Escape from the snowy Alberta to learn about Anthelmintics by Edina Szabo

I have been fortunate enough to spend a week away from the -20 °C and the white covers of Alberta and put my bikini on during the breaks of a very exciting conference in Florida.

The Anthelmintics: Discovery to Resistance was the third of the anthelmintic conference series that are usually based in the south of USA. The hotel that hosted the event was located right at the harbour, and about 5 minutes walk from the sandy beach of the Gulf of Mexico. The conference schedule was set up to benefit all attendees having a long lunchtime break to explore the surroundings. I have definitely taken advantage of that time to have a long stroll along the beach, and luckily had a short period of time when I could actually enjoy sunbathing as well.

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Our days started off with breakfast at the venue followed by the first two sessions of oral presentations. After the long lunch break, we were all fresh to continue with another session of presentations and the poster pitches before the poster session in the evenings. I really liked the schedule of the day, having to start early and finishing late with a decent break in between. This schedule gave us time to chat to other researchers, explore local food, and just generally to network.


I have learnt a lot from the presentations on drug discoveries and resistance, and tried to understand some from the bioinformatics field. I enjoyed Dave Curran’s talk, who recently moved away from Calgary to join a group at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

The talk I enjoyed the most was about the host-seeking behaviour of skin-penetrating nematodes by Elissa Hallem, an invited speaker from UCLA. She was talking about the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying host seeking of nematodes. They have found that the strongest attractants are also mosquito attractants, and currently using CRISPR-Cas9 to investigate the molecular basis of these behaviours.

Another talk by Janis Weeks, from University of Oregon & Nemametrix, also caught my attention on feeding in Haemonchus contortus larvae. They have characterized pharyngeal pumping, which involved in feeding, using video-microscopy, and identified a neuromodulator as the stimulus for the pumping behaviour. Microfluidics device, so called “chips”, was developed to record electropharyngeograms from parasitic and non-parasitic nematodes.

I also had a chance to chat to our collaborator, Peter Roy from the University of Toronto, and discuss future steps regarding our recent experiment. During the poster session I had great feedback on my research, which I am going to take into consideration when setting up new experiments.

Before the poster sessions, each presenter had a chance to introduce their research briefly and invite people to their poster later in the evening. Aaron Maule from the University of Belfast was very well prepared for the poster pitch by giving us a very well delivered speech in the form of a rhyme that everyone enjoyed very much.

The whole atmosphere was great all the way through the conference, as it was a smaller event we had a lot of chance to talk to other researchers and have greater discussions. Even though it was a short time in the sunshine state of the US, it was a great opportunity and time spent before we headed back to the snowy mountains.



Anthelmintics: Discovery to Resistance III in the Sunshine State by Janneke Wit

When temperatures in Calgary once again dropped below -20˚C late January, several members from the Gilleard, Wasmuth and Finney labs escaped to a warmer dwelling: Indian Rocks Beach, Florida. Here we attended a conference focussing on anything related to drug treatment of parasitic worms: Anthelminthics III, from discovery to resistance.

Edina and I took the opportunity to spend the weekend prior in sunny Florida, racing from Tampa to Miami, Key West, back up to Miami, the Everglades, Naples, Tampa and finally Indian Rocks Beach. One of the highlights for me was the amount of alligators we saw – Figure 1. Not on our hovercraft tour – with a grand total of one — but next to the highway! Over one hundred, and that’s being conservative. They were there warming up in the sun. According to our shuttle driver this was because they were warm blooded, but he’s forgiven for that, as he was a great tour guide, pointing us to dolphins in Old Tampa Bay and showing pictures of his impressive collection of historic cars.


Figure 1 – Alligators right next to the highway, and in the everglades showing of its perfect pearly whites, which surely come in handy when snacking on beautiful pelicans

The damage of last year’s hurricane Irma was still clearly visible, especially in the Keys. During the Everglades tour we were told this was the biggest storm since Hurricane Dora in the early sixties. Given that fact, it was impressive how quickly the debris has been cleaned. They piled all damaged goods neatly next to the roads and were busy removing it all. The main destruction was visible on the less busy beaches, where dead marine vegetation and a washed up motorcycle were silent witnesses of the massive destruction that had taken place – Figure 2.


