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EASD Scientists Training Course 2017 - Report

Introduction

This year's EASD Scientists Training Course was held at both Diabetes and Obesity Research Laboratory of the August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBAPS) and the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, centres of excellence in diabetes research, located in Barcelona, Spain. The programme comprised an eclectic mix of professional delegates from both basic research and clinical endocrinology, selected from across the globe including Japan, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, India and across Europe.

Most of us had reached Barcelona by the afternoon of 5th November where we were welcomed by the exceptional EASD organiser Mary Hata. In the evening, we were introduced to the course coordinators, Dr. Rosa Gasa and Dr. Joan-Marc Servitja. Subsequently, we set out from the IDIBAPS on a walking tour of the peppy El Raval neighbourhood and then onto the world famous La Rambla. We were also invited to a quick trek through the Gothic quarter past the Barcelona cathedral and ended our tour at the Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya. We then signed off the day with a traditional dinner and the world famous Tapas.

Lectures and practical sessions

Day one began with everyone still familiarising themselves with fellow course participants. We were warmly welcomed to the IDIBAPS Research Institute and hit the ground running with a very enlightening talk by Dr. Anna Novials on new therapeutics in type 2 diabetes. The discussion thereafter engaged both the scientist and clinician fractions within the diverse group. The afternoon practical sessions were outstanding, with course coordinators more than adequately prepared. The Lifestyle Phenotyping session with Dr. Laura Brugnara and Serafin Murillo was particularly valuable in characterising and assessing clinical phenotyping in type 2 diabetic patients and the impact of lifestyle based interventions. This technologically advanced type of scientific evidence is imperative in driving such lifestyle interventions at both the clinician and patient levels. Overall, day one set the scene for what was to come; and it was nothing short of life changing.

On day two, we started the morning listening to the excellent lectures given by none other than our course organizers- Dr. Joan-Marc Servitja and Dr. Rosa Gasa. Dr. Servitja spoke about genetic and environmental contributors to pancreatic beta cell dysfunction in type 2 diabetes while Dr. Gasa gave a comprehensive overview of developments in beta cell regeneration and therapy. The talks gave us, especially the participating clinicians, a good basic knowledge and a glimpse into what the research groups at IDIBAPS are busy working on. In the afternoon, we focused on research techniques involving pancreatic islets lead by Carlos Castaño, Hugo Figueiredo, Júlia Rodriguez and Berta Serra. We began with the isolation of islets from mice and then used the isolated islets for immunostaining to assess different markers. We also got to visualize the in toto islet staining with Sara de Pablo using a confocal microscope.

On Wednesday, Dr. Marc Claret and Dr. Josep Vidal presented a current state of knowledge upon the central regulation of glucose metabolism and bariatric surgery in diabetes, respectively. During the first lecture, we were introduced to a historical perspective of the field, including the initial evidences of the hypothalamus as a central regulator of the glucose homeostasis until the most recent findings regarding physiological relevance and necessity of such strict neuronal control for the maintenance of energy balance. In the second speech, Dr. Vidal presented benefits and possible outcomes regarding different types of bariatric surgery, and how this can be a valid approach to treat obese patients and individuals with type 2 diabetes. In the afternoon, we had a session with Dr. Gema Alcarraz-Vizán about the pancreas histology, where we talked about the differences between crucial immunostainings of the tissue and the information that could be later transitioned into the solid morphometric analysis. Then, Marta Fontcuberta and Dr. Rosa Gasa discussed with us the advantages and drawbacks of using adenoviral vectors to transfer genes into the various cells and pancreatic islets. Finally, Dr. Joan-Marc Servitja and Dr. Ignasi Morán presented how to take an advantage of the bioinformatic tools in order to decipher the islets genome and epigenetic landscape.

Day four started with a first lecture by Dr. Conget, providing a comprehensive overview of the efficacy of continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Afterwards, Dr. Serra presented a very elegant and interesting presentation on the role of nanovaccines as a potential tool to address new pharmacological approaches for the cure of type 1 diabetes. The practical lesson with Dr. Gomez-Valadés, Joan Mir, Íñigo Chivite and Dr. Fernández-Ruiz aimed to introduce and show how to assess glucose homeostasis in mice using metabolic tests. The practical experience allowed us to acquire some confidence with animals and to use and interpret data and results. It was also accompanied by a detailed theoretical presentation, which gave us information regarding the important parameters to consider prior to an experiment, the optimal way to design it and how to choose the right metabolic tests to use.

The final practical session was dedicated to artificial pancreas and continuous glucose monitoring. Dr. Quirós introduced categories and characteristics of artificial pancreas systems: threshold suspend device system, insulin-only system and bi-hormonal control system. The second practical session provided a hands-on experience with sensors, insulin pumps and catheters. Dr. Giménez highlighted the need for sensor calibration, also explaining the technical part of pump therapy; a clear guideline for teaching patients was also provided. The practical session was interesting for both clinicians, who could improve their knowledge, and for basic scientists, who could learn something brand new. 

Tell us about your research

From Monday to Friday, after the coffee break, we had a chance to present our own research and see the presentations given by our peers. Sharing our research with other members of the group and of IDIBAPS stirred novel insights into how to improve one’s own work and developed a new appreciation for the interaction between clinicians and research scientists. The organizers aptly mixed clinicians with basic scientists and it was motivating to see the amount of interest from everyone.

Social events

Evenings were devoted to fun social events, reinforcing the interaction among us and the IDIBAPS hosts. The International evening saw a host of exquisite delicacies and delights from the various countries represented at the Course; including wines and liqueurs, sweet treats and some savoury, perfume and even a traditional Christmas song from Catalunya. We also had the opportunity to taste some of the local food: a feast at a local restaurant serving delicious Galician cuisine, and trying the famous “paella” by the sea at Port Vell.

Epilogue

Everyone agrees that the Scientists Training Course served as a great opportunity for young scientist coming from around the globe to acquire new knowledge, share ideas and experience and find new motivation for the future careers. Indeed, we are all better scientists and/or clinicians after this course.

Last but not least, we would like to give our sincere thanks for providing us with such an amazing training to develop our skills in the field of diabetes research. First we thank Dr. Rosa Gasa and Dr. Joan-Marc Servitja, for their excellent moral support and organisation. We also thank the trainers, who were professional and competent and encouraged us to participate actively and share our knowledge with the group. Overall, we thank the participation of all staff members for their valuable time and effort to teach and train us during the course. We are also grateful to Lilly Diabetes for generously sponsoring this course. Finally, we specially thank Mary Hata for her excellent administrative support.