Anthelmintics: Discovery to Resistance III by Kyle Lesack

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to attend the Anthelmintics III conference in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida. This opportunity allowed me to learn more about cutting edge research in a variety of topics related to the development of anthelmintic drugs, including drug discovery, anthelmintic resistance mechanisms, and future parasite control strategies. The conference included a diverse group of speakers from both academia and industry, and their talks provided excellent insight into some of the challenges that I will be facing in my PhD thesis work on detoxification gene families in nematodes. Some of my favorite talks included Dave Curran’s demonstration on the use of metabolic networks to study the relationship between Wolbachia and filarial nematodes, the genetic basis of benzimidazole resistance in C. elegans by Steffan Hahnel, and an analysis of thiabendazole-induced expression of seven cytochrome P450 genes in H. contortus by Jürgen Krücken.

I had the opportunity to present our work on an evolutionary analysis of drug metabolising pathways from several members of the Caenorhabditis genus. I received excellent feedback from experts in the field, which will help me going forward. I was also pleased that several researchers expressed interest in using our bioinformatics tools (developed by Dr. Dave Curran while he was a member of the Wasmuth lab) for their own research.

I would like to thank the HPI group and my supervisor Dr. James Wasmuth for this opportunity. I hope that I will have the opportunity to attend the Anthelmintics IV conference in 2020!

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Anthelmintics III Conference at Tampa, Florida by Grace Mariene

The thought of being at the airport at 3.00 am to catch a flight to Tampa, at -27 degrees Celsius, did not sound like an interesting idea. But the thought of staying at the Indian Rock Beach hotel for the Anthelmintics III, 2018 conference warmed my heart. The long journey started on the 29th January, with a connecting flight inHouston, Texas. Arriving at the hotel that evening was a relief and all I could think of was food, shower and sleep. The conference schedule was tight and so a refreshed mind was needful.

Tuesday, January 30th started early with some light breakfast and a couple of interactions.  At last I could enjoy some sunlight after weeks of being frozen in Calgary, phew! The hotel was great and the scenery overlooking my room was beautiful and calming.

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The first session kicked off with three great talks about the signalling pathways of various parasitic nematodes and their hosts as part of the anthelmintic strategy.  After a coffee break, there were five other great talks on the molecular targets for a new generation of anthelmintics. A buffet lunch was offered at the cafeteria and I had the opportunity to taste some seafood. Later in the afternoon, we had poster session 1 which started with pitch slide presentations from all the poster presenters. The poster presenters were given 1 minute to sell their poster to the meeting, with the aim of persuading as many people as possible to discuss their work during the poster session.  This session was very interesting, and I had the opportunity to get an overview of almost all the research that surrounded this topic of anthelmintic resistance.

Wednesday, January 31st started early as well with some light breakfast and interactions. The talks kicked off at exactly 8.30 am with most of the talks revolving around genomics and bioinformatics. This was particularly interesting to me as my area of research involves the same. After the coffee break, there were five talks on the immune-modulating pathways of parasitic nematodes. I had the opportunity to co-chair the afternoon session preceding the poster and pitch sessions 2, as well as give my pitch slide talk and poster presentation. I must say I was very excited and “shocked” to meet Dr. Rosalind Laing, whose work I read a lot about, and refer to and cite often in my research. I always thought, going by her name, that she was an old male scientist, weird? yes, I know! On the contrary, she was a young female scientist with a sharp mind. This greatly motivated me in my young science career. She came over to my poster, together with others and we had a great talk around my area of research and it felt great to mention her work as I gave my presentation. I couldn’t help stealing glances at her occasionally just to clear my misconception, ha! In it all, I learnt a lot during this session as great ideas were floated to me on the flow and projection of my research. After this session, we went out to a nearby restaurant for some good sea food. It was an exhausting but fulfilling day.

Thursday, February 1st started early as usual with a light breakfast and interesting talks lined up for the day. The talks revolved around transcriptomics, genome and genetic approaches linked to anthelmintic resistance, all of which were particularly useful in my area of research. After the coffee break, there were a couple of other great talks on micro RNAs and their role in anthelmintics resistance, among others. Later in the afternoon, there was a great workshop for early career researchers, which covered various career options, funding etc. Experienced researchers/scientists shared their career journey and tips of survival as well as prospective career paths for the young scientists. I learnt so much from this workshop and was able to think more clearly on my career path. A sumptuous closing dinner followed later in the evening with the winners for the poster session being announced. Further interactions went on until late into the night. A few of us went to play mini-golf, a game I was playing for the first time and I had lots of fun. Luckily, I did not come out last!

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We were all exhausted at the end of the day but happy.

Friday, February 2nd, started earlier than usual. It was time to pack our bags in readiness to travel back to Calgary that afternoon. We had a heavy breakfast this day, followed by six talks that revolved around the pharmacology and feeding behaviours of parasitic nematodes. We were clearly exhausted at the end of this session and our minds switched modes thinking of the journey back and the cold weather waiting to “welcome” us back home. After days of dressing lightly and walking around in sandals, it was time to confirm our winter boots and jackets were still intact. The conference ended at around noon and the shuttle to take us to the airport was ready for us at 1.00 pm. It was exciting to go back home and particularly for me because I had a wedding to attend the following day!