Figure 2 – Damage by hurricane Irma on a small beach in the Keys.

After this trip, a pleasant surprise was waiting for me at Indian Rocks Beach. The conference organizers had arranged for discounted prices at the hotel, which led to us booking there en masse. This in turn resulted in a super luxurious upgrade for several of the attendees. Rather than a two-queen bedroom with kitchen and additional pull out bed, some of us, including lucky me, got a King Villa Loft (amongst others a two floor studio with marina view and so much closet space, I regretted bringing just hand luggage – Figure 3). So when another busy day was over I now had to choose between tasty fish in one of the restaurants close by, or a relaxing night in my private Jacuzzi. Finding a good balance between the two, I must say this has been the most relaxing conference I have ever been to!


Figure 3 – My humble abode.

The conference was perfectly tailored to my project, for which I am looking for the effects of drug treatment on the Haemonchus contortus genome. The program was very diverse, with something for everyone: drug discovery and development from both an industry and academic point of view, including phenotypic studies of the effect of different compounds on motility for example, but also die hard computational modelling of metabolic networks by HPI-alumnus Dave Curran.

Day three of the conference was a merry mix of talks by friends and collaborators. Umer, an alumnus from the Gilleard lab, as well as James and I gave talks, along with Eric Andersen, who attended our HPI conference last year, and several of Dr. Gilleards UK and US collaborators. The two morning sessions showed neatly how much progress is being made using the high quality H. contortus reference genome to identify genomic regions under selection due to drug treatment in the ongoing search for mutations underlying drug resistance against several classes of anthelmintics. Caenorhabditis elegans and Teladorsagia circumcincta were other worms that took the stage, all illustrating how the use of natural field populations can help improve our understanding of the genetics of anthelmintic resistance.


Figure 4 – Seafood galore.

Before going back to landlocked Calgary, I decided to treat myself to a rather large meal of fresh sea treats, as seen here in the picture. It was a challenge, but I managed (aside from the unnecessary fillers: potato and sausage – Figure 4). Thank you HPI for funding my attendance at this great conference, and for those of you working on anything related to anthelmintics, keep an eye out for Anthelmintics IV on 2020 – this will be held late January/early February, traditionally at another warm location in the US, to ensure maximum attendance!

Ecology Across Borders: Joint Annual Meeting 2017 in Ghent, Belgium by Michelle Gordy

In mid-December, I had the incredible opportunity to attend a rather large international meeting of Ecologists in the beautiful city of Ghent, Belgium. With the combined efforts and membership base of the British Ecological Society, the Ecological Society of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the Netherlands-Flanders Ecological Society, and the European Ecological Federation, there were over 1500 delegates from across the globe, 72 parallel sessions, 600 oral presentations and 500 posters. As is inherent in the field of Ecology, the range of topics was very broad, and there seemed to be something for everyone…including us parasitologists. I was incredibly excited to meet other parasite ecologists, and to top it off, this was my very first trip to Europe, and I couldn’t be more pumped!

What I had not expected is that I would have accidentally brought a bit of Canada with me, and the conference would be in the middle of an epic snowstorm in Belgium, a country that has not had snow for the previous four years! The six or so inches of incredibly wet, thick, snow that came down in just a matter of hours, shut down all modes of transit…except bikes, because nothing stops a cyclist in Ghent! (Ghent boasts the largest designated cycling area in all of Europe) This would mean a half hour walk from my hotel to the conference venue in wet, slushy, snow. Luckily, being from Canada, and having just bought some waterproof boots before the trip, I was incredibly prepared, and it ended up being a nice little tour of the city. Unfortunately, most the other delegates were not expecting this weather and had to be creative with protective footwear of plastic bags and extra socks, and many coming from the UK didn’t even make it.

From 8am to 2am everyday, there was always something going on. I had signed up to volunteer for the meeting (to help cover my registration costs), and so my day was usually divided between sitting at the registration desk or helping in a session with transitioning between speakers, attending a lunchtime workshop, attending more sessions in the afternoon, then finding a group to join for dinner and socializing in the evening. Everyday was packed full of good science and good people. I was pleasantly surprised as to how friendly and welcoming everyone was, and not knowing anyone else at the conference, this meant there was never a dull moment, and always someone to talk to.

