By Vanessa Woods, Larisa Codurat and Joost van Haasteren
The ESGCT’s 2018 annual congress was held in the architecturally stunning SwissTech Convention Center at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) university campus in Lausanne, Switzerland. Industry partners, PhD students, early career researchers (ECRs), and experts in the field were eager to share their passion for science on the backdrop of the impressive Lake Geneva area. This year’s congress was a collaboration between the ESGCT, ISSCR, SFTCG and the Swiss local organizing committee with a focus on strengthening and highlighting the interface between gene therapy and stem cell research under the theme ‘Changing the Face of Modern Medicine’.
During the congress, the ESGCT and partnering societies used the opportunity to acknowledge the ground-breaking contributions to the field by their members. Didier Trono and Alessio Cantore were recognised for their research and granted the ESGCT Outstanding Achievement Award and the Young Investigator Award, respectively. Both awardees were invited to give keynote lectures. Didier Trono presented his work on ‘Retroelements, their polydactyly controllers and the specificity of human biology’, while Alessio Cantore spoke about how ‘Shielding lentiviral vectors from phagocytosis increases hepatocyte gene transfer in non-human primates’. The ESGCT continued to support early career researchers in the field by awarding 20 deserving delegates with travel grants, newly increased to a value of €500 each. The number of travel grants was increased from 10 in 2017 to 20 in 2018 thus giving more ECRs the chance to present their research and access the latest advancements in the field.
Each year the ESGCT congress is a great platform for young researchers to meet and network with GCT experts from around the world and an amazing opportunity for them to share their data with the community and get valuable feedback. All delegates were exposed to new research, techniques and technologies. Industry partners increased their visibility, promoted their business and also had the opportunity to keep abreast of the current advancements in the field and share their own recent developments. The congress was a composite of ground-breaking scientific talks, poster sessions and workshops. The Education Session and the Clinical Trials and Commercialisation Workshop provided a great introduction to the field on the first day and set the pace for the preceding days. Some noteworthy talks included that of Grégoire Courtine who showed delegates ‘Targeted neurotechnologies enabling walking after paralysis’, Dirk Grimm who highlighted ‘Small but increasingly mighty - latest advances in AAV biology and vector optimisation’, and Jude Samulski who showed applications of ‘Gene therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy: from bench to bedside’. From disease modelling, cell therapy for specific diseases and bioengineering to vector development, immunotherapy and ‘bench to bedside’ sessions, all crucial aspects of the field were covered.
In addition to the scientific part of the congress, there were ample opportunities for networking among delegates - most notably the Molecular Mingle that was held at the iconic Olympic Museum. The occasion provided attendees with the unique opportunity to tour the museum, compete against each other in curling, create memorable keepsakes at the photo-booth, unwind to the musical stylings of the DJ and of course enjoy some of the best of Swiss cuisine. The PhD students and ECRs who were the quickest to register for the highly popular ECR networking evening were able to enjoy an evening of wine and cheese tasting at a Swiss vineyard. Networking and engagement were also up through social media , with attendees actively competing to win prizes for best Molecular Mingle photo, the most retweeted congress tweet and many others. The new and improved congress app also proved indispensable in planning busy schedules and was used for the first time to vote for the best posters, chosen by all attendees. The congress truly provided something for everyone, with industry partners and delegates alike impressed with the organisation and execution of the congress and described the ESGCT as “dynamic”, “comprehensive”, “interactive”, “excellent”, “inspiring” and an “amazing scientific platform”.
ESGCT’s 26th congress was officially brought to a close on a high note with the annual general meeting (AGM), which highlighted successes achieved by the ESGCT and announced plans for the coming years. After outgoing ESGCT President Robin Ali’s 2-year tenure, which included the 25th anniversary edition in Berlin in 2017, he handed over the reins to Hildegard Büning. Hildegard’s focus on education has greatly benefited early career researchers and is facilitating their growing inclusion in the society. Continuing this trend, it seems likely that by the next congress, even more ECRs will capitalise on the resources and opportunities offered by ESGCT. The society is always welcoming new members so sign up for ESGCT membership whether you’re a student, or from academia or industry. If you didn’t get the chance to attend the 2018 ESGCT congress in Lausanne, then keep an eye on the ESGCT webpage to follow the updates and the registration guidelines for the 2019 ESGCT Congress taking place in sunny Barcelona! Moreover, if you are a student who has already registered for the 2019 ESGCT Spring School in Naples on April 3-5 2019, then stay tuned to the ESGCT Forum for more information about the workshops and social activities taking place and much more.