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CSFN Conference? More Like CSFUN Conference!

Maggie Kersting
Lake Forest College
Lake Forest, Illinois 60045

On Friday, April 19th, 2019, The Chicago Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience held its yearly scientific meeting at the Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Beginning at 7:30 AM, the conference hosted almost twelve hours of talks from accomplished speakers, poster competitions, and symposiums, giving researchers from all over the Chicago area an opportunity to present their findings. Multiple Lake Forest College biology and neuroscience classes trekked downtown to explore the conference and listen to the speakers. In particular, the Bio130 class, Deadly Shapes of the Hostage Brain, made up of primarily first-year students, went for their first exposure to a professional convention and scientific meeting. The first years also had the opportunity to see a few of the Lake Forest College upperclassmen present their work, winning a few awards along the way. Many of the juniors and seniors in the upper-level classes had already been to similar conventions but enjoyed the field-trip, nonetheless. Among other participants of the convention were students and professors from neighboring colleges and medical schools. There was a nice mix of undergraduate students and graduate students sharing the work throughout the day, which fostered a very well-rounded series of poster competitions and lectures. While there might not have been a stated over-arching theme for the conference, it did seem like many of the talks and posters were centered around breakthroughs in neurodegenerative diseases and new developments in neuroscience. 

Although a morning class prohibited many students, including me, from attending the keynote lecture from Hugo Bellen, the posters entered into the morning competition series were very interesting. Among the most intriguing posters were two Lake Forest College seniors’, Abby King’s and Eliska Mrackova’s. Especially noteworthy is the award-winning presentation given by King. King’s poster highlighted the effects of the chronic administration of nicotine in rats on an attentional set-shifting task (ASST). King predicted based on previous studies that administration of nicotine would increase neuroplasticity and improve performance in the ASST. While her study revealed no significant change in performance on the attention tests, it did determine that naïve rats treated with the first dose of nicotine demonstrate less locomotor activity. King’s findings suggest a behavioral shift in the rats associated with the nicotine treatment. Another impressive poster was presented by Uilana Solovieva, from the University of Illinois at Chicago Honors College, on the adolescent interpretation of extreme and mild facial expressions. Research has indicated that emotional regulation and recognition are strongly correlated to emotional intelligence, which is developed during adolescence. Solovieva tested fifteen children in emotional recognition to see how accurately they could identify a variety of emotions, fully expecting them to identify the extreme facial expressions more readily. Surprisingly, through her research, Solovieva determined that children were significantly less accurate at identifying anger when compared to neutral and other emotions. Also, the children were quickest to identify a happy expression. These results indicate that children might be misattributing the emotion of anger to another emotion as a coping mechanism during adolescence. My fellow classmate, McKinley Scheppler, noted that “even though the poster and research were relatively simple, the presenter did a great job of emphasizing how interesting the findings were and the implications they could have on adolescent development.” I completely agree with McKinley; I believe that Solovieva’s passion for her work really came through in her presentation and made it that much more interesting.

The afternoon brought a break for lunch; a satisfying sandwich for some, others found it difficult to find food that adhered to their dietary restrictions. Nevertheless, the discussions about the posters that were held while the sandwiches were consumed were fascinating and led to much excitement for what the rest of the day would hold. After lunch, the graduate symposium began. While six students presented, two really stood out to me as fascinating. The first being the talk given by Namratha Sastry on LY6K promoting glioblastoma tumorigenesis. In her research, she found that the knockdown of the LY6K protein causes tumors to disappear, while the over-expression of LY6K causes tumor growth and promotes ERK activation. She traced the activation of LY6K to caveolin-1, previously thought to only be involved in cancer suppression. Her research shows just how little we really understand about some forms of cancer. In my opinion, Sastry’s work was only overshadowed by the presentation given by Zachariah Bertels on migraines. Bertels presented on his research involving reversing migraine effects through hdac6 inhibition. Migraines were shown to be linked to deacetylated microtubules, causing fewer intersections and shorter synapses between neurons. By inhibiting hdac6, Bertels found that deacetylation stopped and the cortical spreading events, which are linked to migraines, decreased. This research seemed to be of the utmost importance because of the prevalence of migraines across America today. McKinley seemed particularly interested in this research because of the “many people she knows that are affected by chronic migraines. The research is promising to help them live a more pain-free life.” It was fascinating to hear the most recent research on a topic that presently affects so many Americans. 