Perhaps this was just my own experience, but one of the most positive aspects of this conference, I found, was the feeling of inclusivity. Often at conferences, it is easy to feel as if it becomes divided into cliques, whether based on study interest, or because people stay within their lab groups, or because the workshops are focused on improvement of the individual. This conference, in nearly every aspect felt welcoming, and as if the goal was collaboration. All the workshops I attended were organized into groups working together to achieve a common goal, and to understand the breadth of understanding and problems in an area based on sharing experiences. I had the opportunity to attend workshops on early career development, citizen science, and joint species distribution modelling. Though I did not walk away with any new practical skills, I did gain a broader perspective and understanding of the subjects covered within each workshop, and felt like I contributed as well.

Having never been to an ecology meeting before, I was quite impressed with the turnout of parasitologists and the number of parasite associated talks and posters at the meeting. The British Ecological Society even has a Parasite and Pathogen Ecology and Evolution section that organizes special sessions and social events. At the meeting, they threw a pizza party meet and greet, which had a great turn out and started some excellent discussions.

ASTMH Annual Meeting, 2017 by Catherine Mitran

I had the pleasure of attending the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) Annual meeting and the John Hopkins Malaria Research Day in Baltimore in November 2017. The symposium at John Hopkins University was a one-day event, while the ASTMH meeting was held over 5 days. It was great to be able to attend both of these meetings as the John Hopkins meeting was strictly focused on malaria, whereas the ASTMH meeting had a huge variety of scientific content.

I also had the opportunity to present my research in three different poster sessions between the two conferences. This was an excellent opportunity to engage with other researchers in the field. Almost 1/3 of the 4,500 attendees at the ASTMH meeting were trainees so there were lot of sessions and events that specifically targeted students. For an example one of the poster sessions that I presented at was a part of the Young Investigator’s Competition. It was interesting to present a poster in this competition, because it is done more like an oral presentation as the whole group listens to one poster presentation at a time. Another session that I really enjoyed was the “office hours,” where trainees can sit down with two different professionals each day from a range of backgrounds and have a casual conversation about their current careers and career paths.

We also had a day off between the two meetings, so we were able to visit Washington, DC, which was about a 45 min train ride away. It was amazing to see all the different monuments and historical buildings, including the Whitehouse (despite the current occupant). All in all it was a great experience and I would highly recommend this conference to anyone who has an interest in tropical disease research. I’ve never attended a conference that is so trainee-focused, yet attracts many of the top researchers in the field.

Thank you to HPI for the funding to attend these conferences.


Ecological Models and Data at Bamfield By Michelle Gordy

“A unique experience” is probably the best way to describe, likely any course at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Center (BMSC), but most definitely the Ecological Models and Data course. Set in the small marine village of Bamfield, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, BC, the BMSC provides a temporary home to researchers and students from all over Canada and beyond. Nestled behind the Broken Islands within Barkley Sound, the BMSC sits between epic forests and the Pacific Ocean. The campus offers outstanding views, all from the comfort of “The Rix” (Rix Centre for Ocean Discoveries) and the library, where we spent about 85% of our time, because this was a computer-based course. We did get the chance to visit some of the amazingly beautiful beaches, hike a bit of the West Coast Trail, and play around in the intertidal zone to see the plethora of marine life surrounding us. Beyond the scenery, this course uniquely offered an intensive three weeks of mathematical modelling, computer programming, ethical discussions on p-values and scientific philosophies, random row boat trips to get ice cream, late nights at the library, and random bouts of sleep-deprived laughter.

The view from The Rix

(Photo credit: Jody Reimer)

The view from the library

Trips to the beach for paper discussions

(Photo credit: Jody Reimer)

The intensity of the course not only created an atmosphere of bonding between the students, but an opportunity to learn through teaching, something I was not expecting. What I mean by this, is that there was a wide variety of backgrounds among the students, ranging from undergraduate students who have never used R to PhD students that use R every day, or are in the math department and learning how to use ecological models. When we would work on our labs together, we would all, at some point during the course (usually late at night in the Rix or the library), would take what we knew and teach it to our fellow classmates, so we would all successfully complete the labs on time. The learning curve associated with this course was high, and the instructors knew it; they were outstanding at being there (some even during the night) to help us through, and guide us. Though the workload was high, and the timeframe short, I believe that being at the BMSC and being away from the business of home helped to provide the best learning atmosphere. The collective knowledge of the instructors and the TA were impressive, and they all presented an incredible ability to teach and relate abstract concepts to real world problems.

