Living and breathing amoeba and all things Mexican

During October 12-17th 2015, I had the opportunity to attend my first XVIII Seminar on Amebiasis in Campeche Campeche, Mexico.  Out of the conferences that I have attended during my PhD, this was one of my favourites.  It is a smaller-scale conference though there were researchers coming from as far away as France, the United States, and Japan.  I recognized some of the names of researchers from the amoeba papers that I have read, so it was nice to put a face to a name.

I left on Thanksgiving from Calgary on a flight at 6:00am and I travelled with my lab members Sharmin and Aralia.  We finally arrived in the evening at 10:30pm and the humidity was the first thing that I noticed.  The first day of the conference began with registration and then we went to visit a local market.  It was +30°C and really sunny outside so our walk to the market felt long and we were all sweating from head to toe when we got back to the hotel in time for the keynote speaker by Dr. Brett Finlay on microbiota in asthma.  The day ended with a welcome cocktail at the pool area of the Hotel Del Mar and I got the first opportunity to meet some students and faculty members.

The following day consisted of talks in cell biology, molecular biology, and biochemistry of Entamoeba histolytica.  My poster presentation titled “Entamoeba histolytica induces caspase-4 and -11 activation in macrophage pro-inflammatory responses” was in the evening in the category of immune mechanisms in amebiasis.  I had a lot of students and faculty members come to my poster and they gave me a lot of ideas for future experiments.  The discussions I had was interactive and I had an engaging audience as everyone knew about Entamoeba histolytica because they work with this parasite in some form or another.  This is very different from my previous presentations at conferences where for most people it is the first time they hear about this parasite.  After the poster presentations we gathered together to have a walking tour of the city centre; it was a beautiful sight.  There were many old forts which will built to defend against pirates were still standing.  I also saw many colorful houses lining the streets and a nice cathedral.  At the end of the tour, we watched a show called “Puerta de tierra”.  It was a short movie clip projected onto a building with music being played.  Following the show, I had my first dinner at a restaurant called Marganzo and I tried the famous local pork dish.

On Day 3 of the conference there were a series of talks and a poster session in the evening.  There were a variety of interesting talks in pathogenic mechanisms.  In particular, I was excited by the work of Dr. William Petri’s group on ameba-induced cell death and intestinal organoids.  Organoids is an exciting area of work that is gaining widespread attention as a good model to use.   Organoids is an ex vivo 3D culture of intestinal epithelial cells and it functions similarly to human intestinal epithelium.  I was amazed at the amount of work that is currently done on ameba ranging from the gene level to epidemiology.  It was surprising to learn that the number of ameba infections were decreasing in Mexico over the years.  We ended the day with seafood dinner at the restaurant called “La Palapa del Tio Fito”.  I chose a shrimp dish that was covered in a creamy white sauce and it tasted delicious.

The last day of the conference was a busy day as I woke up at 6:00am in order to do some running along the shoreline.  It was nice to jog along the shoreline and surprisingly, there were a lot of people that were running and doing exercises at this time.  The talks in the morning were by my supervisor, Dr. Kris Chadee and fellow labmate, Sharmin.  Dr. Chadee gave a talk on inflammasome activation by Gal-lectin of Entamoeba histolytica and Sharmin gave a talk on the role of HMGB1 in Entamoeba histolytica infection.  They gave excellent talks and got many great questions from the audience.  I had a few hours in between after the presentations before the gala dinner so I headed to the city centre to do some shopping.  The gala dinner was a lot of fun as we had a three course meal and danced to Latino music.  I stayed with my lab members and danced until 2:30am and then we headed back to the hotel room to pack our remaining items to get ready to leave at 4:00am to the airport.  It was exhausted by the time I got to the airport and checking in was taking longer than usual.  As soon as I got on the plane, I fell fast asleep.  The journey was not over until I had another two flights to hop on before returning to Calgary.  Although it was a tight schedule, I enjoyed every minute of this conference.

I would extend my gratitude to the HPI NSERC CREATE for funding to attend this conference.

Jeanie Quach

PhD student in Dr. Kris Chadee’s Lab

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My conference package included a USB, pen, notepad, and a backpack.

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Here is a famous landmark of Campeche.

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