Fifth International Symposium sparks fruitful exchanges
On October 1-2, 2010, over 70 scientists gathered in Bethesda, MD, for a unique joint
meeting: “Brain, blood and iron: Joint international conference on neuroacanthocytosis and neurodegeneration with brain iron accumulation.” The meeting, which was the Fifth International Symposium on NA, marked the first time that a large group of researchers joined together to share their insights into the causes of neurodegeneration associated with both thorny red blood cells (acanthocytes) and deposits of iron in the basal ganglia.
The atmosphere at the conference was tangibly energised as researchers from these allied disease groups explored each other's thought-provoking work. Both conditions are associated with neuronal damage resulting in involuntary movements – usually chorea and dystonia, and cognitive and psychiatric impairment.
Seven early-career investigators from 4 countries were partially funded by the Advocacy; they were among the significant number of young investigators at the conference. Supporting early-career researchers, including helping foster collaboration with more senior scientists, is critical for future research into neurodegeneration, particularly as decreases in research funding across the board are limiting the total number of scientists entering these careers.
NA and NBIA: much to learn from each other
Conference attendees heard how one NBIA disorder, pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration (PKAN), includes both red blood cell anomalies and iron accumulation; this has led to the hypothesis that there might be common causative pathways affecting both, red blood cells and neuronal cells. Different genetic causes of most of these diseases have been identified, but it is not yet understood how the abnormal genes result in disease.
|Ruth Walker opening the symposium|
In order to address the potentially diverse mechanisms of neuronal damage involved, scientists from a variety of disciplines convened. These included hematologists, molecular and cell biologists, biochemists, and neuroscientists. Topics addressed included the biology of iron, mitochondrial metabolism, autophagy, membrane trafficking, mechanisms of erythrocyte shape, and transgenic animal models.