This course benefits my professional development in more ways than I expected. I had originally thought it would be a great way to finally learn how to use R, the most widely used computer program for ecologists, and this would be the greatest benefit for my future career. While, yes, I did definitely learn how to use R, I also learned a great deal about statistics, about ethics in publishing, about how learning isn’t always best done by someone telling you exactly how to do something, but rather helping someone to figure it out on their own, and that hard work really pays off. I learned a great deal about getting out of my “comfort zone”, and dealing with complex problems in a short timeframe. I have no doubts that these lessons have impacted the way in which I view a career in science/research, and that they will improve my chances at success in both my current PhD research, and in my future career as well. Having a greater understanding of best practices in ecological research and modelling has already changed the way in which I am considering the analyses I will be using on the data I have collected, and how I communicate that to other students in the lab.

The best quote to summarize the Ecological Models and Data course came from our first lecture. It was “See the ecological forest through the statistical trees. Because if you don’t… there be dragons!!”. This quote not only made it to the back of our class t-shirts, but serves as a reminder that statistics can often be misleading, and we can often use them wrongly. It is important to have a strong understanding of the statistics and models you’re using, because you could be missing what’s really going on, or misinterpreting the true patterns.

The dragon part comes in because every time we learned about “the wrong way to do things”, ‘Hurlbert’ the dragon would appear.


My only advice to other students interested in taking this course would be to come into it knowing that the intensity is worth the payoff.

I’d like to express my sincere thanks to HPI and the University of Alberta for helping to fund this opportunity through professional development awards.

WorldLeish in the historic city of Toledo by Camila Meira

My journey in leishmaniasis research started a while ago, when I still was an undergrad student starting the first internship in a prestigious research institution in Brazil. At that moment, I felt so excited about the work with a fascinating and intriguing parasite that I could not wait for a chance to be with those that were carrying out most of the published works I had as reference for my own projects.


Two weeks ago, I finally had this opportunity at the 6th World Conference on Leishmaniasis (WorldLeish) and I cannot stop saying: it was worth every second! The WorldLeish Conferences are held every four years in countries where leishmaniasis is one of the major health issues. This year, the conference was in Toledo, Spain, and brought together almost 1500 leishmaniacs from all over the world to present and attend oral or poster sessions on numerous topics on leishmaniasis, ranging from taxonomy and molecular studies on Leishmania spp. to advances in treatment and diagnostic tools for both anthroponotic and zoonotic diseases. I was scheduled to present in the first poster session, when everybody is clearly eager to discuss and share valuable ideas on your research topic hahaha. As a young scientist that started a MSc project on an innovative and challenging topic, which is the interaction between Leishmania and its host cell via exosomes, I was really looking forward for this moment, surrounded by experts in this field. I was surprised in seeing how the research on exosomes have expanded so quickly and how many good concepts and models are coming up from it. It was easy and enjoyable to get myself engaged in endless conversations with other grad students on personal experiences and novel ideas that we could develop together in collaborative projects. The WorldLeish was also an excellent chance to meet my Brazilian fellows from Oswaldo Cruz Foundation-Bahia. It was more than a pleasure to see again these friends of mine that were back there helping me out in the lab when I was giving my very first steps towards this moment of my life.


The WorldLeish was a fantastic experience that I had the opportunity to share with my supervisor, the famous Lash, “the flash”, and his wife, Rani, who were also attending it. Believe it or not, I never saw Lash so excited about meeting a bunch of old friends before this conference hahaha! Regarding the city, there is no doubt that the organizers could not have chosen any better place than Toledo. This city is spectacular! A peaceful and historical countryside was all I was asking for after a busy term. I truly miss the amazing view from the terrace of the Congress Center El Greco, where we had our daily Spanish meals outdoors, admiring the landscape. I will definitely come back one day and get lost in the narrow streets of this charming city!


