Author: Peter LoCoco | Category: Of Interest | March 27, 2015
What are you studying and why are you
passionate about it? How did your education at UT Health Science Center lead
you to where you are today?
chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), which is a side effect of
cancer chemotherapy that causes debilitating pain and numbness in the fingers
and toes of cancer patients due to neurotoxic damage on peripheral nerves.
Although this side effect has been observed in the clinic for decades, it has
become more prevalent since cancer patients are living longer because of more
effective anticancer drugs.
past 3 years, with the help of my mentor, Dr. Bill Clarke, as well as Drs. Kelly Berg, Susan Mooberry, and April Risinger, I have developed our CIPN project
from the ground up. The project itself is very multidisciplinary, incorporating
pain neuroscience, neuropharmacology, and cancer biology. This encouraged me to
interact with investigators across several sub-disciplines for insight. My
technical training has also been very diverse. I have become proficient in
behavior, biochemical assays, primary cell culture, and immunohistochemistry. I
have also developed important new behavioral assays, ex vivo neuronal assays,
and immunohistochemical approaches in the lab.
addition to all the lab work, I have had the opportunity to attend exciting and
diverse scientific meetings, including Society for Neuroscience, American Association for Cancer Research, and Experimental Biology. However, after
attending these meetings for the first time, I noticed that there were zero
symposia dedicated to CIPN.
Tell me about the symposium, how/why did you
decide to plan it? What was unique about the symposium? Are there other
symposiums like it?
At Cancer Research 2014 in San Diego, I met Dr. Jennifer Smith (Jen) and Sarah Benbow, a postdoc
and graduate student from University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB). We
discussed at length about the need for a dedicated symposium for CIPN. Our
mentors encouraged us to seek out means to put on a symposium.
However, we needed to
ask ourselves the most important question – what is our justification to
organize a focused CIPN meeting?
This was our answer: “We believe that the chemotherapy-induced
peripheral neuropathy field is ideally suited for a small, focused meeting to
promote interdisciplinary crosstalk to generate new ideas and collaborations. The
main goal of this meeting is to provide a venue at which the currently
partitioned field can become more cohesive and interactive. By bringing research
groups and clinicians together, we hope to foster discussions and encourage interdisciplinary
collaborations. It is essential to include graduate students and postdoctoral
scholars in these discussions, as they are the researchers actually immersed in
the work at the bench and the future of the field.”
In the weeks
following, Jen determined that the American Society for Cell Biology has a
unique funding opportunity in which trainees can apply for initial budgetary
support to organize a one-day symposium. Consequently, we three organized a
proposal to sponsor the CIPN Symposium. This was
quite difficult as we had to organize completely the symposium from start to
finish, including potential speakers, total projected costs, vendor
information, etc. Luckily within a few weeks, we received word that we were approved
for the maximum $1500 of funding. This got the ball rolling to get a bare-bones symposium planned at UCSB.
However, we also wanted to help curb travel costs
for our keynote speakers as well interested graduate students and postdocs from
around the country. Thus, we sought sponsorship from other sources, and were
emphatic upon additional commitments from Eisai, Genentech, UCSB Neuroscience Research Institute, UCSB Women in Science and Engineering.
These monies were sufficient to organize a very good meeting, inclusive of
talks from field experts, a poster session, food and refreshments, a closing reception,
and all the requisite costs to rent space and equipment.
stretched every dollar as far as possible, but still there were things that
needed to be done without financial compensation. For example, Jen’s husband
did an extraordinary job designing a website
for the meeting, that included information about schedules, registration forms,
announcements, housing, and travel. Also we, the organizers, initiated all
digital correspondence and advertising. Each component of this meeting was very
important and required meticulous coordination, especially since I was here in
San Antonio, and Jen and Sarah were in Santa Barbara. However, the event was a
huge success! We had hugely favorable responses in our post-meeting survey by
all attendees. Not bad for a postdoc and two graduate students.
