing academic papers on aspects of the life sciences soon after Turing discovered the basis of computation. More than a decade earlier, he wrote about a Turing machine — a hypothetical computing machine that uses a predefined set of rules to determine a result from a set of input variables — that defines what is computable.

“The solution of computation is probably one of the best-established ideas in science, and it has to be recognised as a somewhat unusual notion,” Valiant said. “It’s not quite a physical law, it’s not an experimental finding, it’s not a theorem of mathematics. It was a new kind of idea.”

Valiant then introduced two examples where a computational modeling approach can be used to solve problems in biology. The first example involves how memories get stored in the brain. Even though the brain has a finite capacity and number of neurons, how does it manage to store not just one thing but hundreds of thousands of things over a lifetime?

For instance, if a friend tells you he went to the Green Fox Restaurant on the recommendation of Joe and hated it, all those previously unrelated words and phrases are somehow effortlessly taken in by your brain and stored away. What are the fundamental operations that lead to this result? Valiant divides this process into four “primitives,” ordered by increasing complexity: storage allocation for a new concept, associating two previously unrelated concepts, memorization of a single instance rather than making a generalization, and supervised learning by some learning algorithm.

“The question is how can the cortex achieve hundreds of thousands of such individual acts in succession without too much degrading of the previous ones?” he said. “So if you learned something 20 years ago, and you’ve learned lots of things in between, you amazingly may still remember what you learned 20 years ago. It’s quite a miracle to explain.”

Leslie Valiant at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. Photo/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings


The second example tackles the theory of evolution. How did such complicated organisms like humans come into existence and maintain themselves over time? While the evidence for Darwinian evolution is overwhelming, says Valiant, it doesn’t mean we understand the phenomenon. No theory explains the rate of evolution, and no computer simulations have successfully produced life-like organisms.

Valiant wanted to dig deeper into the theory and started by asking about the mutation-generating process that creates genetic variation. Say each gene has an expression function that defines how it expresses a given protein, which is dependent on a number of factors. What would these expression functions look like? Valiant notes that if they are too simple, it would conflict with the complex nature of biology. On the other hand, if they are too complicated, evolution won’t work.

“We don’t understand the connections between genotype, phenotype, and the environment, so how on earth can we hope to have a theory of evolution?” said Valiant. “The answer is we need to appeal to some science, some method which works even when it doesn’t understand what it is doing.”

He believes that Darwinian evolution can be thought of as a kind of machine learning, a field of computer science which gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed. Both machine learning and evolution work despite having no understanding of what they are doing. For instance, imagine that you want a computer to recognize pictures of elephants. Initially, it gets some pictures wrong. But with supervised machine learning, you can simply tell the computer where its mistakes were, and it adjusts accordingly so that it can improve for next time.

“I’m saying that evolution is exactly the same thing — it’s supervised learning. Who is the supervisor? It’s death,” he said. “The feedback you get from your environment which tells you that the good behavior is survival.”

In the analogous case of evolution, the collection of pictures to pick out is akin to all the different possible conditions in an organism’s cells. Instead of picking out pictures of elephants, your genome determines whether a certain protein is expressed or not. Your current genome isn’t perfect, of course, and expresses some proteins which ideally should not be expressed. So who decides what is ideal, and what is not? Valiant’s theory states that Darwinian evolution is a kind of supervised machine learning, where the supervisor is survival.

On Tuesday, 25 September 2018, Nobel Laureate Bill Phillips will give the Lindau Lecture on “Time, Einstein and the Coolest Stuff in the Universe” at the 6th Heidelberg Laureate Forum.

Watch the Heidelberg Lecture by Leslie Valiant:

 

Private Master Class with Laureate and Speed-Career Advice with Levine

Not too long ago, #LINO18 ended with another amazing send-off as we disembarked the boat at Lindau harbour after a lovely day on Mainau Island. As a Lindau Alumna, you probably share this fond memory, too, down to a few other classic Lindau moments from our last day by Bodensee, such as, watching the wonderfully airy and fun video concerning how one pronounces Baden-Wurttemberg (It’s Bay-deen War-toom-Bawg, right? [Note of editorial: Not exactly…]), listening to the grand finale speeches from the Countess, a laureate and a young scientist in the shadow of the schloss on Insel Mainau, or wishing the Nobel Laureates a fond Auf Wiedersehen as they disembark at Bad Schachen with the traditional banging on the outside of the boat.

And just like that, the whirlwind week of LINO18 was over, and the Lindau participants transformed into Lindau Alumi.

But as you have been noting this year, the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings have instituted an important initiative designed to invest in the zeitgeist of Lindau – Educate, Inspire, Connect – via the tens of thousands of Lindau Alumni on the planet. The Lindau Alumni Network has surpassed its pilot phase and is already going strong, via its online platform, where alumni can connect with each other. I was enchanted to learn that through the tools that Lindau is providing on this site, Lindau Alumni have already started socialising and networking with each other, creating and launching opportunities both virtual and In Real Life (IRL) to build and foster life-long collaboration opportunities (many of which will undoubtedly lead to a few Nobel Prizes of course).

 

In July 2018, alumni were invited to participate in a Lindau Alumni workshop during ESOF in Toulouse. Photo/Credit: Christoph Schumacher/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

As part of this alumni initiative, the Lindau team plans to organise IRL events around the world, both formal affairs with speakers dedicated to helping you with career advice, as well as informal receptions and get-togethers, crafted to help you meet other high-powered and ambitious alumni such as yourself.

