Nearly 700 experts gathered recently in Keystone to discuss two topics of incredible importance to the medical community and the health of Americans throughout the nation - Type 2 diabetes and obesity.
The conference was put on by the Keystone Symposia on Molecular and Cellular Biology. The Keystone Symposia is a nonprofit organization dedicated to sharing data, generating ideas and fostering relationships between experts in the field. It organizes from 50 to 60 conferences every year on a broad range of life science topics.
The latest meeting began Jan. 28 and ran until Jan. 31, with multiple joint sessions, discussions and workshops on the two topics. The diabetes topic focused specifically on the Type 2 version of the disease, which studies have linked to obesity, and the mechanisms of biochemistry that cause the disease and what might lead to new treatments. The goal of the meeting was to introduce and share new research, new methods and new insights from clinical practice.
The second topic, related to obesity, focused mostly on adipose tissue, or fat. The meeting discussed possible links between this tissue and diseases such as diabetes, cancer, dementia and asthma. The role of genetics (inherited traits) and epigenetics (traits affected by environmental factors) were also discussed, with the goal of fostering discussion between researchers and looking ahead to the application of new, cutting-edge technologies.
Attendance for the conference reached just around 700 professionals, about equally divided between the two topics. James Aiken, president and CEO of the Keystone Symposia, estimated that around 60 percent of those attending were from medical schools or large university science departments, while 30 percent represented pharmaceutical companies and the remaining 10 percent came from U.S. government laboratories.
Nearly half of the attendees came from out-of-country, Aiken said, representing more than 25 different nations.
Another interesting aspect of the conference was the number of young, up-and-coming professionals mingling with the long-term, established experts.
"Keystone Symposia enhances the ability for students and post docs to attend," Aiken said, referencing scholarships and low fees that encourage their attendance.
He estimated that nearly half of the attendees were scientists who were still in training, whether working toward their medical or doctorate degrees, or in post-doctoral fellowships. He said it's common for students to continue their education after their doctoral degree to expand their training in new areas.
"We encourage getting young people who are in training to come because one of the things that we try and create with the atmosphere of the meetings here is an environment where young people in training can mix and speak freely with people in the field who are really famous," Aiken said.
Compared to other conferences that can have more than 15,000 attendees, the Keystone Symposia is a relatively small gathering. This affords an atmosphere more conducive to conversation, discussion and establishing collaborative relationships.
"It's an opportunity for the young people ... to get a chance to talk to people who are leading in the field and get a chance to get the kind of discussion they wouldn't normally be able to have at a big meeting," Aiken said.
To find more information about the Keystone Symposia and upcoming conferences, go to www.keystonesymposia.org.