In January, three of our PhD students – Katie, Piotr and Helen – went to the EAACI Winter School on Basic Immunology research in Allergy and Clinical Immunology, held in Chamonix in the French Alps. Read what they have to say about their experience…
The European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) is a non-profit organisation dedicated to allergy and immunology, and has almost ten thousand members. The yearly EAACI Immunology Winter School is a conference dedicated to postgraduate students and what we call early career researchers (those that have completed their PhD within the last two years), enabling them to give talks and poster presentations under the supervision of immunology and allergy experts.
The 2020 EAACI Winter School in Chamonix was a brilliant opportunity for me to meet and engage with early-career researchers and students. In the mornings we listened to presentations by renowned experts in food allergy, asthma or inflammation, followed by shorter presentations by postgraduate students and early-career researchers on their projects. In the afternoons we were encouraged to explore the beautiful town of Chamonix in the French Alps. We ventured into ice caves carved in the glacier or took a cable car to (almost) the top of the tallest mountain in Europe – The Mont Blanc! I particularly enjoyed lengthy, but relaxed evening poster sessions, during which we discussed our projects, shared ideas and gave advice on methods and research tools. EAACI Winter School provided an amazing environment to encourage collaboration among young scientists like myself.
As the clinical research fellow recruiting healthy preschool children and those with severe preschool wheezing and asthma to the Breathing Together Study, I was delighted to attend the EAACI winter school in January this year and present the latest findings from our centre at Imperial College London. I discussed the trends we are seeing in our group of children with severe preschool wheezing – they tend to have more bacteria and viruses in their airways than the older children with severe asthma, and tend to be less allergic. I discussed how we plan to get more detailed information about the types of bacteria in the airways, and use these bacteria in the laboratory to understand how they affect cells that make-up the airways. It was a very useful meeting to attend and I learned more about how the immune system works in the lungs and other parts of the body. One of my favourite talks relevant to our work was by Kyle Mincham from the Strickland lab in Australia – they have been looking at how an oral vaccine made of killed bacteria can be given to pregnant mother mice to improve the immune system in the baby mice and prevent them from developing asthma. This oral vaccine has been trialled successfully and safely in adults and children to prevent chest infections. There is a lot of work to do first but this could potentially be used in the future to help prevent asthma.
Not just because of its beautiful setting in the French Alps, the EAACI Winter School was a fantastic way to meet and engage with other young researchers who are equally interested in allergies and asthma. Stemming from the fact that this meeting was only open to PhD students and early career researchers, we had the unique opportunity to present our work, discuss findings and freely ask questions in a friendly environment – things which can be quite intimidating at bigger conferences. I loved the fact that every single person attending got the chance to share their data – either by giving a talk or by presenting a poster – and this sparked a lot of fruitful discussion and feedback. At the same time, it was also great to hear presentations by the faculty members about their respective research and so gaining an overview of the different aspects of allergy and asthma research all over Europe. Lastly, the conference was designed to allow breaks to enjoy the spectacular scenery – which we did while skiing down the slopes. Overall, it was a fantastic way to meet many other European scientist and I’m already looking forward to going again next year to present my findings as a PhD student on the Breathing Together project.