We are happy to announce the start of a new series where you will get to know the people who make our events possible. They are extraordinary people who work hard so you can worrilessly enjoy the events you attend at EMBL. They are the superheroes behind the show who keep everything running smoothly, but they are also people like you and me who, after a long day at work, want to put up their feet and enjoy Netflix.
So let’s get started! Meet María Bacadare – course organiser and occasional conference organiser. She is from Venezuela, always has a smile on her face and is constantly running around (seriously María, be careful!).
Number of organised events: 2014 – 2017 EMBL- EBI: 38
2017 – present: 32
Favourite place in Heidelberg:
I love to walk around the Philosophenweg as it is very relaxing and you can get a super nice view of Heidelberg from there. My favourite part is the ice cream you can get on the way down at Amami Gelato!
First thing you do before an event starts and first thing you do after it finishes:
On the first day COFFEE! Coffee keeps me going with the running up and down the building to make sure everyone is fine and has found their way to the training labs/auditorium.
Once everyone has left the building the fun part starts with the tidying up of the rooms, taking down the signage and so on to start getting ready for the next meeting… but not before walking the participants/speakers down to the bus to wave goodbye!
If you weren’t an event organiser what would you be?
I would definitely be working at a bank and spending hours on excel sheets.
What is the strangest/funniest thing that has ever happened at an event?
The fun never ends in the ATC! We’ve sometimes found ourselves running down the helices or down the hill to get participants to the bus on time. But I think the funniest thing that ever happened on one of my shifts was the time a participant thought he had locked himself in the toilet as the sensor lights went off, and we could hear him screaming for help at the registration desk. We had to calm him down and ask him to wave his arms in the air to activate the lights. He was fine and we were all laughing afterwards.
If you were a superhero what power would you like to have?
I wish I could fly so I could be home with my family more often.
Arepas! Easy, simple and delicious and not a single Venezuelan can live without them.
Meet Prof. Peter Preiser and Dr. Stefan Rahlfs, two of BioMalPar’s most loyal participants, who have not missed a conference since 2009 and 2010 respectively. They recount their experience from previous events of the series and share with us their expectations of the upcoming conference.
How has the conference developed over the years in your opinion and what makes you come back every year?
PP: The BioMalPar conference is unique in that it is one if not the only annual conference that focuses on the molecular and cellular aspects of the malaria parasite. It therefore has always represented an ideal meeting to catch up with the latest developments in the field. Due to its focus on giving PhD students a chance to present their work the meeting always had a “new” feel to it which I particularly appreciated.
SR: The conference has always drawn participants from all over the world, and presented interesting talks by both experienced and young researchers. However, getting to the conference venue used to be much more difficult and the early events took place in office rooms and a tent (it was pretty hot in there!). But things have changed significantly since then. Now there is a new parking garage, a new conference centre, which I like very much – light, modern, scientific. The best part is the “helix” where you have to find your way walking on a base pair bridge .
PP: Clearly the conference has changed over time – this was partly due to the end of the EU funded BioMalPar programme and therefore the discontinuation of the PhD programme, but still it retained its focus on giving young researchers an opportunity to present their work. Today the meeting is a nice balance between young and more established researchers, which means there are the hot-off-the-press type presentations representing the work of a single researcher along with the more comprehensive research achieved through a multi-team effort.
SR: The quality of the talks remains impressive with a good mixture of topics. There is always a keynote lecture followed by short talks. Workshops and flash talks are now included and I have learned a lot about different people especially the ones receiving the Lifetime achievement award.
PP: The establishment of the Lifetime achievement award was something that I felt was particularly important as it provided many of the young researchers attending the meeting a perspective of the immense contributions the previous, slightly older generation had made to the field.
What’s the best memory you have of a BioMalPar conference?
PP: For me it has always been the relaxed attitude of the meeting and the opportunity to discuss science over a beer at the posters or outside (weather permitting) on a mild spring evening. Many fantastic ideas were generated through these discussions.
SR: The things that always stay in my mind are the fantastic venue, attractive program, nice age-mixture of people and the friendly atmosphere. I always go home with respect for others’ work but also with new ideas for my own research. At one of the BMP conferences I personally met Prof. Hagai Ginsburgh, and once he combined his stay in Germany with a trip to our Giessen-University for some days. This was very impressive and constructive at the same time.
In your opinion, what challenges is malaria research facing and how does coming to BioMalPar address these problems?
PP: I think the effort to control and eliminate malaria has made significant progress and we are now getting to a critical phase in the global effort. It is now important to ensure that efforts to control the disease are not slackened and that funders continue to support this important health initiative. From a research perspective we still have key challenges in terms of drug resistance and the lack of an efficient vaccine, not to mention the issue of P. vivax. It is particularly in these areas where BioMalPar can stimulate the right discussions and interactions that will eventually lead to significant benefits in controlling the disease.
SR: It is still a disease occurring in poor countries and resistance is always a problem. Although bed nets help a lot and a vaccine is available (which is not very effective, but the best mankind has been able to provide so far), research must go on. And in rural areas infrastructure for distribution of newly developed drugs or vaccines needs to be installed. For research there is a gap between industry (monetary research) and universities (basic research), which is due to their different settings.
PP: This is hard to say as based on the titles there appear to be many new and exciting topics on the programme. I am quite intrigued about the work going on with the mosquito vector and possible ways a better understanding in this area may provide us with better tools for intervention. I am also excited about the use of stem cells to study malaria parasites, as this technology would significantly help me to address some of the questions I am interested in.
I think one of the key things that I would like to see develop more in the future is a better link between the basic research presented at the BioMalPar conference and how this could be utilised in a more clinically relevant context. For example, how does our understanding of malaria immunology help in developing a better vaccine or how do we use the vast amounts of genomic data more effectively for the discovery of new drugs, new vaccine targets or even better diagnostic markers. Some of this is already happening but a lot more can be done.
