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Reflections from the 2017 Global Health & Infectious Disease Conference

Written by Robert Potter, graduate student, Molecular Microbiology, Gautam Dantas Lab, Washington University

The 2017 Global Health & Infectious Disease Conference was a fascinating two-day event that featured captivating talks and posters from all categories of scientific personnel.

Due to the overwhelming scope of the challenges facing global health, presentations hailed from a variety of technical backgrounds. However, the unintentional theme stressed by all speakers was that continued innovation is necessary to overcome the insurmountable difficulties facing those who tackle the world’s toughest problems. As an attendee, I was particularly motivated by seeing trainees and faculty from Washington University at the vanguard of advancing human health, regardless of borders.

This spirit of innovation was sparked by the keynote speaker for the Thursday Trainee Oral Symposium, Daniel Goldberg, MD, PhD, who gave an update on the global consortium of organizations working towards novel therapeutics against Malaria. A PhD student in the Goldberg lab, Sebastian Nasamu, adeptly followed up on his adviser’s discussion and delivered a fascinating talk detailing mechanistic insight on the molecular role for a favored target of emerging antimalarial drugs. His talk was complemented by Annie Mayer, DVM, PhD, who as a postdoctoral scientist in Skip Virgin’s lab, has been developing therapeutics that restrict replication of the highly infectious Norovirus. Molly Pezzulo, a MPH student, from State University of New York, Albany, demonstrated that even for pathogens with efficacious therapeutic options, systemic barriers can plague attempts to control regional spread of infections.

Insight into how pathogens can evade our natural immunity is necessary to design host-centric therapeutics. Two graduate students, Catherine Cai (Saint Louis University-Laboratory of Daniel Hoft, MD, PhD) and Jeremy Huynh (Washington University – Laboratory of Christina Stallings, PhD) showed fascinating work on methods that Trypanosoma cruzi and Mycobacterium tuberculosis, respectively, use to evade the immune response – and outlined potential solutions.

Astounding insights into the molecular mechanism of infectious disease continued Friday. Thaddeus Stappenbeck, MD, PhD, (Washington University) detailed early results from profiling the gut microbiome in divergent populations as a method to study emerging trajectory of inflammatory bowel diseases in non-endemic areas and Jennifer Philips, MD, PhD, (Washington University) added to the continuously expanding list of known M. tuberculosis virulence factors. Steve Beverley, PhD (Washington University) discussed an emerging field of protozoan viruses, and importantly provided a plethora of evidence detailing how viral presence affects pathogenicity and treatment outcomes in Leishmania spp. Ellyn Ogden, MPH (USAID) and Ernesto Ruiz-Tiben, PhD (The Carter Center) closed and opened the Friday events by discussing the trials and tribulations of polio and guinea worm disease eradication.

Every speaker, in a unique way, reinforced my resolve to use basic science research as a platform for improving the human condition.