By Shana Spindler
May 3, 2010 marked the start of the sixth annual NICHD retreat at the Airlie Center in Warrenton, Virginia. The meeting, organized by a dedicated group of fellows and graduate students, went off without a hitch.
The program began with an enlightening keynote address by Dr. Maria C. Freire, President of The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, discussing public-private partnerships fighting global health challenges. Using the TB (Tuberculosis) Alliance as an example, Dr. Freire stressed that a successful public-private partnership exemplifies three key factors: innovation, collaboration, and resource mobilization.
Jana Kainerstorfer (left) and Melissa Crocker (right) discuss their posters with Drs. Guttmacher and Stratakis.
The keynote address was followed by an outstanding—not to mention organic—dinner and the first poster session, where fellows and graduate students entertained the chance to share their latest research goals and discoveries. Perhaps the most important networking session at the retreat, socializing at the Whistling Swan Pub, capped the end of a lively first day.
For the brave few who dawned their morning with the 6:30am sun, day two began with a professionally led bird-watching and nature walk around the fields and ponds of the Airlie Center. For the rest of the sleep-loving fellows, the first session of the morning offered a few remarks from Acting Scientific Director Dr. Constantine Stratakis and Acting Director Dr. Alan Guttmacher, complete with words of encouragement and a bright outlook for the future. (See Photos from the 2010 Airlie Nature Walk)
To round out the morning, Dr. Owen M. Rennert delivered an informative lecture about the genetic basis of autism spectrum disorder and his proposal to generate induced pluripotent stem cells from autistic patients to study autism-related neurophysiology in cell culture conditions. Dr. Rennert's selfless devotion to the field was captured in his final statement: "So, that's just what an old man is trying to do." Dr. Harry A. Burgess concluded the morning session with an exciting look at neural circuitry and motor control in Zebrafish larvae, a powerful model organism that combines the genetic appeal of fruit flies with a transparent vertebrate anatomy.
All before lunch, the fellows presented at a second poster session and attended Tuesday's keynote address, "Biological Visualization Using Hollywood's Tools." Dr. Gaël McGill, Director of Molecular Visualization at Harvard University and President and CEO of Digizyme Inc, displayed colorful representations of biological and physical processes, created using the advanced graphic software Maya. He explained that his visual models will not only help with science education, but can also serve as a tool during innovative experimental design. To learn more about his work, visit http://www.molecularmovies.org.
Dr. Gaël McGill gives Tuesday's keynote address.
The day wrapped up with two more sessions. First, fellows enjoyed an hour of Career Q&A round-table discussions in which fellows received real-time answers from scientists in a variety of fields such as consulting, private sector research, and science policy, among others. Last but not least, the final session included six fellow presentations ranging from social buffering in rhesus monkeys to the role of collagens in carcinomas.
The retreat concluded with a big thank you to everyone who helped organize and support this year's event, especially Kara Lukasiewicz, chair of the retreat steering committee. Thanks to all of the fellows who attended and made the 2010 retreat a great success!