Day 2 featured a full scientific program, including a morning plenary and two afternoon sessions with concurrent talks running in five different rooms. Luckily many of the talks are being videoed and will be available to attendees for a few weeks after the event – a good idea as it’s impossible not to feel like you’re missing exciting science even with the most careful scheduling.
We kicked off with a disease modelling session, certainly a popular topic which has also featured in many posters and short talks throughout the conference so far. It is clear that many labs and institutions are investing huge efforts in collecting and cataloguing induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells from patients with a vast array of different diseases. The plenary talks from Lawrence Goldstein, Haruhisa Inoue and Joseph Wu focussed on using iPS cells to interrogate the pathogenesis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular disease. The general consensus was that the standard of the presentations was very high, really raising the bar of what can be achieved even when modelling complex diseases in the dish. Ludovic Vallier also presented his lab’s efforts to understand genetic and phenotypic variability in a large cohort of iPS cell lines derived using different tissues of origin and reprogramming methods. iPS cells were also well represented in the concurrent session on pluripotency and there remains a great deal of interest in the mechanism of reprogramming. A particularly noteworthy talk by Jacob Hanna presented incredible data demonstrating that knocking out one component of a chromatin remodelling complex can lead to 100% reprogramming efficiency on expression of the Yamanaka factors. The cell fate conversion session featured talks on ‘direct reprogramming’ (or trans-differentiation) emphasising not only how malleable cell fate is, but also the challenges in manufacturing fully functional, terminally differentiated cell types in vitro. Indeed, some discussions have focussed on whether this is necessary or even desirable in all contexts – as long as cells can safely and efficiently ‘do the job’ asked of them. The idea of completely new cell types is certainly intriguing, although maybe not to the developmental biologist still struggling to understand the cells we have already! On a related note, Pentau Liu presented his lab’s work on designer transcription factors which are custom made to turn your gene of interest on or off. Certainly a neat trick which sparked debate as to how one might utilise these in the future to answer different biological questions. Other sessions included neural stem cells, tissue engineering, stem cell signalling and niches, aging and metabolism, and ‘new technologies’ to name but a few. Each concurrent session has also featured poster teasers which are an excellent recent addition to many conferences – one speaker even used their allotted time to sing/rap about their work. I’m sure this poster got plenty of foot traffic… although I’m not convinced this approach will, or should (!), necessarily catch on!
The day ended with a social event for young investigators at a local Irish bar – although even the more senior scientists who sneaked in couldn’t resist the lure of the dance floor! I won’t name any names… but the blood stem cell field was certainly well represented!