Tag Archives: conference

Early Career Conference: Join us in December!

Want to run a two-day early career physiology conference? This valuable experience will give you leadership experience and boost your CV! Any Affiliate and/or Undergraduate Members of The Society may apply. Read testimonials from our first Future Physiology conference in 2017 below. 

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Jose L. Areta, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Oslo, Norway:

Attending the Future Physiology meeting in Leeds in December 2017, coming all the way from Oslo, Norway, was a privilege I had thanks to a Physiological Society travel grant. I am a post-doctoral researcher in the early stages of what, I think, might turn into a long academic career. I signed up for this conference specifically to get a better overview and insights on what a researcher at my stage could do to make the right choices for his future career. The conference did not fail to provide valuable food for thought.

The attendees included a wide range of representatives of the academic career continuum, from undergraduates to professors. A majority of these were, seemingly, early career researchers (ECRs) and they belonged to a reasonably wide range of areas within the field of physiology. This showed that the purpose of the conference was to go beyond delving into their specific areas of expertise. A dominant topic of interest seemed to be commonalities irrespective of the specific area of expertise, meaning the ins and outs of working in and growing through academia.

Several of the sessions provided examples of more established researchers showcasing how they built their own academic careers in the context of research in physiology. The take-home message for me was that there is no one way to become an established researcher in any given area. The impression that I got is that love for the work you do followed by dedication and a solid network play a key role, immediately followed by serendipity. This seemed to provide some support to the saying ‘the harder you work, the luckier you get’, that I sometimes remind myself of.

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On that note, it was also nice to feel supported by other researchers going through similar difficulties in a research system that seems to very often put high-pressure on individuals and can lead to sub-optimal life quality and, in many cases, burnout. Uncertainty seems to be a common denominator for many researchers in different stages of their careers (more so ECRs). Making this explicit is important to find a solution for it. I think this conference was a good first step to bridge the gap between ECRs who have a lot of questions on how to progress through the ranks, while making meaningful contributions to science and more experienced researchers talking about their specific experiences or professionals providing advice.

Personally, one of my favourite events was a small grant-writing workshop I had the chance to attend that also turned into a bit of a career advice workshop. Transitioning towards being an independent researcher is very significant milestone for anyone in research, I think. Gathering some tools to do so in the context finding one’s place in the field was a nice addition to the experience of the conference.

In conclusion, I think this conference was a good first step to put the uncertainties that ECRs face throughout their development as researchers in the spotlight, and provide them (us!) with tools and networks for better tackling these.

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Dan Brayson, King’s College London, London, UK:

As a member of the Affiliate Working Group of The Society, I was privileged to have the opportunity to help with the planning and execution of the Future Physiology meeting, an early career researcher (ECR) focussed meeting held at the University of Leeds last month. The meeting was ‘by ECRs for ECRs’. This meant that the Affiliate Working Group was placed at forefront of the brainstorming process to come up with a plan for a meeting which facilitated an engaging experience for early career scientists.

What we hoped for was an opportunity for ECR’s to shed their inferiority complex baggage (we all have it), and to feel invigorated by the conference experience rather than being overwhelmed. To this end 20 ECRs were selected for oral presentations whilst five talks were given by senior scientists (for balance, of course). Of these, three were young PIs and shining examples that we don’t have to wait around for professors to retire in order to make significant progress in our careers. We hoped that this would add a motivational slant for attendees. If they can do it, why can’t we?

On a personal note it was a red letter day. I was charged with sharing the chairing and presentation-marking duties with my fellow Affiliate Working Group members, a first for me, and with this, I got to experience the joy of facilitating meeting proceedings rather than merely taking part. At least this was my perception of it, and I would definitely do it again.

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Reflecting now on the meeting I feel that it was a good first crack at a meeting for ECRs. However, I also feel that there is further scope to create the most engaging and immersive experience for young scientists. One idea would be to have facilitated debate workshops on general topics (neuroscience, cardiovascular physiology, gastrointestinal physiology etc.). This would engage people in a relaxed environment to talk more generally about the big issues/questions facing their chosen fields.

