My ISSCR 2019 Impressions

Written by Vira Iefremova

In this community post, first-time ISSCR attendee Vira Iefremova shares her experiences from the meeting.

Vira Iefremova,
M.Sc., PhD Candidate
Institute of Reconstuctive Neurobiology, University of Bonn, Germany

This year was my first time at the ISSCR, and even before the start of the conference I was completely overwhelmed with the program of the upcoming week. Luckily, I came across these very helpful tips on how to organize your schedule and thoughts before attending such a big conference, as ISSCR.

A talk by Dr. Jun Takahashi on the success and challenges behind the iPSC clinical trials for Parkinson’s disease was an excellent start of a 5 day-long adventure through the most up-to-date scientific findings.

If I need to pick only one highlight from this year’s ISSCR, it would be a tough thing to do. I would instead split the “purely scientific” part from “social engagement and career development”.

It would be fair to say that the “scientific” section of the meeting exceeded my expectations; I got a chance to attend a lot of brilliant talks, but I would like specifically highlight a couple of them: 

  • Barbara Treutlein’s talk on organoids and astonishing regeneration capability of the axolotl
  • Paola Arlotta’s talk describing the latest study from her lab on highly reproducible generation of different types of brain organoids
  • Arnold Kriegstein’s talk about human-specific level of activation of mTOR signaling during corticogenesis

I’m still getting goosebumps thinking about upcoming clinical trials of hPSC-derived dopaminergic neurons for Parkinson’s patients based on work from Lorenz Studer’s lab!

My “social” part started with a seminar on “Science communication and advocacy”; I really enjoyed all of the discussions with some particular examples of how scientists can and should fight “fake news” narrative with knowledge and scientific facts.

My personal highlight from various luncheons and other social activities was the “Women in Science Luncheon” with truly outstanding panelists who shared their own career paths and challenges that they came across. It was a valuable and inspiring experience, especially because just a couple of weeks ago I become a coordinator of the local pod of 500 Women Scientists in Bonn, Germany.

I also would like to mention the meet-up hub on “Diversity and inclusion in science”. I think it’s a great initiative and an important topic that has to be discussed more: science is for everyone!

Last but not least, on the last day of the conference, there was an absolutely unforgettable talk by Nobel laureate Dr. Shinya Yamanaka. A combination of scientific brilliance and a great sense of humor left everyone speechless. It was genuinely refreshing to hear from him that his latest paper got recently rejected. It’s a very reminder that scientific work is far from being perfectly “polished” stories, but rather stories about many “try and errors” rounds that do not discourage you instead inspire to come up with new solutions for not yet answered riddles.

Thank you, Dr. Yamanaka, for admitting that no one is perfect, even a Nobel laureate. This is something that, especially early-career scientists, tend to forget.

Overall, ISSCR was a really inspiring, uplifting and exceptional experience!