stem cells in their environment

Keystone Meetings on "Inflammation, Infection and Cancer" & "Immune Evolution in Cancer"

17 April 2014
By Christine Weber

9-14 March, 2014. Whistler, British Columbia, Canada

This was the first time I had the chance to attend two Keystone conferences at the same time: rather conveniently, the symposium Inflammation, Infection and Cancer was held jointly with the companion meeting Immune Evolution in Cancer. The combined scientific line-up provided an extensive and uniquely thorough overview of current progress in the field of cancer immunology and infection. While inflammation and its contribution to cancer was the major focus of the first meeting, the second conference provided an in-depth examination of the current understanding of tumour progression and the way it is influenced by the microenvironment and the immune system. Hosted and organised by an impressive assembly of outstanding scientists representing the top of their field, this conference was probably one of the most informative meetings I've yet attended.

Whistler, British Columbia, Canada

The symposium was kicked off with a keynote session given by Professor Robert Schreiber (Washington University, USA) and Dr Alexander Rudensky (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, USA) featuring talks about immuno-editing, immunotherapy and the function of regulatory T cells in cancer, respectively. Then followed sessions about inflammation and immunity in the tumour microenvironment, the impact of chronic inflammation, infection and the host microbiome on cancer risk, the roles of various kinds of immune cells in cancer (such as myeloid-derived suppressor cells, macrophages, neutrophils or T cells) and how researchers could potentially reprogram these cells to attack tumour cells more readily. In general, one of the main themes that appeared in various talks throughout the conference was the re-education of the immune system towards active cancer suppression. Co-organiser Dr Johanna Joyce (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, USA) delivered an impressive talk detailing a study on murine glioblastoma done in her lab, where tumour progress could be halted and survival extended by transforming brain macrophages, which – up to the treatment – had been tumour-promoting, back into host defending immune cells which resumed their fight against glioblastoma. Both keynote speakers and also several other researchers talked in detail about their work on immune checkpoint blockage therapies, which comprise a promising new area that harnesses inherent immune regulatory mechanisms. Immune checkpoints are inhibitory pathways hardwired into the immune system which can be used by cancerous cells to deactivate incoming lymphocytes which would otherwise elicit the host defence against the tumour. Blockage therapies aim to inhibit these pathways, thereby reactivating the original anti-tumour response of the lymphocytes.

In addition, several interesting workshops were taking place during the conference. Among the most noteworthy was 'Workshop 2' which gave insights into immune cell function from live imaging and featured impressive image and video material from imaging studies done in live animals. Work from the Condeelis lab (presented by Dr E Arwert and Dr A Harney; both at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, USA) for example focussed on the role of macrophages in breast cancer metastasis and demonstrated how cancer cells can be guided by certain macrophage subtypes towards and into blood vessels from where they then spread to distant sites in the body.

These were only a few among many fascinating talks from as many as 95 speakers in both meetings. During the four days there were also three very lively poster sessions. My own poster was on display during the third session and showed some of my work on a mouse model of macrophage-dependent skin tumorigenesis. The ample feedback I got from other attendees was very helpful and I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to talk about my project with like-minded scientists from the same field.

I'd also like to thank the British Society for Cell Biology for awarding me the travel grant which gave me the opportunity to attend this conference, to meet plenty of inspiring young and senior scientists in the field and hear their stories. Needless to say, the scenic Whistler and Blackcomb mountain range added the perfect setting to make the most of a meeting like this, resulting in uplifted spirits and open-minded scientists everywhere I looked.


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