Originally posted at the British Society for Haematology website.
"I had the opportunity to discuss and receive valuable feedback on my work from many different perspectives, which would otherwise have been impossible".
I was grateful to receive the BSH Travel Grant to be able to travel to the Gordon Research Conference on Megakaryocytes and Platelets, in Galveston, Texas, USA. I am an MB/PhD student currently studying for a PhD in the lab of Dr Cedric Ghevaert at the Department of Haematology, University of Cambridge, and the lab works on generating platelets in vitro for transfusions without the need for blood donors. My project in particular focuses on developing engineered platelets as a targeted drug delivery system, by loading the granules of platelets with drugs, so that they can activate and secrete these drugs where they need to go, without systemic side-effects, and thanks to the help of the BSH I was able to present my work at this international meeting, where I was able to meet the authors of all the big papers in the field of platelets biology! I had the opportunity to discuss and receive valuable feedback on my work from many different perspectives, which would otherwise have been impossible. I also had the chance to see my research in context of the other fascinating advances in the field taking place.
The conference was very well organised, with several sessions each with a different theme. Each session started with short introductory slides presented by session chairs, followed by several presentations. I was also able to talk to my contemporaries working around the world on the similar issues we face, as well as the big names of the field and felt I was able to learn from both and made lots of new friends along the way!
One of the reasons for attending the conference was to find out more about the tools that other labs use to ask similar kinds of questions that we are. One of the most fascinating talks was about some of these tools from the Hahn lab at UNC Chapel Hill. They had developed biosensors to detect signalling GTPases spatiotemporally and study how the dynamics of signalling take place in much more depth than can be shown by any western blot, developed computational techniques to analyse these videos and even engineered optogenetically activatable GTPases, using this to demonstrate how they were able to activate Rac61 precisely and reversibly using blue lasers. Rac61 is thought to control cell motility, and they were able to show how localised Rac activity was enough to mobilise cells to follow around the laser pointer, much like a cat. 1 From this I learnt a lot about the frontiers of what was possible with protein engineering as well as about new techniques for studying these signalling cascades in a way I had not considered before and certainly plan to make use of going forward.
Overall, I would like to thank the BSH for this opportunity to be able to travel, present my work, discover more about the work of others and the challenges we are facing together, and foster potential collaborations in the future that will hopefully benefit us all.
- Wu, Y. I. et al. A genetically encoded photoactivatable Rac controls the motility of living cells. Nature 461, 104 (2009).