In July 2018, in conjunction with the European Science Open Forum (ESOF) in Toulouse, the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings held an in-person event which consisted of a networking reception, discussion with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, 2009 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Group Leader at UKRI – MRC Lab and President of The Royal Society, and a career workshop with yours truly.

But remember what I wrote earlier (and many times before on this blog) about classic Lindau moments? The ESOF event was exactly that – a seminal Lindau moment but with a unicorn twist, brought on by a series on surprising happenstances.

So, first of all, we had about 18 people RSVP, which for a first event in a non-Lindau locale was terrific. The location was specifically chosen because the team knew that with 4600 delegates attending ESOF from around the world, as well as many scientists and engineers residing in the science city of Toulouse itself, there was a built-in Lindau Alumni audience. But the night of our affair, France played Belgium in the World Cup semi-finals (sorry Belgium!), and thus a few people skipped our event to watch the match. C’est la vie.

The evening started off with the reception and then we moved into a conference room and Ramakrishnan (who answers to “Venki”) was introduced by the Lindau team. What was meant to be a short “hello” to the alumni in attendance quickly transformed into a magical extravaganza, in which Venki took the next 40 minutes to have an extremely frank and open discussion with the attendees about everything from career success to what makes a Nobel-winning discovery to his life as a scientist and laureate. The attendees peppered him with a plethora of questions. Venki is one of the most friendly, easy-going, humble, down-to-Earth gentlemen scientists I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I kind of expected he would display this positive attitude and friendly demeanour at our event, because earlier that day I had appeared with him on a panel about science communications at ESOF and had the same experience.

 

Venki Ramakrishnan speaking during the Lindau Alumni event in July 2018. Photo/Credit: Christoph Schumacher/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

But what I didn’t expect were his amazing and often hilarious insights and commentary about life. When his brain flood gates opened, many gems were presented to the wide-eyed audience members, who perhaps like myself, were sitting there in complete delightful shock at the quantity and level of authenticity Venki generously offered us. Here are some of the winners:

On how to get a Nobel Prize: “Statistically, the best way to get a Nobel Prize is to work with someone who has a Nobel Prize.” And why is this? “In experiments, you always have to use judgement about what to do next and the thing about good mentors is they’ve already been through this.”

On transitioning from physics (his PhD subject) to a career in biology: “I was doing my graduate work in physics and realised I was never going to be a physicist, so I switched to biology…You have to be willing to go backwards and start from the beginning. You have to have humility.” Venki ultimately went back and took undergraduate and graduate courses in biology when he realised he wanted to switch fields. And when he applied for graduate school in biology, despite the fact that he had a PhD in physics, he was not accepted into several high calibre programmes. “What I wanted to do was give myself another chance – you want to stay in the game.”

On working on the ribosome, the basis for his Nobel-winning work: “The ribosome is the gift that keeps giving. I’m still working on it nine years after the Nobel Prize.”

On the public’s perception of those with Nobel Prizes: “One mistake people make about the Nobel Prize is that people think it makes you a great scientist and that’s not true. The Nobel Prize is given for an important discovery, meaning something that changes the field. A lot of this is luck.”

On whether having an interdisciplinary background enabled his success: “It might have helped. I used a physical technique (X-ray crystallography) to look at biology.”

On persistence in science: “Research is hard. Most of the time nothing is working [he laughs]. So, you have to remain optimistic which is easy when you have a [research] partner you like. Collaborations require a lot of trust.”  

On soft skills in research: “Scientists are not known for their soft skills.”

And on and on for 40 minutes! I still can’t believe the invaluable commentary he provided, and in a forum that was essentially a private masterclass for a few lucky Lindau Alumni. And then another unicorn moment occurred. Someone in the audience asked Venki his opinion about the Nobel Peace Prize. And the laureate, who has written a book about the science which features his perspective on the Nobel Prize (it will be out this autumn), responded by stating that he would share with us his thoughts directly from his book. So, then he proceeded to take out his mobile phone and scrolled through THE UNPUBLISHED MANUSCRIPT of his book and read to us a few passages. Just like that. #LindauMagicMoment

 

Alaina G. Levine giving career advice to Lindau Alumni during the workshop in Toulouse. Photo/Credit: Christoph Schumacher/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

After Venki concluded, it was my turn to take the podium, but I had an interesting task at hand. My speech, on how to land your next job, had an hour’s worth of slides in them. But the World Cup match was starting in 10 minutes. So, I did what any (honorary) Lindau Alumna would do – I reacted as nimbly as I could and adjusted to the system’s requirements, and ultimately managed to give my speech with very little overtime. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do. And sometimes that means taking on a new challenge to the best of your ability.

After the workshop, some people flew out the session to run to a pub. But most remained and networked, networked, networked,

The alumni who attended were from all over the world; we had representation from Egypt, South Africa, Mexico, Nigeria, the Netherlands and Germany. And one enterprising alumna quickly changed into a French jersey to prep herself for the big game and yet still hung out to get to know the other alumni.

It was all and all a wonderful evening, thanks to the alumni who were so thoughtfully engaged, Venki, who so thoughtfully gave of his time in such a congenial manner, and the Lindau team who so thoughtfully executed the event with great care and attention to detail.

And there’s so much more to come! Stay tuned for more alumni activities and services to be premiered in the next 12 months. And as always, the Lindau Alumni Network team wants to hear from you. If you have ideas for ways the alumni network can better serve you, mechanisms to improve communications and connectivity, manners in which we can help facilitate partnerships and help you triumph in your career, please email us.

Remember – Once a Lindau Attendee, Always a Lindau Alumnus.

#LindauForLife #NerdHeaven #NerdHimmel

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. 

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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. 

 

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