“Anthelmintics: From Discovery to Resistance” in San Francisco

Having been suffering from cold weather in Calgary for three months, I had a great chance to attend the “Anthelmintics: From Discovery to Resistance” conference held in San Francisco from Feb 5th to Feb 7th. For me, it is more special because it is my first time to present a talk in an international conference. It was a very successful meeting, including a quite broad range of topics which covered most issues in anthelmintic drug discovery and excellent speakers in this field from all over the world, although it was the first conference in anthelmintic drug discovery.

I am a master student in the Wasmuth lab, working on metabolic network modelling in Caenorhabditis elegans and parasitic nematode Ascaris suum to find essential enzymes as novel drug target. There are some metabolic drug targets in the market now, however, none of them for helminths. That is also our question that if we can explore any metabolic targets in nematodes. First, metabolic networks of C. elegans and A. suum were reconstructed from genome sequences. The method I am using is systems biology approach, including chokepoint analysis and flux balance analysis (FBA). The chokepoint analysis assumes that chokepoints are the only route for metabolite formation and, therefore, removal of these chokepoints disrupt metabolism, functioning as drug targets. FBA optimizes the biomass and fluxes of biomass formation are maximized, and reactions which play a crucial role in biomass formation are essential. Chokepoint analysis is easy to perform, because it is only based on the network itself, while FBA integrates other information, such as reaction activity and biomass components fractions, and it requires a more accurate network. The combination of chokepoint and FBA, hopefully, would better predict essential enzymes in nematode metabolic network. This project is the first attempt to use FBA on metabolism of multi-cellular species. It is hard but interesting.

Surprisingly, I was one of the four students who were selected to give a talk in the meeting. My talk was on the first day, which was good, because I could be relax and enjoy the rest of the talks. Although I had practiced for several times, I still felt nervous – my heart raced. Thanks for all my teammates who encouraged me a lot. The first five minutes was bad for me, and I just kept talking to get calm and comfortable. Finally I completed it in time, which was appreciated, but I knew maybe because I spoke a little fast naturally. The two questions I got were exactly the point of my project, making me think more about my approaches. I think the professors all understood it was a young graduate student’s first presentation, and understood I had to go through the learning process too. I learned from this presentation experience. I was excited that my project was known by others, especially when they were interested in the topic and came to talk to me during the break. I was impressed with some posters related with A. suum such as Ciaran McCoy from Queen’s University – “Building a reverse genetics platform for novel drug discovery in nematode parasites”, Gao Xin from The Genome Institute – “Conserved and diversified functions of the different compartments of the nematode intestine”, and Bruce Rosa from The Genome Institute – “functional analysis and phylogenetic conservation of intestinal proteins in Ascaris suum.

It kept raining for four days when we were in the city – almost raining every day. We had a good time on the first day, the only sunny day.  Living closed to the bay, we could walk along the coastline, and enjoy lots of seafood. The famous Golden Gate Bridge was veiled in mist when we were there. Windy and rainy, it was not a good time for tourism. Be sure to check the weather before travel.

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I wish to thank the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine for the travel award, which allowed me attend the conference.

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