March 2009 Newsletter:

International Conference Travel Fund : reports

Peter Hastie
6th International Congress on Farm Animal Endocrinology, Roanoke, Virginia, USA, 14-16th November 2008

The city of Roanoke, Virginia was the venue for the 6th International Congress on Farm Animal Endocrinology. Roanoke is a relatively sleepy little city famous for the “Roanoke star”, a 100ft structure that is illuminated until midnight each day, and is sited above Roanoke valley, making it visible from almost every part of the city. The conference setting and accommodation was the Hotel Roanoke, a hotel of some grandeur that was originally built by the Norfolk and Western Railroad, but is now run jointly by the City of Roanoke and Virginia Tech University. This was a comparatively small congress, where delegates congregated from all over the globe, although the representation from Europe, and in particular the UK was disappointing. Those who did attend were lucky enough to network with leading scientists in their field, where the main areas of the program focused on energy and metabolism, reproduction and growth.

The congress got off to a rather strange opening on the Friday morning as the opening speaker Iain Clarke, plus many other delegates, were stranded in airports across the US due to poor weather and fog. Nevertheless, course organiser Mike Akers proceeded to kick matters off by advancing some of the later speakers that day, in particular Frank Dunshea, who gave a very good opening lecture on indirect calorimetry in ruminants. This theme was followed by a series of very good lectures on feed intake and metabolism. The highlight on the Friday as far as I was concerned was the excellent presentation by Sean Limesand on the mechanisms by which heat stress in pregnant ewes affects the foetal endocrine system leading to intrauterine growth restriction. This novel research revealed the effects that catecholamines have on insulin secretion and the pancreatic beta cell population.

Saturday's sessions were very much focused on hormonal regulation within the mammary gland, and reproductive endocrinology. Milo Wiltbank and Bob Goodman gave particularly good up-to-date overviews on reproductive physiology in lactating cows, and the central role of kisspeptin in reproduction, respectively. The focus on Sunday, the final day, changed to growth and metabolic endocrinology and culminated in several very good lectures. Leon Spicer kicked the morning off with an excellent talk on the role of IGF-2 on granulosa cell function. Leon's work has established the key roles that IGF-2 and IGF-2R, and not just IGF-1/IGF-1R, play in regulating follicular mitogenesis and steroidogenesis. In the afternoon the highlight was Teresa Davis, who as usual gave a first class lecture on the effects of amino acids and insulin in foetal growth, in particular by elucidating the signalling pathways involved.

The conference concluded with some kind words by Mike Akers, and with the news that Rupert Bruckmaier from Switzerland had kindly agreed to host the next congress. Therefore, the next congress will hopefully attract a high proportion of European delegates to what is an excellent gathering of down to earth like-minded scientists. I am extremely grateful to The British Society for Neuroendocrinology for the award of a travel grant to support my attendance at the Congress in Virginia.

Michelle Bellingham
Joint 1st meeting of the World Congress on Reproductive Biology and 41st meeting of the Society for the Study of Reproduction

The stunning coastline of Kailua-Kona on Hawaii's Big Island was the venue for the joint 1st meeting of the World Congress on Reproductive Biology and 41st meeting of the Society for the Study of Reproduction. With delegates from every corner of the globe and over 800 oral and poster communications across both meetings, there was something to suit every scientific taste. The WCRB, despite having fewer delegates in attendance than SSR, was packed with some excellent plenary lectures and concurrent sessions covering a broad range of topics from sperm-oocyte interactions, embryo-maternal interactions and pregnancy success to placental development and immunological mediators in reproductive systems to name a few. Also, so as not to leave out the neuroendocrinologists amongst us, there was an excellent session on new players in the GnRH system where Hiroko Tsukamura and Alan Herbison were amongst the speakers who both gave very motivating presentations on the Kisspeptin/GPR54 system which has emerged as a key regulator of reproduction and a topic which has become close to my heart over the past year or so. As well as this, there was another interesting session on environmental effects on reproduction (my other passion) which detailed dioxin effects on human reproductive function as well as estrogenic effects in fish after exposure to effluents from waste water treatment work. After being present at these sessions and the posters that were of interest to me, I was confident that I had fulfilled my duty to highlight and attend the sessions that would be of most relevance and benefit to my research (which was no mean feat with such an array of interesting sessions). However, not content with this I found myself in the 'broadening and rethinking contraceptive options for an overpopulated world' not because I am familiar with this area of research by any means, but simply because it was interesting to me. This was true of most of the sessions at the WCRB, there was always something that was appealing even if it wasn't of particular relevance. Teresa Woodruff's lecture on regulation of follicle development in vitro was a prime example of this as it was probably one of the best lectures I have ever attended at a conference even though it is not an area of research that I am directly involved in. Attending some of these 'alternative sessions' actually broadened my thinking on several aspects of reproduction that I hadn't really considered significant for my research and actually helped me considerably not only in understanding reproductive biology as a whole (which was particularly helpful since I am relatively new to the reproductive field) and not just from a neuroendocrinology angle, but also to gain knowledge of different techniques that I can perhaps utilise in future research as well as possible collaborations.

