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Axol Travel Grant Recipient: Frontiers in Cardiovascular Biology 2016

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Axol Bioscience Travel Grant recipient, Abigail Robertson attended Frontiers in CardioVascular Biology 2016, which took place in Florence, Italy. Abigail is a PhD student at the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences, University of Manchester, UK.

Her research focuses on targeting the Hippo signaling pathway to enhance the therapeutic potential of iPSC-derived cardiomyocytes. Abigail shares her experience of the conference where she presented her research.

The Tuscan city of Florence was the venue for this year’s Frontiers in CardioVascular Biology meeting. The biannual meeting organized by the European Society of Cardiology was held over three days in July. Over 400 researchers from over 40 countries worldwide attended the meeting.

An unexpected start to FENS 2016

Nearly 6000 neuroscientists were on their way to the amazing lecture hall A at the Bella Center in Copenhagen. They were hurrying so as not to be late for the opening ceremony of the 10th Forum for Neuroscience (FENS).

For me, a PhD student in his first year, it was the first time I had been to Copenhagen and attended the FENS, one of Europe’s largest neuroscience congresses. Already the size of lecture hall A was really impressive! Three screens were projecting the events on stage, so that nobody would miss any of the action or data presented.

The FENS 2016 started with an unexpected opening ceremony, at least for me. The actor, Peter Gantzler (known as Earl Ragnar in the TV series ‘The Last Kingdom’) welcomed neuroscientists from all over the world. He did a great job as comedian, breaking the ice and introducing himself to the scientific community. After a variety of neuroscience jokes, the musicians from ‘Outlandish’ entered the stage. For me sitting in the audience, starting a science congress with pop culture music was something totally unexpected and new!

Day one: Autophagy, reperfusion (and ice-cream)

The air-conditioned auditorium was a welcome break from the +35 degree heat outside! Besides the afternoon ice-cream breaks the first day’s highlights included the session ‘Alternative ways to die’, which discussed new insights into cell death and autophagy. In this session Prof Guido De Meyer (University of Antwerp) spoke about autophagy in cardiovascular disease and how basal autophagy is important for the maintenance of vascular function and can be atheroprotective.

Miss Marion Laudette (University of Toulouse) gave an interesting talk on how Epac1 knockout mice have significantly reduced cardiomyocyte apoptosis after hypoxia and subsequent reperfusion. This work suggests Epac1 deletion, via inhibition of mitochondrial death, increases resistance to reperfusion injury and hopefully could eventually be targeted therapeutically.

Day two: Prizes for perivascular research

On the second day there was an opportunity for early career researchers to present in a young investigators session. These early career researchers spoke on a range of topics including microRNAs, tissue engineering and arrhythmias. The Young Investigator award was won by Sophie Saxton from the University of Manchester. Miss Saxton presented her PhD research, which focuses of the sympathetic transmission in perivascular adipose tissue function in health and obesity.

Day three: How to mend a broken heart

One of the final sessions of the conference was the ‘Tissue engineering and repair of the damaged heart’. I was lucky enough to present some of my PhD research in this session alongside some outstanding researchers from across Europe.

The session began with an excellent talk from Prof Mauro Giacca (Trieste University) who spoke about using microRNAs to stimulate cardiomyocytes to proliferate. Prof Jozef Dulak (Krakow University) also spoke about the use of microRNAs for regeneration of blood vessels. Both these talks highlighted how the approach of targeting microRNAs is becoming more widespread across different fields.

Axol Travel Grant recipient, Abigail Robertson presenting  ‘Targeting the Hippo signalling pathway to enhance the therapeutic potential of iPSC-derived cardiomyocytes’ at Frontiers in CardioVascular Biology.

Day four: Day trip to Pisa

Once the conference was over there was some spare time to make a trip to Pisa and see the world famous leaning tower. Overall Frontiers in CardioVascular Biology 2016 provided an excellent platform for the discussion of basic and translational cardiovascular biology in the beautiful city of Florence.

“an excellent platform for the discussion of basic and translational cardiovascular biology”

After the invited speakers, I spoke of how my PhD has focused on improving the therapeutic potential of induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived cardiomyocytes . We have achieved this through increasing the survival and proliferation of the cells by targeting the Hippo signaling pathway.

The conference finished with a keynote talk from Prof Mike Murphy (University of Cambridge) who spoke about the effects of reactive oxygen species (ROS) produced by mitochondria in cardiac ischemia-reperfusion injury. Prof Murphy’s group has investigated how to target small bioactive molecules to counter the effects of ROS. It is hoped this work can contribute towards designing possible therapies for disorders that can arise from mitochondria dysfunction.

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