This week I am attending the Gordon Research Conference “Barriers of the CNS”. This is now my fifth GRC I am attending. If you wanted to have an idea of what is a GRC, it is like a summer camp for scientists. It is maybe the smallest form of scientific meeting (usually less than 200 attendees) but it is also the most exciting type of meeting because you can sit next to the most seasoned scientist in the field at breakfast and engage into communication. There is also a lot of science that is straight out of the bench and still work in progress. To avoid any conflicts, filming and picture taking are forbidden.
However, I decided to snap one picture following an evening session last night (see picture below).
After the end of the session, we had a special session for Dr. David S. Miller (former researcher at the NIEHS in Research Triangle Park, NC), one of our scientist fellow that abruptly ended his research career due to a severe medical condition.
David was initially a trained kidney researcher, specialized in transporters in kidneys.
Transporters are a special class of membrane proteins that helps to bring molecules inside the cells and other molecules outside the cells. Some are essential in allowing the transport of glucose, amino acids, lipids and nucleic acid inside the cells, providing the cells with the rudimentary bricks and fuel it needs to fully function. In the other hand, we have other transporters that plays an important role in getting rid of cellular waste and harmful chemical compounds produced by the surrounding environment. For instance, we have powerful pumps that keeps us away from being poisoned by tar residues, poisons produced by plants.
After spending a couple of decades in studying transporters in the kidney, David decided that the study of such transporters in the brain would be an exciting endeavor to initiate. And it was. It was to such a point that that David became a leading expert in transporters at the BBB. He was the expert if you have any question about transporters and their regulation at the BBB.
When I was an undergraduate and obtained my master thesis on the transport of flavonoids quercetin and naringenin across the intestinal and endothelial barrier, I swore I will never touch anything related to transporters. Indeed I did not touch them for during my whole PhD training and early postdoctoral career.
Then I attended the first Gordon Research Seminar “Barrier of the CNS” in 2010, a 1-day event preceding the GRC meeting. The goal of the GRS is to provide an less intimidating atmosphere to graduate students and postdocs and allow to meddle with seasoned scientists from the field. Among the few senior scientists in the field present in this inaugural GRS, David was one of them.
You can identify an amazing mentor by his/her charisma to engage with young scientists and feeling being part of their circle by the time you share the first handshake. David was one of them.
David brought the enjoyable and good spirit into the research and discussion, describing his work and the challenge of such transporters in drug delivery across the BBB, using the metaphor of the “800 pound gorilla”.
To give you an idea on how engaging his scientific presentation was, David convinced me that the field of transporters at the BBB is an important field that is essential for both drug delivery perspective and also to understand crucial neurological disorders. By that time, I slowly but surely worked my way back to bring these transporters interest into my research interest.
Hearing all the good words and stories shared by several David former trainees and fellows was such an emotional time and realize that we have now an empty chair, a absent voice that was asking relevant questions and providing comments and feedback that was valuable not only to the speaker, but to the whole community as well.
Science is more than just working on the next big idea and tremendous hours on the bench to demonstrate that your idea is great. It takes a village to build an accomplished scientist and it takes several wise elders to craft and raise the next generation of scientists.
David was one of them and if David read this post one day, I wanted to personally thank him for inspiring a whole new generation of scientists in our field to excel and enjoy their research in the field.