To sum up, I could not be more grateful for participating in the 6th WorldLeish! I learned so much during these five days of conference that now I feel more confident to move forward, incorporating new and exciting concepts in my project. I am very thankful to Lash and HPI for making this possible!



Canadian Digestive Disease Week 2017 | By Nicholas Graves

Canadian Digestive Disease Week (CDDW) is the pre-eminent gastrointestinal sciences conference in Canada and as such commands a field of prominent researchers and clinicians as well as a veritable host of trainees; grad students, med students, post-docs nick copyetcetera.
Up to this point in my life, CDDW is the largest conference I have attended and I was excited to hear from the selection of experts giving talks, although admittedly I was unsure about how well my poster would be received by the Canadian GI community.
The conference started off with a Friday morning session on GI pharmacology and drug development, chaired by Dr. Simon Hirota. It was a very interesting session and a great way to start off the weekend! Later that evening was the trainee mixer. It started off slowly with separate cliques from Calgary, McMaster, Toronto, and Sherbrooke. After a little while though, the people from the different schools getting to know each other, and maybe even planting the seeds for some future collaborations!

The following day included a career development panel with some great insight from people who followed drastically different career paths. Jean-Eric Ghia, from the University of Manitoba gave an entertaining talk about giving TV/radio interviews and speaking to the media in general. Kevin McHugh spoke about moving on from his PhD to working for (and travelling the world with!) the drug company, Abbvie. Sara Hamilton then spoke about how she sent out seemingly endless applications before landing a job as part of the editorial tea
m at the scientific journal, Cell Reports. This session was especially interesting because of the divergent experiences presented and how it really highlighted the fact that you may have to keep an open mind as well as work hard in order to succeed in science.

Later that evening, I gave my poster presentation. Surrounded by purely clinical posters, I felt a little out of place. After a little while though, people started asking me about my work and I got some helpful feedback along with some very interesting new ideas! So, in spite of the slow start, it was a very productive time.

Along with other great sessions on Sunday, there were the research award lectures. Dr. Eric Benchimol the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology’s young investigator of the year, presented his fascinating work on the epidemiology of inflammatory bowel disease in Canada. Dr. Dana Philpott, the CAG’s investigator of the year then gave a wonderful basic science talk on some of the important molecular mechanisms that can lead to Crohn’s disease.
The evening closed with the gala celebration, which was another opportunity to meet colleagues from elsewhere in Canada. It was a very fun night and a great way to end the weekend. There was excellent food, bad dancing and a lot of goofy pictures taken; so all in all a great time!

Another conference? Yes please! – The Banff Inflammation Workshop | By Tim Jayme

With an opportunity to attend another conference, how could I not apply for an HPI travel award? As I have grown as a Masters student, I really appreciate the opportunities that come from attending these conferences which enable self-development, scientific training, and networking. This conference in particular was one that I was excited about; my work focuses on intestinal inflammation and the program had a lot of big names in this field attending. I also heard it was a lot of fun, a “what happens in Banff stays in Banff” kind of fun.

As I said, there are many big names coming to this event from all over the world with visitors such such as Dr. Linda Chia-Hui Yu from Taiwan National University who was here to speak about LPS receptor signaling andUntitled Dr. Steven Proulx from ETH Zurich who was here to about in vivo imaging of the lymphatic system in mice (both of which were really amazing and interesting talks), to name a few. Seeing the global contributions from researchers all over the world in studying inflammation was empowering for me. I also quickly realized that many of these researchers have known each other for quite some time. Dr. Linda Chia-Hui Yu, for example, was a former student of one of our very own HPI professors, Dr. Andre Buret. I am all about staying connected with people who have had a great influence on your growth and career. Seeing this really inspires me as I journey through my career in science.

Of course, you cannot have a conference without poster presentations. Every presenter had amazing research on display that focused on different areas of inflammation. Some science was based on pain and inflammation, cancer and inflammation, or my personal favorite, gut inflammation. It was a very relaxed 2 hours where I got to share my work while holding a nice beverage in hand. All in all, it was quite a great night.

