I’ve been in Seattle this week at the 22nd Annual Scientific Meeting of the Psychoneuroimmunology Research Society. It’s been a great conference, and here are some interesting things I have learned so far:
– Sleep is important. Ok, I already knew this, but I have been learning that good and poor sleep have more effects than I ever knew. For example, Dr. Illiff gave a great talk on how, in rats, sleep improves how brain fluid clears plaque that has been implicated in Alzheimer’s. So I’m keen to see if sleep interventions are in the near future of Alzheimer’s research in humans.
– Peripheral inflammation (what you see in circulation), can be quite different to neuroinflammation. Activation (or dysregulation) of microglia, which are immune cells in the brain, can have implications for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and even depression. So it’s important for researchers like myself, who mainly measure peripheral inflammation, to know where our limitations are. However, there are imaging methods that can examine inflammation in the brain in humans.
– That said, I have also learned that animal research, while interesting, needs to do a much better job of translating. Most of the research at this meeting has been animal, which is fine, but for example, while it is great that some research has identified inflammatory changes in the brains of pregnant rats, can we really make conclusions about postnatal depression in humans based on that? What are the next steps?
– Always have a backup laser pointer. The one here didn’t work, and while it’s fun to see how many stand up jokes academics can make about how they can operate a million dollar microscope but not a laser pointer, part of running a conference includes mundane items such as having IT equipment that, you know, works. But overall, the conference has been very well organized.
– Finally, I learned that I can attend a scientific conference and bring my infant son (thanks to our amazing nanny, Shannon; I recommend ANI nannies if you need a hotel nanny in Seattle). Personally, this means a lot to me, because it’s given me confidence to know that I can make my family and professional life work together. I know there are more challenges ahead, but I feel optimistic about the future in this regard.