Sunday, June 15, 2014

Microbes in Cancer, Staph Infection Biofilms, Improved Lectures and More at ASM 2014

A few weeks ago I attended the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) General Meeting in Boston.  I wrote up a post about the virome workshop I attended (follow this link for the post), but I also want to write out a summary for the rest of the conference.  The ASM meeting was huge (I'm talking thousands of microbiologists) with many full days of great science, so an in depth review of the meeting would be beyond the scope of this single blog post.  Therefore my goal is to give you a brief summary of the meeting, along with some links and resources you can use if you want to get more information.  Additionally, for another summary of the general meeting, check out this ASM summary episode of TWIM.

Before I get into my general thoughts about the meeting, I want to go over a few cool lectures I attended.  I am going to start out with some really cool work presented by Katherine Lemon, who discussed the role of a Propionibacterium acnes produced chemical, called Coproporphyrin III (C3), in Staphylococcus aureus biofilm formation.  S. aureus is a common bacterial opportunistic pathogen (which means it can live on you without causing problems, but can cause infections in certain situations), and can form biofilms to make the infection particularly difficult to treat.  Dr. Lemon's group found that the addition of a common skin bacterium, P. acnes, to S. aureus caused increased biofilm formation (measured as aggregation), and this was cause by the C3 which was produced and excreted by the P. acnes.  This is the first evidence for the role of this chemical in bacterial interactions, and is also one of the few known ways S. aureus interacts with P. acnes.  I also think this is particularly cool because it shows the complex ways different bacteria can interact as communities.  This highlights the importance of understanding microbial community interactions when studying bacterial pathogenesis, instead of just studying single bacteria in isolation.  Check out the abstract here if you want to read more.

Opening talk by Lora Hooper.  This was the main stage,
which kind of looked like a TED talk.
The next morning I attended a different lecture given by Sheldon Campbell, a professor at the Yale Medical School.  His talk was all about effective teaching techniques in medical school lectures, as well as effective methods for communicating science in general.  He started by pointing out the importance of including learning objectives at the beginning of each lecture, so that the purpose and outline of the lecture is clear to the students.  He went over the importance of student interaction when learning, and presented three steps for facilitating effective student discussions in class: hear it, write it, say it.  In this method, students are told the information in lecture, asked a question about the material (and forced to commit to their answer by writing it down), and then discuss their answer with the person sitting next to them.  Overall, Dr. Campbell's biggest point was that, whether you are teaching a lecture or presenting your research, you need to develop a personal presentation style, and you need to bring your passion to your presentations.  In the context of a research presentation, don't start with why your research is important (everybody's research is important), but rather start with why it is wonderful.  This is a great start toward incorporating your passion into your lectures and research presentations.

The next day I went to a really awesome series of lectures about the roles of microbes in cancer.  We heard from Christian JobinThomas Meyer, and Karen Guillemin who both talked about the roles of bacteria in cancer, including the roles of H. pylori in GI related cancers.  Denise Galloway changed gears a bit and talked about the roles of viruses in various cancers, and how there is still a lot of research in discovering new, previously unknown links between viruses and cancer.  She also talked about T cell therapies that can target viral antigens associated with the cancer cells, and thereby destroy the cancer cells.  Neil St. John Forbes finished the series by talking about his research in engineering Salmonella bacteria to target and destroy cancer cells.  He talked about using the Salmonella to penetrate and deliver drugs into tumors that drug cannot get into alone, much like tiny robots that invade and kill the tumor with their drug weapons.  Dr. Forbes discussed his lab's ability to control drug release and prevent release into anything except the tumor interior.  They are doing this using radiation stimulated gene expression of S. aureus alpha hemolysin (a toxic agent that kills the tumor cells), as wells as using quorum sensing triggers to allow drug release only in the dense tumor environment.  See his review of this field in the works cited below.

There were some pretty cool places to walk through
and explore around our hotel.
Overall I really enjoyed the meeting and I would suggest it to anybody in the microbiology field.  This was my first time attending the meeting and, while I was a little intimidated by the size at first, I found myself learning a ton and meeting so many cool people.  One suggestion I have for newcomers next year is to not go to talks within your specific field of microbiology.  As a microbiome researcher, I thought it would be cool to see a lot of microbiome themed talks, but I quickly learned that these were mostly shallow compared to the depth I expected, and so I didn't really get a lot from them.  Instead, I used this as a time to learn about fields I really don't know as much about (including the cool work about microbes and cancer, as well as some interesting marine microbiology research).  I found the ASM meeting to be a great time to get out of my comfort zone and really immerse myself in less familiar research.  This is especially important to do as scientists because the coolest and most revolutionary ideas can come from collaborations between fields.

If you are looking for more information about ASM 2014 meeting, check out the Twitter archives for #ASM2014, where many people were live tweeting about talks and information from the meeting.  And as always, if you have any questions or if you just want to talk more about the general meeting, leave a comment below, shoot me an email, or find me on twitter.

Works Cited

Forbes, N. (2010). Engineering the perfect (bacterial) cancer therapy Nature Reviews Cancer, 10 (11), 785-794 DOI: 10.1038/nrc2934

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