Today is officially the last day of the annual meeting of the Society of Neurosciences (SfN) that was held in San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California. Did not have much time for sight-seeing as it fell right into my teaching-heavy semester, I shortened my stay to two full days.
To give you an idea of the size of the meeting, the statistics provided yesterday indicated over 30’000 attendees (including faculty, postdocs, graduate students, exhibitors….) invading the 1.4 million inhabitants. San Diego was all in color for the meeting, especially the Gaslamp District clearly setting the tone for the conference. Thats one of the biggest scientific conference a scientist may attend. We have about 30 different sessions going in parallel and 1000 posters displayed each day.
So it was my first SfN meeting, as being a blood-brain barrier scientist puts you in a hard choice to which meetings to attend. For many years, I stayed from the SfN as many colleagues was saying it is too big or it is not interesting enough for a BBB scientist.
I dont know if it was this year’s programming but I found it very attractive with some good science and feedback. A caveat though I have noticed is the relatively late display of the final program, almost two months after opening the registration. Considering you have to book your hotel and airfare in advance to secure a spot, I wish a semi-final program with a detailed list of sections and oral presentations taken from abstracts would be available right on the opening of registration.
The talks were very good and very impressed to see how induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) have grown and are now a key player in modeling neurological disorders. You could almost find for any major neurological disorder an iPSC line available for study. There were interesting talks that were spot on emerging diseases (I counted four talks on Zika virus and the effect on neural stem cells), autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia and other diseases involving an iPSC-based approach.
There was also one afternoon session completely dedicated to the blood-brain barrier (and chaired by Dr. Constantino Iadecola, Columbia University) that was fully packed (about 200 persons in the room). We also had one social event that was dedicated on the memory of Christopher Reeves with the talks of various big shots in neural stem cell field including Dr. Clive Svendsen (Cedars-Sinai Medical Center), Dr. Su-Chun Zhang (University of Wisconsin-Madison). One talk that was very interesting (I dont remember the lab though) was focusing on looking at species differences between neural progenitor cells and forebrain neurons between iPSCs derived from primates and non-primate humans.
They have generated iPSCs from various primates (gorilla, baboon, chimpanzee, marmoset) and from control iPSCs from humans and compared the gene expression profile at the NPC and neuron stages using RNAseq. All of them went through the same differentiation protocol and all showed the same set of genes activated. But what was interesting was the difference in relative gene expression and some variations in genes ON or OFF at one stage. One fascinating thing was that iPSC-derived forebrain neurons derived from human iPSCs had a very distinct set of genes ON compared to primates.
Another interesting session was featuring Gad Vatine (from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center) displaying a microfluidic device made of iPSC-derived BMECs and neurons. This was the first time I have a microfluidic device that was displaying a barrier tightness suitable for experiments. It was so suitable they could perfuse their device with human blood for a week and not observe any damage on the neurons. There was a similar presentation made using motoneurons and BMECs derived from iPSCs of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patients with some capability to record electrophysiological mechanisms.
Me and my student had our poster session and I was surprised by the feedback we had on it. We counted approximately 30-35 viewers (we considered viewers as attendees asking questions) and I have for the first depleted my stock of business cards. That was my highest personal records in having poster viewers and really was a good incentive to come.
I also gained (or my luggage) few extra pounds of various gizmos including posters, stickers (that one you stick behind your smartphone and slide in your credit card and ID), pens, tees and other stuff.
In summary, it was a great pleasure to come and I learned from my mistakes in terms of scheduling and logistical planning to this conference. I will definitely come to the 2017 edition of the annual SfN meeting. See you in DC next year!