[2017-06-22] More than 300 people participated in the Symposium "Infection Research to Meet Current and Future Challenges", which was held at Aula Nordica on 19 June. The event was jointly organised by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and Umeå University to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. Several leading international scientists had been invited to discuss new developments in basic and applied infection research.
The Vice-Chancellors of the two local universities, professors Hans Adolfsson (Umeå University) and Peter Högberg (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), and the chairman of the programme committee, professor Bernt Eric Uhlin, welcomed the guests. Uhlin gave a short overview of the history of infection research at Umeå University. The research field has grown over the 50 years since its establishment in Umeå, which has led to the establishment of two very active research environments,The Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS) and Umeå Centre for Microbial Research (UCMR), all funded by the Swedish Research Council (VR).
Peter Wallenberg Jr, Chairman of the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, and professor Göran Sandberg, its Executive Director, described the foundation’s history, purpose and funding strategy and gave an overview of its impressive financial contribution to basic research in Sweden, including the two universities in Umeå.
Professor Göran Hansson, Secretary General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, introduced to the symposium, which was the second out of six jubilee symposia organised by the Academy to celebrate the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. Several of the subsequent speakers referred to their collaborations with infection biologists at Umeå University.
Philippe Sansonetti, Institut Pasteur in Paris, opened the scientific programme. He presented highlights from his research on mucosal colon infection by Shigella and possible treatments by commensals. His former postdoc, Andrea Puhar, continues her research now as MIMS group leader.
Bonnie Bassler, professor at Princeton University in US, focussed in her talk on the role of communication between bacteria (‘quorum sensing’) in the formation of biofilms. She showed how cutting edge imaging methods and biochemical and genetic methods can be used to develop better understanding of biofilm formation.
MIMS group leader Nelson Gekara, presented recent findings on how DNA damage can influence innate immunity, infections and inflammatory diseases, which can result in cancer. This is an entirely novel research area, which he established at Umeå University after his recruitment in 2010.
Stewart Cole, professor at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland, talked about how leprosy can be transmitted from animals to humans and from humans back to animals via Microbacterium leprae infection. Early in his career, Cole was a postdoc at Umeå University. “This was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and it had a very strong influence on my career“, he commented his time in Umeå.
Elaine Tuomanen, professor and chair at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, USA, introduced the audience to pneumococcal infections in children, and subsequent brain damage caused by bacterial meningitis. Tuomanen, who has roots in Scandinavia, commended the Wallenberg Foundation for enabling scientists “to scratch below the surface” and “visit research places you never knew about before”.
Umeå University Honorary Doctor Scott Hultgren, professor at Washington University in St Louis, USA, talked about possible treatments involving the blocking of bacterial pili formation, which would prevent Escherichia coli from attaching to the urinary tract. Also he is a former postdoc at Umeå University, and he has maintained long-term collaborations with several chemical biologists in Umeå.
Virus infection research was addressed by Peter Sarnow, professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, USA. He presented a nice example of “from bench-to bedside” research on the treatment of Hepatitis C virus infections with MicroRNAs.
Emmanuelle Charpentier, director at Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin and visiting professor at Umeå University and professor at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin described how basic research on a bacterial immune system led to the discovery of an extremely versatile genome engineering technology known as CRISPR-Cas9.
Staffan Normark, professor at Karolinska Institute, led the concluding panel discussion with the speakers.
The MIMS coordinated National Doctoral Programme in Infections and Antibiotics (NDPIA) organised additional activities for PhD students and postdocs. In parallel with the symposium 30 NDPIA members presented their posters. Several of the world-leading researchers stayed for one more day in Umeå and participated at the Meet the speakers workshop organised on the 20 June at MIMS.
Swedish Television will publish the symposium on its television channel "Kunskapskanalen" and on the internet channel "UR Play".
Link to the programme of the jubilee symposium in Umeå (website of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences)
Link to the abstracts of the presentations (pdf file, published on the website of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences)
(pictures: Knut och Alice Wallenberg Stiftelsen by Magnus Bergström, text: Eva-Maria Diehl)