Every year in Atlanta, around the time winter is dragging out its transition into spring, some of the world’s top researchers gather at the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience to present their work in a wide range of topics at the Suddath Symposium.
This annual meeting of the minds, which opened yesterday, changes topics every year. This time it’s “Immunology & ImmunoEngineering,” which is particularly timely, according to M.G. Finn, co-chair of the event with Krishnendu Roy.
“This year’s symposium brings immunologists and bioengineers from all over the country to kick off a new initiative,” says Finn, professor in and chair of the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Georgia Tech, Emory, and the Georgia Research Alliance have joined forces to help create the field of ImmunoEngineering – the real-time analysis and manipulation of the immune system.”
ImmunoEngineering is an emerging field that builds on traditional immunology and the latest tools of biochemistry, molecular biology, biophysics, and bioinformatics.
“There has been a real revolution in the past decade concerning our molecular-level understanding of immunity, and Atlanta is fortunate to be the home of many outstanding research and clinical immunologists,” says Finn. The hope, he adds, is that “students, postdocs, and faculty will learn from our speakers about these newly-complementary endeavors, and be inspired to join the effort.”
This year’s lineup includes speakers from Emory and Georgia Tech, as usual, in addition to the University of Georgia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), University of Chicago, Stanford, the National Cancer Institute and The Scripps Research Institute. So attendees have plenty to be inspired by, including one of the event’s final speakers, Julie Babensee.
“I will present on strategies to direct immune responses through key immunoregulatory cells called dendritic cells,” says Babensee, whose presentation is entitled, “Biomaterials for ImmunoEngineering.”
So, there’s plenty to discuss and learn today as the symposium continues. Just a sampler: Mark Davis of Stanford will present “The Nature (and Nurture) of the Human Immune System,” Cheng Zhu of Emory and Georgia Tech will present, “Mechanical Regulation of T-Cell Biology,” and Dennis Burton of The Scripps Institute will talk about HIV vaccine design. In other words, the 23rd edition of the symposium (it actually precedes the existence of the Petit Institute) is a fitting tribute to its namesake, F.L. “Bud” Suddath.
“Bud would be in awe,” says Lee Suddath, whose late husband was one of the pioneers of biochemistry research and study at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “I think he would be pleased. My children and I are astonished that this continues year after year, that it remains such a popular event where great science is discussed.”
After Suddath died suddenly in 1992, a couple of things happened to keep his memory alive. For one thing, his family, friends and colleagues established the Suddath Memorial Award, given annually to a doctoral student at Georgia Tech who demonstrates significant research achievement in biology, biochemistry or biomedical engineering. Around the same time, Suddath’s fellow biochemist, Loren Williams, started the symposium.
Each year at this time both programs merge together at the Petit Institute. The 2015 edition opened Monday with a presentation from this year’s Suddath Memorial Award winner, Havva Keskin, who was first author on a recently published paper, “Transcript-RNA-templated DNA recombination and repair,” in Nature. She kicked off the two-day celebration of science with a presentation of that research.
“The quality of the science recognized by the Suddath Memorial Award is always high quality. It’s almost like, if you don’t have a paper in Nature, you don’t get the Suddath Award,” says Williams, who notes that the first Suddath Memorial Award winner, Mary Peek, now works in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Georgia Tech (she’s the Biochemistry Laboratory Program Coordinator).
The science changes every year, but it’s always solid, it’s always cutting edge. Twenty-three years ago, Loren Williams couldn’t have imagined that the event he organized for a fallen friend would still be going. It wasn’t part of the plan.
“Back then, we thought it would be a one-off event,” says Williams, who credits former and founding Petit Institute Executive Director Bob Nerem with keeping the event alive as an annual thing. “Bob said, ‘let’s just keep this going.’ We did, and now it has a life of its own.”
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