Overall the inaugural WCRB meeting was a great success with a high calibre of speakers and sessions with something for everyone over the 2 days, giving the next meeting in 2012 a high standard to maintain. After a day off to relax and ponder, the 4 day long SSR meeting commenced. As this was my first SSR I was not sure what to expect. After being used to intimate number of delegates at the WCRB, which was comfortable for the venue size, it felt like the SSR was on a totally different scale with significantly more delegates and a significantly thicker and heavier meeting programme. Nevertheless I quickly grew accustomed to the increased volume and was glad that I had opted to present my poster at this meeting as hopefully, a greater number delegates would mean greater exposure of my work, the main reason for my attendance after all. The meeting was divided into state-of-the-art lectures and symposia, concurrent minisymposia with three 30 minute talks in each, concurrent platform sessions with six 15 min talks and poster sessions. As there was so much going on it was paramount to identify the most relevant talks to attend before each session started so that I could move swiftly in and out of sessions so as to get as much out of the meeting as possible. It helped that the chairs of each session adhered strictly to time schedules and didn't rearrange the order of speakers so people could move between venues. Of particular interest to me was the minisymposium on mechanisms of action of environmental endocrine disruptors on reproduction and the neuroendocrinology platform sessions however, as with the WCRB, SSR also had many talks and sessions of general interest such as the president's symposium in honour of the research career of Ryuzo Yanagimachi where Prof Yanagimachi gave his interesting personal perspective of germ cell research. The poster sessions were split into six 2 hour sessions across 3 days and were scheduled so as to allow delegates to peruse the posters at leisure (with a cup of Kona coffee in hand) without having to miss any of the other sessions. I was amazed at the attendance of delegates at these poster sessions and it was apparent that a poster presentation at SSR has probably the same, if not more attendees as an oral presentation so when it was my turn to present, I was not short of interest in my poster.

All in all both conferences offered me the opportunity not only to present my data on an international stage to some of the most significant scientists in neuroendocrinology and reproduction research, but also to network and exchange knowledge with such scientists as well as other professors, post-docs and students on an informal basis. I am grateful to the British Society for Neuroendocrinology for awarding me money from the travel fund to make my attendance at these meetings possible.

Dr Sandrine Dupré
SRBR biennal meeting, Sandestin, Florida, May 2008

The Society for Research on Biological Rhythms (SRBR) organises a meeting every two year attracting a vast number of scientists working in the field of biological clocks in mammals, insects, fungi, plants or cyanobacteria.

Few members of the lab attended the meeting, we all met at Manchester airport very excited, knowing that we'll land in a place where the sky is blue and the sun is actually shining. Stupidly I didn't think of taking my electricity/gas bills and wage slips for the last few months/years with me ... but I won't go into details on how I had to justify my own existence as a European citizen in the country to be able to proceed to the check-in, or this report will end up being a novel and slightly off topic.

The conference was held in a golf and beach resort on the far west side of Florida between Pensacola and Panama City (no we didn't stop to Miami, no we didn't stop to Dysneyland - it's miles away). The program was quite dense: morning sessions were running from 8.00am until 12.30 with symposia and slide sessions running in parallel as well. The afternoon program, starting at 4.30pm, preceded a short dinner break followed by the poster session which usually ended around 11pm.

This meeting is a popular one, renowned speakers in the field were present giving talks in general symposia, most of them (unfortunately not all) presented some of their unpublished data. Slide sessions were also organised throughout allowing authors of selected posters to give oral communications. Poster sessions were very busy and well attended. On overall, from professors to students, everybody had an opportunity to communicate and share data with others.

On overall the conference was very good, sessions covered a wide range of topics within the circadian field - covering molecular studies as well as clinical and behavioural studies. The positive side of this is that it gave a good opportunity to learn about all aspects of the current state of research in the field; on the downside, sessions were running in parallel so one had to be really selective on which talks to attend.

There were some highlights for me at this meeting. First one was to hear two speakers from different labs actually giving talks on a subject which is of a particular interest to me. I recently started to investigate the potential role of a deacetylase in the molecular clock - from these talks, it now appears that this deacetylase is actually a critical component in this mechanism. I suppose any scientist at some point of his career experiences this sort of situation and even though my first reaction was to feel quite depressed, I eventually took the good side of it: they've done all the preliminary experiments I don't have to do myself anymore... Another highlight was to meet in person colleagues working in seasonal rhythms, my field of interest, in other animal models. Our data similar in some aspects but different in others, led to interesting conversations and again were very helpful to help redirect and focus my research. At last, as a poster presenter, I had the opportunity to present my work to many known and unknown colleagues who through various questions, have been very helpful to widen my views on my own work.

