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Conference on European Research on Ageing: "Ageing research in immunology: The impact of genomics"

Final Report Summary - ARIG (Conference on European Research on Ageing: "Ageing research in immunology: The impact of genomics")

Recent technological advances in genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics have yielded new insights into the molecular mechanisms that underlie immune cell signalling and function, and opened up new avenues for biological investigation. Although interesting results have emerged by the application of genomics / proteomics in basic studies performed in various models of ageing, these new technologies have only recently been introduced in studies on the ageing immune system. The goal of the two day conference on European research on ageing: 'Ageing research in immunology: the impact of genomics' (ARIG) was therefore to assess the present standing of European research in this field, by providing a forum for scientific exchange among the most outstanding European scientists working in immunogerontology, representatives of key stakeholders of industry, including SMEs, and field leaders from the United States (funded by the NIH), where a large number of projects on genomics and the ageing immune system have recently been funded and are in progress. The conference took place in Paris on 4-5 September 2006, right before the 16th European Congress of Immunology (ECI). This not only reduced travel expenses, but also stimulated leading European mainstream immunologists not yet in touch with ageing research to participate and enlarge their research interests, particularly as many national immunological societies used this forum for their annual meetings for the first time. The ARIG conference provided an excellent basis for constructive discussions on recent achievements in research on the ageing immune system, advantages and limits of the usage of genomics / proteomics, as well as methodological developments and clinical application in this field. The endeavour thus substantially contributed to a more integrated and better coordinated European research structure in immunogerontology which at the same time greatly profited from new technical input by industry as well as from intensified cooperation programmes with leading United States (US) researchers in the field.

As implied by the nature of a scientific symposium, the outcomes are both far reaching and to some extent intangible. The objectives which were defined in advance were however successfully achieved, as described below. The first objective of the conference was to summarise recent progress in research on the immunology of ageing, addressing the most important research areas such as adaptive, innate and clinically applied immunology. This was achieved by the organisation of 35 talks, held by renowned researchers and scientists in the field, thematically divided into 7 sessions over a period of 2 days. These talks made it possible for researchers and interested scientists inside and outside the field of immunogerontology to be brought up to date on the most recent findings. This was also a great opportunity to specifically target the interest of young researchers in hopes of recruiting them into this research field. Industry representatives were another key audience present at the symposium. Additional emphasis throughout the talks was given to presentations on work so far performed with the help of genomics / proteomics. The questionnaire analysis revealed that 86 % of the ARIG participants ranked the quality of the summary of the recent progress in research on the immunology of aging as 'excellent' or 'good'.

The second objective was to trigger a critical discussion on the advantages, limits and potential problems of the application of genomics / proteomics in the research on the ageing immune system. In order to achieve this objective, ample time was provided at the end of each talk as well as during the breaks, which allowed the participants to interact and engage in critical discussion concerning this topic. Again, 67 % of the attendees ranked the possibilities to discuss these issues as 'excellent' or 'good'. Among the four specific strategies to be designed as a third objective of the project was the optimisation of networking and collaborations in the immunogerontology field within Europe. Due to the relatively compact size of the symposium, participants were able to interact efficiently and establish cooperation networks between their respective research institutions, as well as strengthen existing collaborations. The second significant strategy aimed at organising continuous interchange between European and US scientists, which was considerably facilitated by the attendance of a large number of US participants to the meeting. 81 % of the participants believed the ARIG symposium was an 'excellent' or 'good' step to optimise networking, collaborations and interchange in this field of research between European and US scientists. Thirdly, clinicians and industry representatives in particular reflected on how to use and to take advantage of new techniques such as genomics / proteomics for a quick transfer of basic research data into clinical application. Lastly, discussions during the meeting also focussed on how to disseminate scientific and technical know-how in this specific field. It was stipulated that a solution involving the publication of certain results, as well as the composition of reports aimed at health care providers and industry, will be pursued. The possibility of future meetings along the same lines was also considered, since this would significantly contribute to the maintenance of existing cooperation and simultaneously serve as a platform for securing further dissemination of important research results among key players in the field.

The conference also served as a good forum for the founding of an international society for immunogerontology. A society will be able to organise regular meetings that will allow rapid growth of the research community working on the topic of the ageing immune system and support the quick and focused industrial exploitation of basic research results.

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