“We’re not a traditional research institute. We have seven centres at leading universities across the UK, each bringing unique expertise”. This is the exciting challenge of the UK DRI. With geographically distributed researchers, we need opportunities to join the dots, bind minds and inspire collaboration - all in order for science to flourish. For 2019, the annual UK DRI conference came to Birmingham. With over 300 researchers, students and support staff in attendance, the venue was abuzz with curiosity, ideas and conversation.
Connectome 2019 – Binding minds
Introduced by Directors Bart De Strooper and Adrian Ivinson, the conference launched with a brand new 2-minute animation encapsulating the structure, values and vision of the Institute. With over 52 Group Leaders, the UK DRI has established a strong scientific foundation and the next phase will aim to knit together these expertise and resources. And how to stay on top of all this ambitious research? The recent re-launch of the website now includes comprehensive profiles for all Group Leaders - searchable by location, topic and technique.
This past year has seen giant leaps forward for the Institute with the establishment of new platforms such animal models programme led by Dr Frances Wiseman and Gene Therapy at King’s, new themes including ‘Neuroinflammation’ and ‘Vascular role in neurodegenerative disease', a new streamed seminar series hosting world-leading researchers such as Carla Shatz, and new funding initiatives including ‘Pilot Projects’ and ‘Shared Post-docs’. All of the above aiming to cut across centres and inspire interaction.
Keynotes & centre talks
The scientific programme kicked off with a fascinating Keynote from Prof Don Cleveland (University of California, San Diego), discussing progress made with gene therapies for neurodegenerative disease. Later on in the day, Prof David Sharp introduced the vision for the new Care Research & Technology centre at Imperial and incoming Associate Director for UK DRI at UCL, Prof Karen Duff, reflected on her lab’s past achievements in developing animal models and deciphering pathogenic mechanisms of disease. Prof Nick Fox brought a clinical perspective to the conference, with a poignant presentation on the realities of living with one of these devastating diseases.
The diverse programme of talks at Connectome 2019 showcased the exciting breadth of research taking place across the Institute. Not only did Group Leaders take the stage but inspiring new talent from our pool of early career researchers (ECRs).
Welcoming Care, Research & Technology
Once described by Prof Bart De Strooper as the ‘jewel in the crown of the UK DRI’, for the first time we welcomed a new centre to the conference – Care, Research & Technology at Imperial. As mentioned, Associate Director Prof David Sharp delivered an overview of the planned work for this new branch to the Institute, feeding into the ‘Healthy Home’ model, while Group Leader Prof Payam Barnaghi explained how machine learning and cutting-edge sensors will be at the heart of this ambition.
Moving forward, a key strategic initiative is the establishment of cross-centre themes and platforms, bringing together disciplines, perspectives and approaches to accelerate discovery. The parallel sessions offered a great opportunity for researchers to dissect key issues in panel discussions, touching on techniques (the use of induced pluripotent stem cells), new platforms (gene therapy technologies) and developing tools/resources (animal models programme).
By gathering our researchers, students and support staff under one roof, Connectome’s core mission is to build and strengthen successful partnerships throughout the Institute. Now a staple of many scientific conferences, the ‘Poster Blitz’ offered an excellent opportunity for presenters (many ECRs) to pitch their latest findings to the auditorium. As ever, the following poster sessions were a hive of discussion and debate. Day one concluded with a street food style setup for dinner, and a popular 80’s disco provided entertainment long into the evening – each centre providing a strong case for best dressed!
What’s in store for Connectome 2020?
We would like to thank all the attendees for making Connectome 2019 a huge success. It has been an important year for UK DRI, with substantial progress made in initiatives, collaboration and most importantly, science! We’ll be gathering all the feedback from this year’s event and are already planning an ambitious programme for 2020. If there is anything you’d like to see next year, please get in touch with a member of the HQ team or email firstname.lastname@example.org.