To conclude the event, we had Jay Ingram speak about science communication. I was very happy to see we invited Jay Ingram to speak because I am also an advocate for science communication and education. So you can bet I was certainly writing notes during his presentation.

I am constantly trying to grow as a scientific researcher so I am very thankful to HPI for the opportunity to have attended this conference.



Banff Inflammation Workshop 2017 | By Christina Amat

The Banff Inflammation Workshop (BIW) has been taking place every other year for 20 years now, with the latest one, on January 26-29th 2017 being the 10th biennual conference. The conference is small, with only about 90 people in attendance (~ 20 trainees), but it allows for well-recognized researchers in the field of inflammation to get to know eachother and the trainees, who are ready to learn.

On Thursday night, we began the conference with an intimate reception dinner where we had the great opportunity to hear from keynote speaker Karsten Gronert about autoimmune responses in the eye – a fascinating topic with lots of gruesome eyeball pictures to finish off with dessert! Friday morning we got right to work, hearing speakers from around the world talk about the various areas of inflammation, including in the areas of cancer, microbiology, and in the human airway system. We had a poster session to conclude the day, where us trainees got to show off our stuff – I received lots of fantastic feedback and had a great time learning from the experts! Saturday was back at it again with many more talks, hearing about musculoskeletal inflammation, inflammation and pain, and different mechanisms of inflammation – all very interesting! The second poster session was later that evening, with more trainees presenting their work.

To conclude the event, Saturday evening was another great dinner with an award session – where I was grateful to receive a second-place prize for my poster presentation. We were also able to hear from guest speaker, Jay Ingram, about the importance of science communication (with a couple of Donald Trump jokes thrown in). All in all, it was an absolutely fantastic conference with a ton of information and so much for me to learn. I am grateful for HPI for the opportunity to be able to go to conferences like BIW where I can learn from the experts!

A short and compact conference on Amebiasis in a warm city in India | By Sharmin Begum

The very short AMOEBAC conference 2016 (November 1-2 2016) was held in New Delhi, capital city of India. This was my first conference on the Asian Subcontinent, and I was really happy to have the opportunity to give a 15-minute talk about my research. To attend the meeting I started my journey two days earlier, as India is so far from Calgary. It was really long journey and after a 20-hour flight with two layovers, I reached India early in the morning. The gentle weather in the morning refreshed all my tiredness from the long journey. I took a taxi to the guesthouse (Indian National Science Academy, INSA) where the conference was arranged. In the morning, we had a good traditional Indian breakfast, and as I am from this part of the world I really enjoyed the food. After breakfast, I had a chance to explore New Delhi, and so I took a taxi to visit famous places close to the science academy. The very well known Delhi Gate was very close, and after that I visited Red fort, Raj Ghat, and Firoz Shah Kotla. I was walking through the streets and really enjoying the city. After having lunch with delicious Indian food the conference started. It was a small conference but so intense. Scientist, students working on Entamoeba histolytica from Japan, USA, Mexico, Canada, and host country India were present their research work, published work and new ideas. On that evening we had 6 talks and among them two were related to the newest findings in amoeba. The dinner was nice and I talked to a lot of students from India. They told me about places to visit, shopping and restaurants. The following day, sessions began after breakfast and it was a fully packed day.

The first talk was given by Dr. Nancy Guillen and after her powerful talk my supervisor Dr. Kris Chadee gave his talk with answering some unknown facts about amoeba infection. I was also presenting my research approach and interest and received some good opinions about my project. It was really very interactive conference and because of the small number of people within one day we all became familiar to everyone.

At the end of the day the organizer of such a dense, short and, well-designed conference Dr. Alok Bhattacharya gave his thank you and closing remarks. Then, we had a dinner and after that me and my supervisor left the guest house for the airport to catch our flights back to Calgary.

sharminThe conference was short, but the content was really remarkable. Hospitality from the local people was really warm. The conference was well organized, and allowed us to talk and get familiar with everyone while sharing our research interests, and ideas. Personally, for me it was a great experience, and if anyone ever has a chance to visit India, they should not miss that opportunity. I am looking forward to attend another such conference again. I would like to give my heartiest thanks to HPI NSERC CREATE for providing funding for me to attend such an impressive and knowledgeable conference.