National Carbohydrate Symposium fosters collaboration among researchers and trainees

The 11th annual National Carbohydrate Symposium was held at Banff from May 6 to 8.

Nearly 100 researchers and trainees from GlycoNet and the Alberta Glycomics Centre gathered in Banff from May 6 to 8 for the 11th Annual National Carbohydrate Symposium, an important annual event in the field of glycomics.

The Symposium, hosted by the AGC, featured talks from invited external speakers including GlycoNet principal investigators Dr. Mark Nitz (University of Toronto), Dr. Warren Wakarchuk (Ryerson University), Dr. Lynne Howell (The Hospital for Sick Children), Dr. Harry Brumer (University of British Columbia), and Dr. Lori West (University of Alberta).

The program also featured selected talks from members of the Alberta Glycomics Centre. A new addition to this year’s Symposium was a workshop component, in which attendees were split into groups and had to propose an idea for a new opportunity in research and commercialization.

“The highlight for me was definitely the workshop presentations,” said Dr. Christopher Cairo, an AGC principal investigator and co-organizer of this year’s Symposium. “Everyone did a very good job and it was actually a little difficult for the judges to pick a winner.”

Reza Jafari, a PhD student in Dr. Ratmir Derda’s lab group, was part of the winning workshop group and found the exercise useful. “This workshop was all about how we can integrate science with business. I think that’s very important,” he said. The group’s idea was to develop an affordable tuberculosis test that could be used by anybody, meaning diagnosis would not have to be done by a health care professional. The idea was that a person would prick their finger and use a TB stick, similar to a pregnancy test, to test their blood. The result would generate a QR code which could be read by a cell phone application. Not only would this technology provide a quick diagnosis, but it would also allow for the collection of specific information about the location of tuberculosis infection.

The other members of the winning workshop group were Perrin Baker, Yajie Chen, Maju Joe, Akihiko Koizumi, Emma-Dune Leriche, Soumya Samanta, Jobette Santos, V. Narasimharao Thota and Lei Wang.

Jafari added that beyond the workshop he also appreciates the chance to hear from internationally leading scientists at the Symposium and to network with others in the field.

“An important part of science is networking,” he said. “This type of environment is where you make collaborations and brainstorm and generate new ideas that you can put into use.”

Cairo agrees and says one of the most important aspects of the Symposium is giving trainees the opportunity to interact with invited speakers. For example, at dinner, trainees must sign up to sit at a speaker’s table.

“The symposium has been a major professional development tool for our students for a long time. We make sure that the students have the opportunity to talk to the invited speakers. That’s something they don’t get at a lot of other meetings,” Cairo said.

Dr. John Klassen, Scientific Director of the Alberta Glycomics Centre, agrees that the Symposium provides an important networking and professional development opportunity, and feels that the workshop in particular was a valuable training exercise at this year’s conference.

“This is the way science is done now,” Klassen said. “The high impact research occurs when you’re able to find the right collaborations and tap into other people’s expertise to make the idea better. That is something trainees should be embracing because that’s the way forward.”

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