ORBITAL Annual Meeting in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, welcomes over 50 researchers, industry members, and clinicians to discuss the latest in ground-breaking drug delivery techniques and preclinical models to treat posterior segment eye disease.
This meeting was the first in-person meeting for the consortium, which has been engaged in active research since September 2019. The Annual Meeting combined a mix of interactive, in-lab practical training for the Early Stage Researchers, as well as compelling keynote and industry talks on the importance of novel treatments for ocular disease. Hosted by ORBITAL Beneficiary, USC, the meeting allowed the ORBITAL researchers to share their own research outward amongst their peers, many of whom have never met in person due to COVID19 restrictions.
Professor Carmen Alvarez-Lorenzo, with assistance from ORBITAL Researchers Ana Filipa Mota and Axel Kattar, were the driving force behind the organization of the meeting, with additional support from Project Coordinator Dr. Laurence Fitzhenry and Project Manager Tess Ames.
“This first in person meeting of the ORBITAL community was an excellent opportunity to talk about multidisciplinary science but mainly to do networking, which is indeed a main aim of the Marie Sklodowska-Curie ITNs. The Two Years-Gathering Event had a very positive impact on the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela (USC) community in terms of sharing expertise and creating a very inspiring atmosphere for young researchers. The ORBITAL ESRs will always find friends and colleagues at USC to count on now and also after the PhD Thesis defense,” noted PRofessor Alvarez-Lorenzo.
With lectures from Keynote Speakers Professor Lyndon Jones (University of Waterloo), Professor Mark Byrne (Rowan/OcuMedic), Professor Anuj Chauhan (Colorado School of Mines) and an interactive discussion from Drs Giedrius Kalysnekas and Marc Cerreda-Gimenez (Experimentica), attendees were encouraged to think about the practical applications of their research, and to consider the translation of pre-clinical lab based work to real-world products for consumers.
Early stage researchers Axel and Ana Filipa, both now in their third year of their PhD, also hosted a labratory training on in vitro ocular test methods and preparing ex vivo eye tissues for drug permeability.
Axel, on Project 7 at USC, explained the process of coordinating this conference: “Organizing a conference happens in two distinct stages; the preparation stage starting months in advance to make sure everything is set up for the second phase, and the reaction stage where the job consists of executing the plan and putting out fires. The main lesson was that we needed to have stocked up on sleep before it all starts, because when everyone lands, there is no time left for anything between the moment you wake up and the moment your head hits the pillow. This was a very rewarding experience combining working under pressure, high level of scientific knowledge and social skills.”
The meeting was not only a chance for Early Stage Researcher training, also a chance for PIs, Sub-Committee Leaders, Work Package leaders, the Supervisory Board and External Advisory team to come together to discuss the remaining two years of the project, and future potential collaborations.
“We are at the half-way point”, Dr. Fitzhenry, Project Coordinator, noted, “and now is our chance to continue to improve on the training for the researchers, and continue to disseminate our work outward. We aim to grow this network and share the science, and continue to develop well-rounded researchers who can continue to make progress in this field, and beyond.”
The Supervisory Board met to discuss the remainding actions of the project and an increased focus on ensuring the smooth completion of PhD research for the majority of the ESRs. All members of the group expressed excitement toward increased in-person learning opportunities across the board as COVID restrictions ease, while still recognizing the greater reach that facilitating some training virtually has provided.
“We now have this great opportunity, where we are face-to-face with a signficant change in core beliefs of education. The more content we can produce for the online community, while still making space, time, and options for in-person training, the further this consortium can reach, ensuring broader impact on the scientific community, but also the public”, Project Manager Tess Ames said.
And the public remains one of ORBITAL’s key focus. As an ITN focused on patient-centered treatment options for people living with chronic ocular disease, the next steps for ORBITAL include greater outreach and involvement from patients, their family members and carers, and the clinical community.
After the Year 2 Meeting, the researchers travelled to Lisbon for a two-day workshop on science communication to the public and the Patient as the Teacher Workshop. To learn more about this interactive event, click here.