After the graduate talks, two afternoon symposiums were held simultaneously. Being a Bio130 student, it felt only right that I should attend the symposium centered around neuroinflammation and brain disorders. This symposium consisted of four talks and, to my delight, two of them centered around ALS, the disease I just so happened to have spent the entire semester studying. It might be my own personal bias, but those two talks were definitely the most intriguing. The first lecture, given by Dr. Hande Ozdinler was entirely fascinating. While my Bio130 group focused most of our efforts throughout the semester on the effects of stress granules in ALS motor neurons, Dr. Ozdinler’s talk centered around the effects of astrocytes on the upper cortical neurons. This provided an interesting new perspective of ALS that my group really only looked into at the surface level. Her talk showed that in ALS cortical neurons, there are more astrocytes and microglia that surround the cells looking to regulate an inflammation response in order to combat the disease. She showed using reporter lines the interactions the non-neuronal cells have with the upper motor neuron; astrocytes hover around the neuron while the microglia wrap around the motor neuron. This talk revealed a new understanding of cellular interaction that leads to the neurodegeneration seen in ALS neurons.  

Besides the intriguing talks, one of the most striking parts of the afternoon was seeing how scientists communicate with each other. After each talk, there was a time for questions from the audience, and, to this reporter, it seemed that every question was bordering the line of aggression and curiosity. Each scientist that asked a question was trying to subtly, and sometimes overtly, push their ideas from the lecture onto the presenting scientist, attempting to gain feedback from another expert in the field. While I am sure that there was no ill will meant by these questions, they seemed overly forward in their line of questioning, but perhaps what I was witnessing was just the way one could imagine a scientist would communicate. Perhaps, scientists have been trained to get right to the point and not accept anything less than a conclusive answer. After the talks, the day was essentially over, with only the dinner and the awards ceremony left on the schedule. While dinner was essentially uneventful, a highlight of the awards ceremony was cheering on Lake Forest College’s own when Abby King won her award for the poster competition. It was uniquely exciting to see a Forester who put so much work into her research getting recognized.

Overall, The Chicago Society for Neuroscience boasted a very successful conference. On the bus ride back, nothing but the incredible knowledge gained from the day was being discussed. Our chaperone, Professor Schwalbe, jokingly mentioned on the bus ride back, “you guys are allowed to talk about stuff outside of science.” But that was the magical thing about the conference; it was so captivating that no one wanted to talk about anything but the lectures and the posters. I think that the fact that the conference covered so many topics and had no real central theme or connector, except for neuroscience, was beneficial to the audience because everyone was able to find a talk or a poster that interested them throughout the day. This conference showed the groundbreaking research that was being conducted and brought a lot of promising results to the forefront of the scientific public’s eye. It was a day to listen and share scientific knowledge, bringing the scientific community closer to solving the fascinating mysteries of neuroscience. By bringing together so many brilliant minds and a young audience of college-aged students, the conference really fostered a great environment to influence future research through the transference of knowledge. The undergraduates that attended this conference were given quite the privilege to listen to this groundbreaking research, giving them an idea of the kind of work they could very likely be conducting in the future. It also gives them insight into the important research issues surrounding neuroscience today and is a great way to learn a lot of information in a short period of time. I think attending this conference as a freshman was a great experience because I got to experience how scientists interact and I was able to envision myself doing similar research projects like the ones that were modeled during the poster competitions by my peers. 

Picture of the Lake Forest College students and professors that attended the eventPicture of the Lake Forest College students and professors that attended the event


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