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Inaugural Immunology Research Symposium a Success

By T. Lee
Picture of keynote speaker Mark Kaplan speaks to participants during the Immunology Research Symposium.
Keynote speaker Mark Kaplan from Indiana University School of Medicine speaks to participants during the inaugural Immunology Research Symposium at Michigan State University.
Credit: T. Lee

When Geoffroy Laumet started working at Michigan State University four years ago, he found it difficult to find immunologists to collaborate with.

“The reason is because we do not have a Department of Immunology nor a graduate program,” said the assistant professor in the Department of Physiology. “Immunology researchers are scattered through different departments and colleges. I think immunology research lacks visibility at MSU.”

That thought sparked the idea to create the first Immunology Research Symposium which took place this past semester at the MSU Union Ballroom.

“I think that many of us have had this idea for a long time,” said co-chair of the symposium Margaret Petroff. “The idea for this particular event came up in a discussion between Geoffroy Laumet and I, probably a year ago. I suggested Geoffroy propose a symposium and talk with potential donors, and he took the bull by the horns.”

Poster award winners pose with co-chairs of the Immunology Research Symposium.
Poster award winners pose with event organizers during the Immunology Research Symposium at MSU. From left, Geoffroy Laumet, Nick Giacobbi, Lizzy O'Guin, the postdoc division winner Kriti Khatri, Cheryl Rockwell, and Margaret Petroff. 
Credit: T. Lee

Registration for the event exceeded expectations that the venue location was changed to accommodate the number of participants.

“Initially, I expected 50 to 70 people,” said Laumet who was also co-chair of the symposium. “We got more than 200 people.”

Participants were treated to a day of research talks and presentations from faculty and trainees representing all MSU biomedical colleges. Mark Kaplan, Chairperson of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Indiana University School of Medicine, was selected as the keynote speaker.

A panel of judges selected the best poster in three divisions among undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral MSU students. The Department of Physiology had a strong showing taking wins in both undergraduate and graduate categories.

Lizzy O'Guin discusses her research poster with keynote speaker Mark Kaplan.
Recent MSU physiology graduate Lizzy O'Guin explains her research to keynote speaker Mark Kaplan during the Immunology Research Symposium. O'Guin won top honors in the undergraduate poster division. 
Credit: T. Lee

Physiology major Lizzy O’Guin won the undergraduate division for her research poster which focused on the impact of androgen hormones on interleukin-10 production in inflamed skin and their role in alleviating pain.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever gotten an award for my research,” said O’Guin who graduated last semester and plans to pursue a career in medicine. “It means a lot because I’ve been working very hard, and I’ve been proud of myself the entire time.  It feels goodfor other people to be proud of me.  It gives me more validation in my choices and tells me I am good at this.”

Nicholas Giacobbi took home the top honors in the graduate division for his research poster on novel immunotherapy for  human papillomavirus or (HPV)-positive cancer. The DO/Ph.D. candidate in the Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology graduate program says the best part about winning such honors are the opportunities that comes with it.

Graduate students at MSU are seen during the Immunology Research Symposium at MSU.
Nick Giacobbi, a DO-Ph.D. graduate student in the Department of Physiology, discusses his research poster with Meena Sudhakaran (far left), a Ph.D. graduate student in the Department of Physiology, and Lexi Vu, a Ph.D. graduate student in the Cell and Molecular Biology Program. Giacobbi, who is also a MSU Cancer Research Pentecost Foundation Aitch Fellow, won top honors in the graduate poster division.
Credit: T. Lee

“I get to talk to people and collaborate during these poster sessions,” Giacobbi said. “This just gets me the exposure so I can educate others about the research we’re doing and find new connections to enrich it.”

Looking ahead, the resounding success of the inaugural Immunology Research Symposium has already set the stage for its return. Plans are brewing to include more institutions, rotate hosting location between MSU and Henry Ford Health, and even possibly making it a regional meeting to garner NIH support Petroff said.

“To many of us, this event represents a start to forming a community of immunologists at MSU as well as Henry Ford Health,” said Petroff who’s a professor and the associate chairperson in the Department of Pathology and Diagnostic Investigation. “We all knew we were everywhere but nowhere at the same time. This was an opportunity to gather together as a unified group and discuss science, training opportunities, and collaborations.”

Graphical illustration of post-survey results from participants of the Immunology Research Symposium at MSU.
In a post-survey, 85 percent of participants said they would attend another Immunology Research Symposium at MSU. “In light of the overwhelmingly positive feedback we've received, it's probable that the Immunology Research Symposium will be established as a biennial event," Laumet said.
Courtesy graphic