The Anthelmintic III conference was an awesome experience for me, very enlightening and fun too!! Thank you HPI and my supervisor Dr. James Wasmuth for your support!

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

Genome Informatics 2016

This annual conference alternates between the Wellcome Genome Campus in Hinxton, UK, and Cold Springs Harbour, USA. While the CSHL campus is quite lovely and prestigious, I was thrilled to finally have a chance to visit the vaunted Sanger Institute; they were pioneers of genomics from the very beginning, and are still a leading source of innovation in the field. The campus was a great mix of older original buildings and modern construction, and the conference drew some of the leaders in genomics.

One of the keynote speakers was Richard Durbin, a leader of such projects as 1000 genomes, Pfam, WormBase, and Ensembl. His book on Biological Sequence Analysis is the standard in the field, and his sequence similarity matching software is probably the most widely used after BLAST. Here, he was speaking about a new way to store genome information, one that the field will likely be using in the not-so-distant future. Today, a genome is typically stored as a sequence of characters, which works very well. But if you sequence thousands of individuals from a population, the vast majority of these characters will be repeated. This ends up wasting terabytes of storage, and further, the collection of files tells you nothing about the population itself without extensive processing. A graphical representation of the population of genomes is far more efficient, allows common errors to be easily identified and corrected, inherently contains information about the population, and lends itself to efficient computation and manipulation. This may seem like a minor and overly-technical detail, but it is likely to change the field in the near future.

There were, of course, many other things to be learned. As an example, RNAseq is a widespread technique used to study gene expression in some cell or organism. Unfortunately, analysis of these data can be misleadingly difficult, and mistreatment can easily result in incorrect conclusions. A Venn diagram is a common way to display complex membership data, and research groups have been using these with RNAseq data for years. However, binning the data in this way completely discards all relative information, and often lower-level membership information as well. A group from Melbourne has developed an excellent tool to make these analyses much easier, even for non-specialists, and adoption of this or similar software could make RNAseq studies more reliable and predictive in the future.

The conference was excellent, and I would absolutely encourage others to attend future iterations if they are interested in genomics. I sincerely appreciate the support of the Office of Graduate Education and the HPI for allowing me to go.

Mothur Workshop in Detroit | By Camila Queiroz

On 14th to 16th December 2016 I had the opportunity to attend a Mothur workshop, a free software for bioinformatics analysis developed for microbial ecology community.

The workshop is offered twice a year in Detroit, Michigan, US, by his creator, Dr. Patrick Schloss. There was around 100 people from different areas, most of them working with microbiome, but in different areas. I was amazed of seeing so many different applications of microbiome and for sharing knowledge and experiences with people with different backgrounds.

Some important topics were covered by the course, as an overview of methods used in microbial ecology, DNA sequencing technologies, improving sequence quality and population level analyses. It was relevant to me as a PhD Student since my project is studying the nematode population genetics and the molecular epidemiology of the resistance against the anthelmintics used in Canada and those commercially available but not used in Canada yet.

The course mixed theory and hands-on practices using mothur software and we also had opportunity to talk about our research’s challenges and aims. Overall, it was a friendly environment and I strongly recommend this course for those who will work with molecular ecology and population study.

The back home was a real challenge – due to weather conditions my flight was cancelled and then altered twice. Because of it, I had to spent the night on Chicago waiting for the flight back the following day. I was supposed to arrive in Calgary on Saturday 3pm and I got here on Monday 3am. However, it was not so bad since I had some colleagues from the workshop in the same situation – someone to complain with!

NSERC CREATE HPI supported all the expenses associated with the trip. I therefore want to highly thank my supervisors, Dr. John Gilleard Dr. Michel Levy, our program coordinator, Teresa Emmett and HPI executives for providing me this opportunity.

NIPGIT 2016 in Banff | By: Christina Amat

I was fortunate to be able to attend the NeuroImmunoPhysiology of the Gastrointestinal Tract (NIPGIT) conference this year, taking place in the beautiful mountains of Banff, Alberta. The conference took place at the Banff Centre – our meeting room featured the beautiful Rocky Mountains as our backdrop and we enjoyed our meals in the awesome Vistas Dining Room. Such an amazing view to start off the morning and end the day!

The conference was one of the smaller ones I’ve been at, and with only about 100 people in attendance, it was easy to get to know the fellow attendees and spend some time talking with researchers who are amongst the best in their field. Some of my personal highlights included learning how virulent strains of bacteria can switch on or off genomic “hot spots” to hide from the host immune response by Dr. Eugene Chang from the University of Chicago, how the microbiota of human irritable bowel syndrome patients can alter the behaviour of mice by Dr. Permysl Bercik from McMaster University, and also how the microbiome is a key regulator of behaviour in IBS patients from Dr. John Cryan at the University of Cork, how the inflammasome may regulate mucus secretion from Dr. Bruce Vallance at the University of British Columbia, and lastly, how enteropathogens (including parasites!) can induce inflammation by altering microbiota biofilms from the University of Calgary’s very own HPI researcher Dr. Andre Buret. All in all, it was a great conference full of exciting talks and I’m incredibly grateful to HPI for allowing me the opportunity to attend.