Cend’s 10th Annual Symposium: A Recap

by / Friday, 16 February 2018 / Published in news

By: Robyn Jong, Stanley Lab and Julia Schaletzky

On January 12, 2018, the Center for Emerging and Neglected Diseases (CEND) held its 10th annual symposium at UC Berkeley. This year’s theme of “Confronting Persistent Epidemics” reflected the enduring need for new strategies to combat ongoing global disease outbreaks.

The first three talks of the morning session tackled the 2017/2018 influenza outbreak that has become one of the most lethal and severe in years. Dr. Stacey Schultz-Cherry from St. Jude Children’s Hospital started off the session with historical context on the 1918 epidemic that killed millions, challenging the audience to consider why we are not prepared for another epidemic. Dr. Andrew Mehle of University of Wisconsin-Madison and Jonathan Yewdell from the NIAID reiterated this point and shared novel findings from their labs. While each of the speakers investigates a different facet of influenza pathogenesis, it was apparent that the sum of epidemiological, molecular, and immunological approaches is crucial for developing better therapies and vaccines. Also the integration with government, public health planning and safety was discussed during a lively Q&A.

The second part of the morning pivoted towards developing novel technology to combat disease, starting with work on a nanotube sensor for tuberculosis by Makerere University researcher Alfred Andama. The inaugural Tech Show and Tell provided an excellent opportunity for startups and biotech companies to present their emerging products to both academic and industry researchers over lunch. Representatives from diverse fields attended: filtration experts ViaeX, microfluidic diagnostic company mFluidX, light microscope technology designers CellScope from UCB, doctor/patient clinical research portal Andaman7, and the Alameda County Mosquito Abatement District. Seeing skin cells with an iphone converted to a microscope using a simple sleeve was one of the highlights of the lunchtime session.

The first afternoon session dealt with plant pathogens that impact rice cultivation and threaten global food security. Barbara Valent of Kansas State University compared two pathotypes of the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae, the causative agent of rice blast disease, while Nick Talbot from the University of Exeter highlighted efforts to apply research findings to plant breeding strategies and disease control. Sophien Kamoun from the Sainsbury Laboratory humorously and sincerely challenged the audience to fight “Plant Blindness—the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs.”

Dialogue between academic and industry researchers is crucial to improve diagnostics and treatment for infectious and neglected diseases and the symposium provided a forum for lively discussions. Founder and CEO Eric Easom of AN2 Therapeutics reported how the biotech company Anacor developed a unique business model to develop therapies to neglected diseases with little revenue-earning potential. Anacor’s unique Boron-containing compounds proved to be highly tractable as anti-infectives for several parasitic neglected diseases. The head of the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases, Thierry Diagana, also presented at the symposium, providing an interesting summary about how Norvartis moves beyond control of disease and towards elimination; Several promising approaches were shared that left the audience hopeful that better treatments may be within reach.

The final session covered phages that prey on the causative agent of cholera, Vibrio cholerae. UC Berkeley Assistant Professor Kimberley Seed recounted how V. cholera can block replication of the ICP1 phage, while Andy Camilli of Tufts University continued discussing the ICP1 phage in the context of vaccine design.

The program concluded with a poster session featuring scientists from UC Berkeley, UCSF, and SFSU. The posters showed cutting edge research on a diverse number of pathogens: HIV, herpesvirus, M. tuberculosis, B. thailandesis, R. parkeri, and the fungus Coccidioides. As the day drew to a close, it was apparent from the animated discussions that CEND had successfully connected research groups from the worldwide infectious disease community. Not only had the presentations brought attention to the pressing need to combat persistent epidemics, but the symposium also strengthened the inter-institutional ties that will be essential for moving ahead towards future breakthroughs in vaccines, diagnostics, and therapy.


The 9th Annual CEND Symposium took place on March 31, 2017

Deconstructing TB: Insights from Fundamental Research

For a story about the 9th Annual Symposium, please follow this link.

Videos of the 2016 and 2017 Symposium Events

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