I am grateful to the BSN committee for giving me a travel grant to attend this exiting conference as it is the sort of conference any young scientist wish to go to.

Dr Tony Coll (Cambridge)
Adrenal 2008 - the 13th Adrenal Cortex Conference. San Francisco, 11th-14th June 2008

For anyone who has found themselves at sea among the faceless bodies of the mega-arena conferences, the appeal of a well organised specialist satellite meeting is obvious. Sitting on the floor of an aircraft hanger as cold as a meat fridge listening to something you read last year never really did it for me. In stark contrast stands the adrenal meeting, run without fail on a biannual basis for the last 24 years by the redoubtable Alistair Brownie and Bernie Schimmer. Their aim is to bring together all that is new and exciting in adrenal steroid biology and talk about it in the most friendly manner possible. They really do manage to make the whole meeting feel like a large family wedding, even including an after-dinner speaker reminiscing on “steroid times gone by” ( thank-you Gavin Vinson!)

The scientific program is spread over 2½ days, with 36 talks in 9 sessions. However, the small enthusiastic crowd never let the pace flag. Furthermore, although the by-line of the meeting title might suggest the science to be at risk of being inward looking and of interest only to a niche market, the content of the data presented spanned a wide range of topics, from receptors signalling and transduction right through to the genetics of human adrenal disorders. There was also plenty to interest a neuroendocrinologist with unpublished data on the role of melanocortin receptor accessory proteins, the impact of corticosterone on palatable food choices and the central integration of energy balance by hypothalamic POMC peptides all presented. We learnt how brain-specific inactivation of steroidogenic factor 1 (SF1), a critical nuclear receptor for adrenal and gonadal development, can cause increased anxiety -like behaviour and heard details of the molecular mechanisms underlying the link between gonadotropins and adrenal tumours. There was also some fascinating data on human disease state caused by failures of the enzymes critical for interconverting inactive cortisone to active cortisol.

Because the meeting is so small, the bijou poster session cannot help but result in interaction, discussion and conversation rather than engendering the bus stop queue ambience endemic to many larger meetings. Indeed the size of the meeting and the fact that all the participants stay in the same hotel means that by the end of the conference you are on first name terms with the majority of the participants by the time it comes round to decamp and move on. This is great for establishing and building up collaborative working links and I came away with a pocketful of ideas and e-mail addresses.

Historically, in terms of location the meeting hitches itself to the Endocrine Society, running just before this much bigger meeting. Although details of the next meeting in 2010 are still to be finalised, if you get a chance to join in with this meeting, grab the opportunity to join Alistair and Bernie's extended adrenal family- you won't be disappointed.

Donal Skinner
ENDO 2008: The Endocrine Society 90th Annual Meeting June 15 - 18, 2008, San Francisco, California

The Annual Endocrine Society meetings appear to have become progressively more relevant to basic neuroendocrinologists. It still maintains a strong clinical bent but, in contrast to the diminishing neuroendocrine offerings at the SSR meetings, basic science presentations in neuroendocrinology have risen sufficiently to keep one engaged and stimulated for the full 4 days of the conference. A feature that I thought would be especially beneficial to younger scientists was the “Conversations with Basic Researchers” session and Dr Andrea Gore addressed the neuroendocrine domain with: Conversations about Neuroendocrinology and GnRH

A theme that intrigues me and directed me to the sessions I attended was the integrative nature of neuroendocrine and endocrine systems in general. Dr John C. Marshall presented a Presidential Plenary lecture on polycystic ovarian system and how PCOS is accompanied by elevated androgen levels which drive up GnRH release in the face of impaired sensitivity to progesterone. The elevated androgen levels in pre- and early-pubertal girls are associated with hyperinsulinemia. There were several outstanding presentations on the kisspeptin system (Allan Herbison and Bob Millar especially) and it will be interesting to see what links develop between PCOS and kisspeptin. The theme of programming of subsequent neuroendocrine/endocrine responses was also addressed in a stimulating Stress and the Central Programming of Behavior session. Other highlights included sessions on Neuroendocrinology: Development, Plasticity and Pathology, Gonadotrope Biology and Neuroendocrine Regulation.

The organization of the Endocrine Society's 90th meeting was superb and there are few finer cities in the USA than San Francisco. The fact that neuroendocrinology is increasingly well represented, suggests that this will become a premier meeting for those of our ilk. My own research presentation was extremely well received and I have had a lot of subsequent follow up. Indeed, it is only at meetings such as these that essential one-on-one time is gained and constructive criticism received. I am extremely grateful to the British Society for Neuroendocrinology for helping me offset the high costs of attending this conference….especially in the face of the plummeting $!