Mitochondria: the little engines that could

By Beatrice Filippi, University of Leeds, UK, & Andrew Philp, University of Birmingham, UK, @andyphilp_lab

Mitochondria, the energy producing bodies within our cells, play a pivotal role in all aspects of body function. Different pathological conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases and aging have all been associated to the loss of mitochondrial function.

As such, understanding how mitochondria are regulated in these disease states holds tremendous therapeutic potential for tackling numerous diseases of aging. Over the past two days, scientists from around the world have been discussing current topics in mitochondrial function at The Physiological Society’s sponsored ‘Mitochondria: Form and Function’ meeting in London. The meeting has focused on 4 main topics thought central in the regulation of mitochondrial function; (1) calcium signalling, (2) mitochondrial dynamics, (3) mitophagy, and (4) mitochondrial metabolism. Below is a brief summary of the topics discussed in each symposium.

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Mitochondria in lung cells

Calcium and Mitochondria 

The mitochondria can take up and release calcium depending on their cellular needs. The calcium in the mitochondria is involved in energy production. Rises in calcium in the cell also activate or inhibit different cellular events. Finally, changes in calcium levels in the mitochondria can trigger cell death. The identification of the molecules that control the mitochondria’s calcium homeostasis (i.e. the levels of calcium inside or outside the mitochondria) has been the focus of the scientific community for the last few years. This will favour the development of more targeted therapies that specifically restore the ability of the mitochondria to regulate calcium homeostasis.

Mitochondrial Dynamics 

In response to excess or lack of nutrients, mitochondria adapt their functions by changing shape and localization within the cell and increasing or decreasing in number. Fusion causes the formation of bigger and elongated mitochondria and is linked with increased energy generation. For example, insulin increases mitochondria fusion in heart muscle cells to improve mitochondrial membrane potential (the difference in ions on both sides of the membrane), elevate levels of energy in the cell, and oxygen consumption. Mitochondria fission, or separation into smaller parts, is linked with a decrease in energy production in response to energy excess. The adaptation to changes in metabolic environment, meaning energy levels, is controlled by changes in mitochondrial dynamics. Alterations in the fission/fusion mechanisms have been associated to various metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson and Alzheimer’s.

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Networks of mitochondria (in blue) within cells

Mitophagy 

To maintain healthy and functional mitochondria, mitochondria undergo cyclical periods of synthesis and degradation. The process of mitochondrial degradation is termed mitophagy, and appears to be of specific functional importance in all tissues within the body. Of interest, compared to other aspects of mitochondrial regulation, such as calcium handling and dynamics, very little is known about how mitophagy is regulated and what the physiological signals are that causes mitophagy to begin in cells. One of the main limitations in the field is the ability to measure mitophagy in vivo, meaning in living cells. However, this gap in knowledge appears to have been addressed by the generation of new mouse models in which researchers can visualise when mitophagy is happening in real time. Moving forward, these tools could help shed light on how mitophagy contributes to mitochondrial control in numerous diseases of aging.

Mitochondrial Metabolism 

Mitochondria are dynamically regulated within our body and highly sensitive to changes in physiological stimuli such as exercise, inactivity and changes in diet. The focus of the final symposium was on two key factors, (1) how exercise changes mitochondrial content (the molecules inside of it) and function in skeletal muscle, and (2) how our diet affects mitochondrial function. It has been known for over 50 years that exercise increases mitochondrial content and the result is an increased oxidative capacity of the muscle (their ability to use oxygen) and greater resistance to fatigue. It also now appears that exercise changes mitochondrial dynamics in skeletal muscle, and alters the organisation of mitochondrial form and function. In contrast, ingestion of high amounts of saturated fats can lead to the development of Type 2 Diabetes, with this process appearing to occur in parallel to a reduction in mitochondrial function. Of note, this negative effect can be inherited in offspring when the mother ingests a high-fat diet, suggesting genetic imprinting, heritable changes in genes, is occurring. Therefore, strategies to maximise the exercise signal(s) or combat the negative effects of saturated fats on mitochondrial function are being explored as frontline approaches to combat numerous diseases of aging.