23 August 2017
A new international meeting has provided an important opportunity for researchers from once-distinct disciplines to meet and share insights into biology and disease.
The inaugural Immunometabolism and Chronic Disease Conference (IMCD2017), which was held in Fiji on August 13-16, was designed to maximise cross-fertilisation between the fields of immunology (the study of the immune system) and metabolism (the study of the chemical reactions within our bodies that collectively keep us alive).
Although the two fields were once seen as only distantly related, that thinking has been upended in the last few years. Researchers are now beginning to understand how the two are interconnected – and, crucially, how these links can help us understand and treat diseases such as cancer, type 2 diabetes and immune disorders.
Professor Mark Febbraio (Head, Diabetes and Metabolism Division, Garvan Institute) chaired IMCD2017 and was instrumental in making this inaugural meeting a reality. The team coordinating the conference also included Prof Janelle Ayres (co-chair; Salk Institute, La Jolla), Prof Vishwa Deep Dixit (co-chair; School of Medicine, Yale University) and Dr Randy Levinson (co-chair; Nature Publishing Group, New York), with local organising committee members Ms Belinda Platzer and Dr Emma Estevez (Garvan).
Prof Febbraio says, “When we first conceived the meeting, we were conscious that we needed to do something different, so as to view chronic disease from a fresh angle. What we designed was the first international meeting that brings together researchers in the areas of cancer, the microbiome, metabolism and the innate immune system.
“Countries in the Asia-Pacific region have the world’s highest rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes and liver diseases – yet the region is largely overlooked when global health problems associated with chronic disease are assessed.
“So, for us, a key goal of this meeting was to gather leading researchers from across the world here in the Pacific, so as to focus attention on chronic disease and on the immunometabolic mechanisms that underpin disease initiation and progression.”
Prof Febbraio says the calibre of the research presented at the meeting was outstanding.
“Every presentation at the meeting was cutting-edge. Medical research is so exciting at the moment as we transition into an era of big data and personalised medicine – and the talks really reflected that energy.
“We were extremely privileged to have two outstanding keynote speakers. Erika Pearce from the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg, Germany and Douglas Green from St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, USA bookended the meeting with excellent addresses.”
The next IMCD meeting is now being planned for 2020.
“Several speakers presented data on new drug candidates that are transitioning into clinical trials. We hope that in 2020, we will hear that some of these have made it into the clinic.”
For Prof Febbraio, IMCD2017 was a meeting with a difference.
“Unlike most scientific meetings, many researchers brought their families to IMCD, so we were surrounded by kids and all that they bring – the noise, the fun, the dancing!
“We also wanted to make sure that we gave back to the Fijian communities that welcomed our meeting so openly. We asked attendees to bring stationery to support a local school, and we worked with community members to address other key areas of need.”
The meeting was supported by the Garvan Research Foundation, Biolegend, Genentech, Nature Reviews Endocrinology, Nature Reviews Rheumatology, Pfizer and Vudbenk Life Science.