What was the agenda? What was interesting
agenda was fully devoted to CIPN and the schedule was rigorously organized to
maximize the experience for all attendees.
very fortunate to get very well published and respected CIPN researchers Drs. Gary Bennett (McGill University, Montreal, Quebec) and Patrick Dougherty (MD
Anderson, Houston, Texas) to participate as our keynote speakers.
had shorter seminars including investigators from Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Mayo
Clinic, UCSB, and Genentech. We intentionally planned for both clinicians and
basic scientists to speak to enhance the understanding of the clinical and
preclinical components of CIPN for all attendees.
students and postdocs (and anyone else interested) had the opportunity to
present their own work in the poster session. I must emphasize smaller poster
sessions are much more personal and allow for extensive discussions between
presenters and other researchers.
included a panel session where several of our esteemed speakers responded to
big picture questions from the audience. This helped to prioritize knowledge
gaps for researchers. Lastly, we have a very nice reception, which included
local wine and cheeses actually made by investigators at UCSB. This was very
nice to wrap up a long but productive day of exploration into CIPN.
Why did you pick California and not Texas?
How did it go? Would you do it next year? What did you learn from it?
to have the event in Santa Barbara over San Antonio because the majority of
attendees were from UCSB or from other parts of California.
that said, Santa Barbara was magnificent! The weather could not have been more
perfect. The mountains (which run east to west!) were so beautiful. The food
was remarkable as well. Everyone I met welcomed me as if I was a long-time
friend. Santa Barbara was a fantastic venue and, if anything, I encourage all
to visit there at least once in your life.
excited about the future of the CIPN Symposium. It was so well received by our
attendees that we already received offers from Johns Hopkins and others to host
it next year. We, the organizing committee, do have some decisions to make
since we all are very early in our careers and may not be in the CIPN field
forever. We need to decide whether we should give the organizing rights of the symposium
to a society or a CIPN non-profit organization. We recognize that such groups
have access to greater resources. If we choose an approach such as this, we
want to ensure that the mission of the CIPN Symposium is not lost diluted or
this process, I could not have done this without the support of so many people
here at UTHSCSA. First, I want to acknowledge the Dean’s Office, because
without their financial support, it would have been difficult for me to attend
the symposium in Santa Barbara.
particular, I thank Dean David Weiss, Janice Smith, and Alyssa Felan for all their
help in this process! I also thank my mentor Dr. Bill Clarke, Dr. Kelly Berg, Dr. Susan Mooberry, and Dr. April Risinger for their continued guidance during
my dissertation and training.
want to thank Dr. Linda McManus, Dr. Andrew Giuffrida, and Dr. Teresa Evans for
their insight into important considerations of this project. My graduate
experience here at UTHSCSA has transformed my life forever and I am eternally
grateful for every opportunity.
Would you recommend other graduate students
to plan their own events/symposiums? Any advice?
encourage senior graduate students or postdocs to plan their own event, however
with two major precautions.
first is consideration of the demand for a specific theme-based meeting and
potential benefits. In our situation, there was no prior dedicated meeting to
CIPN. We felt it prudent to organize the CIPN Symposium to facilitate
communications between those in the field and to foster new and productive
(and perhaps most important) is the time commitment. Time is a valuable
commodity in the research enterprise and it behooves one to ask the question
whether organizing an event is in their best interest early on in their career.
Would it be more beneficial to conduct experiments, read, and write manuscripts
or instead take the time (a lot of time) to contact people about attendance, to
write grants for financial sponsorship, to organize vendors, to collect
abstracts? Don’t get me wrong, I, if anyone, can find “value” in service on
committees or in other capacities. Nevertheless, I implore you to consider the entirety
of the commitment before moving forward. A priori > a posteriori.
be remiss without acknowledgement of the potential benefits of organizing a
symposium. For example, a very exciting benefit was the result of networking. I
interacted with so many people during this process, including investigators
from all over the country. To my surprise, I was offered multiple postdoc opportunities
from very accomplished PIs at outstandingly prestigious institutions. While
this was never an intended goal, I believe the display of competency and work
ethic from my own science and that which went into organization of this event
helped senior scientists gauge my potential.
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