The Cell Symposia: Multifaceted Mitochondria meeting that took place earlier this month in San Diego boasted a wide range of topics covering many different aspects of mitochondrial biology, from mitochondrial structure and function to how mitochondria talk to each other and with other parts of the cell. Several members of the Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Research attended the meeting to present their research and hear about recent advances in this rapidly evolving field.
Dr Amy Vincent, a Research Associate within the Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Research, attended the meeting and presented a poster on her research investigating mitochondrial DNA deletions in human skeletal muscle. When asked about her conference highlights, Amy said she particularly enjoyed a talk given by Professor Anu Suomalainen-Wartiovaara from Helsinki University, who presented an update on her group’s research looking at key biomarkers and metabolic changes in mitochondrial disease both in animal models and patients. Importantly, these biomarkers, or ‘biological markers’, can be measured as an indicator of disease and may help in the diagnosis of mitochondrial disease and in our understanding of disease progression.
Another interesting talk was given by Dr Andrew Dillin from University of California Berkeley, who talked about his group’s work looking at the molecules that are excreted from neurons, leading to a change in the life span of worms that lack important parts of the energy production machinery in the mitochondria. This research offers a unique insight into how the mitochondria and cells talk to each other, which is important for our understanding of the disease process.
Of the hundreds of posters presented at the meeting, Amy selected a poster by Dr Sophia Annis, a post-doctoral researcher in Professor Khrapko’s lab at Northeastern University, as another conference highlight. The poster included recent findings looking at single mitochondrial DNA molecules to understand important aspects of DNA damage. This is incredibly important since mitochondrial DNA damage accumulates with age and disease, and a better understanding how this happens, and where this happens, may allow us to intervene.
Tianhong Su, a final year PhD student in the Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Research, also attended the meeting and presented a poster about her research looking at inherited mitochondrial DNA mutations in stem cells. During the poster session, Tianhong spoke to many other scientists who were interested in her research and had many “inspiring discussions”. She said that presenting her work provided a better understanding of her current project and helped her gain the confidence to answer questions about her research. Tianhong was awarded a travel grant from the Faculty of Medical Sciences at Newcastle University to attend the meeting, which is a fantastic achievement given that these are awarded on a competitive basis to PhD students who demonstrate a professional attitude to their training and development.
This was the first international conference for second year PhD student Tasnim Ahmed, who enjoyed the two poster sessions held during the meeting because it gave her the opportunity to speak to scientists directly about their work, as well as an opportunity to present her own work during the session. She noted that researchers from various American institutes showed interest in the fact that she uses patient-derived skeletal muscle to achieve the aims of her study, highlighting the importance of our unique collection of patient samples that make up the Mitochondrial Biobank. This exceptional bioresource, which include tissues and cell lines from patients obtained for research or excess to diagnostic procedures, allows our research to be performed to the highest standard using the most relevant models of mitochondrial disease.