September 2015

Meeting Report: Zebrafish Disease Models Conference 8 in Boston

Meeting Report: Zebrafish Disease Models Conference 8 in Boston

Amrita Mandal, The Node. 4th September 2015

I was fortunate to attend the 8th Annual Zebrafish Disease Models (ZDM) meeting in Boston (24th Aug-27th Aug) organized by the Zebrafish Disease Models Society (ZDMS). The aim of the meeting was to foster interaction among researchers working in wide array of human diseases such as cancer, muscle disorders, gastrointestinal diseases, cardiovascular, neural disorders and hematological abnormalities with a common theme of using zebrafish as model system. The organizing committee did a wonderful job in inviting a thoughtful list of speakers, which included graduate students, postdocs, young and established PIs. All the talks were followed by thought provoking questions and constructive suggestions.

I was thrilled to learn the advantages of using zebrafish as a model to study life-threatening diseases. Zebrafish being transparent, it is possible to image what happens when development goes wrong at a very high resolution in vivo, which was presented through stunning images and videos by the presenters. Cool videos such as cancer cell escaping the vascular system and the cute fish in a tank learning to behave in socially approved ways after treatment with the drug of interest will remain in my memory for a long time. It was also amazing to learn how the field not only adapted the cutting edge CRISPR genome editing technology but also trying to fine tune it for better use (tissue specific CRISPR, CRISPR-repressor fusion). There was a session called lightning talks (5min each speaker) that featured the highlights of the selected trainees work, kind of a trailer of a movie. Later those trainees also got a chance to present posters to further explain their research in more detail. The poster session showcased great science using cutting edge techniques which altogether emphasized the fact that study of developmental processes with therapeutic approach is the path to be taken.

There was a Meet-the-Expert lunch session one day where we had a chance for an informal chat with the pioneers of the field. We got advice on different stages of our scientific career, how to become the ‘happy’ postdoc they would like to hire, lab dynamics to keep in mind when setting up your own lab and alternative careers were some of the topics discussed. Another key point of the conference was ‘Research Interest Groups’ where we had the opportunity to attend a close-knit group of researchers working a similar field. I attended the cardiac and muscle group. Many important topics were discussed, bottom line being we should keep working on promoting the sense of community by sharing information about antibodies, reagents and transgenic fish lines.

The conference also had three excellent keynote speakers. Dr. Ross Keegan’s eloquent keynote talk emphasized taking a holistic approach to treat diseases with the use of complex drugs and personalized medicines. Presence of Dr. Mark Fishman from Novartis during the conference dinner made things extra special. He delivered an engaging talk on some of his recent work using zebrafish to study social behavior. The last keynote talk was from Dr. Amy Wagers, she again emphasized how using zebrafish can significantly reduce to time from lab to clinic.

Some of the fun activities were, a mixer on Day 1 at the local Yard House where I met old friends and made some awesome new fish friends. On day 2 there was free time in the afternoon for activities in Boston. Since it’s always been my dream to visit Harvard I took the time to go for a walking tour of Harvard University. Every second on the campus was inspiring.

All together it was a fantastic gathering showcasing the power of zebrafish as a model to solve bigger questions. Four days surrounded by the pioneers in the field at the heart of science, Harvard was a dream come true for me. I came back as a more confident and passionate graduate student to continue doing science with a purpose for a better world.
To keep up with this being an international society, next year’s conference will be in Singapore in October 2016. For more information or to become a member of this awesome society please visit http://zdmsociety.org

Article originally posted in The Node – read article