Prof. Preiser, you will present a short talk titled “Comparative mapping of Plasmodium proteomes provides new insights into erythrocyte remodelling”. What can participants expect to learn from your talk?
I have always wondered about how the malaria parasites changes its host cell. In particular, I was intrigued about the apparent differences that different malaria parasite species have developed in modifying the same type of host cell. However, most of our knowledge on this is based on the study of a single parasite species P. falciparum. My lab has therefore tried to develop new approaches to study the differences the different plasmodium species have developed by using human, simian and rodent malaria parasite species and identify all the different proteins that the parasite exports into the host cell. This approach has given us some very surprising results that I will talk about during the meeting.
Dr. Rahlfs, you will present a poster titled “Glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase 6-phosphogluconolactonase: characterization of the Plasmodium vivax enzyme and inhibitor studies”. Can you give us a short preview of your poster?
As a member of the “Becker-lab” in Giessen we are focusing on redox metabolism as drug target and on redox regulations in general and under stress. A number of gene knockouts of our group but also others mostly do not have big impact (due to redundancy), but the importance of the Glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase 6-phosphogluconolactonase (GluPho) in P. falciparum has been demonstrated by a lethal phenotype. Now we would like to expand this knowledge also on P. vivax. We cloned P. vivax glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase (PvG6PD), the C-terminal and NADPH-producing part of PvGluPho, recombinantly produced it in Escherichia coli, purified and characterised the enzyme. IC50 values of several compounds were determined on P. vivax G6PD, inhibitors that had been previously characterised on PfGluPho.
The BioMalPar conference is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. How did it all start and how has it developed over the years?
AW: I was part of the organisation of the original meeting in 2004 and have attended every iteration since. It was originally a dual-purpose meeting designed to bring together the participants in the EC funded Network of Excellence of the same name, “BioMalPar”, the students in the associated PhD school that it funded, and to serve as an international meeting on malaria.
LB: I started attending BioMalPar in 2006 and was inspired by the format of the conference, allowing such great interaction and exposure to young scientists. It always allows the most cutting edge (mostly unpublished) research to be presented, and the addition of workshops to the conference programme allows for additional opportunities for learning, and these workshops are new and trending every year.
What inspired you to organise this conference?
LB: This meeting to me is THE malaria conference that I annually attend. As a researcher from a malaria endemic country, I was inspired to organise the conference to strengthen exposure of the great research performed in such countries at the conference, and provide context for the research findings to show how the excellent research presented have direct impact to people’s lives living with malaria.
RB: This meeting is a prime example of a community effort. Hence organising it is an honour and a great way to serve our community. I very much enjoyed the collegial and welcoming atmosphere created by former organisers and I hope that we will manage to recreate some of it this year as well.
KD: In recent years, the conference has become more widely attended by non-European scientists and is now an event attended by investigators from throughout the world. When I was invited to participate in the organisation of this year’s meeting, I considered it an exceptional opportunity to interact with international colleagues and build stronger ties for exchanging ideas and potential collaborations.
The format of the conference is a bit distinct from that of other meetings in that the majority of talks are reserved for selected short talks. What is the benefit for the programme to have mostly selected talks?
KD: Reserving the majority of each session for short talks ensures that the latest, unpublished data will be presented at the meeting. Highlighting young investigators presenting new data for the first time also lends an air of excitement to the sessions that adds to the overall “buzz” of the conference.
LB: This is in my opinion one of the main strengths of the conference. The audience will have the ability to hear new data ‘straight from the horses mouth’ as the short talks are mostly presented by early career scientists and mostly covers unpublished work.
AW: The emphasis is on packing in as much new science by the early career researchers as possible. This format makes it possible and allows one to work to themes in terms of the meeting organisation
RB: We will have excellent keynote lectures this year to set the stage and provide broad overviews on specific subjects. Yet, selected talks offer opportunity to young research fellows to share their exciting, unpublished findings.
The short talk selection for this year’s edition has now been finalised. Could you share what the focus and highlights of the conference will be?
RB: The content of the short talks is traditionally kept secret till the start of the meeting and I do not want to break this tradition ;-). But we as organisers had a hard time to make a selection out of the numerous excellent abstracts submitted, so I am certain that the scientific standard of the meeting will be very high.
LB: As organisers, we were very happy to have a large basis of excellent abstracts to select from, which will make the final choices exciting to come and listen to!
In your opinion, what challenges is malaria research facing and how close are we to an effective malaria vaccine?
KD: Everyone in the field is thrilled that a malaria vaccine is now being deployed for the first time. However, we also recognise that this vaccine has significant shortcomings in terms of its efficacy and longevity of protection. Research into the nature of the immune response of people infected by malaria parasites, as well as identifying new drugs and drug targets and methods of vector control will all contribute to our ability to control the disease.
LB: With the trial roll out of the RTS,S malaria vaccine in Malawi, we are indeed closer to evaluating the large scale effect of this intervention. However, malaria is a very complicated disease and we should continue with our multifaceted integrative control strategies, which will possibly be the only way we can really have an impact towards elimination. Our research challenges remain to inform policy makers as to the importance of continued funding of the work and for the research community to continue translating these to tangible outcomes, as we have done successfully for the past decade.
RB: Despite substantial progress in the last decades elimination of malaria is still out of our reach. Integration of insight gained in various fields will be essential for generating breakthroughs in drug/vaccine development and vector control alike. The BioMalPar meeting certainly provides an excellent platform for the exchange of innovative ideas and hence will help to bring the well-desired goal of malaria elimination closer to reality.