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Society for neuroscience 2009: a panoply of potential cures for neurodegenerative diseases


Logo obtained from the Society for Neuroscience
website (

     Every year, about 30,000-40,000 neuroscientists from all over the world come to the United States to showcase their work-in-progress in the field of neuroscience. The annual conference usually alternates at various locations in the United States which include New Orleans, Chicago, Washington D.C. and San Diego. The Society for Neuroscience (SFN) is one of the most important scientific mega-conferences which is paralleled in size, budget costs and relevance by the annual FASEB Experimental biology conference. The FASEB Experimental Biology conference usually attracts a wider audience from multiple scientific fields including the health sciences, biochemistry, nutrition, pathology, and computer science.

    Indeed, one may think that a whole bunch of "neuro-geeks"  gather once a year to talk about science, interchange ideas with each other, attend social gatherings, blog about the latest preliminary piece of interesting data, talk to vendors from pharmaceutical companies or catch a glance of the latest scientific posters. However, this year’s SFN conference (October 17-21) in Chicago, Illinois, is more than just showcasing research or  increasing public awareness on the importance of neuroscience research, but it is about fostering research collaborations and finding cures for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons’ and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and finding ways to hasten the transition from basic research to the clinical phase.   

     For those college and high-school students that are interested in attending this great opportunity, registration is available for a reduced fee and upto two guests per presenter are allowed to attend the conference.

Why should Pittsburgh care about this conference?

   It is a grim fact that there are currently about 10,000-12,000 people in Western Pennsylvania that are affected with Parkinson’s disease (PD). In addition , there are over 210,000 Alzheimer’s disease (AD) patients in Pennsylvania (as published by the Alzheimer's association for 2007). Of course, there are many more people in Western Pennsylvania that are afflicted with other neurodegenerative diseases such as supranuclear cerebral palsies, multiple sclerosis, ataxias, frontotemporal degeneration and AIDS associated dementia. Most of these diseases are age-related and one has to wonder whether the current healthcare system is ready to treat and care for an ever increasing aging population.

   On the other hand, one cannot overlook the fact that there has been significant progress over the past decade with regards to finding potential cures to these devastating neurodegenerative diseases. However, a lot of those efforts have been hampered in the previous years due to a lack of sufficient NIH funding.  Addressing this grave concern, the new director of NIH, Dr. Francis Collins, will speak at the SFN conference to highlight the importance of how to aid the transition from promising basic research to clinical the clinical phase in order to test promising drugs and treatments for many of these neurological diseases.  It is beyond the scope of this article to talk about what is going to take place in this conference. However, the main key events and most interesting research abstracts are highlighted below:

SFN2009 agenda at a glance

     This year’s preliminary agenda includes a panel of excellent keynote speakers, guest speakers, special career development workshops geared towards training graduate, K12 teachers and postdoctoral research associates. In addition, satellite events will take place a week before the kick-off of the conference and these workshops will  focus in training scientists with the latest cutting-edge imaging and cell culture techniques.

Here is a glance of what will take place in this conference:

1. Featured Lectures:
   The complete program can be found here. There will be a panel of excellent neuroscientists who are juggernauts in their specialty. Interestingly, there will be a group of magicians (James Randi, Apollo Robbins, and Eric Mead) who will show magic tricks to the audience in order to highlight the importance of perception, memory and attention and  how all these processes interplay to create the perception of art, illusion and magic.

    Other great speakers such as Dr. Elizabeth Spelke who will present her work on how the mind understands abstract knowledge; including the biochemical process by which a human being performs arithmetic and geometric calculations and how children learn visually. Other keynote speakers such as Dr. Richard Morris from the University of Edinburgh, UK will talk about the biological and neurochemical processes underlying memory consolidation and recall.

2. Special lectures:

    A series of special lectures and minisymposia presentations will take place which will focus on a series of topics ranging from a) “neuronal excitability, synapses and glia”, b)  “disorders of the nervous system” , c) "sensory and motor systems" and "cognitive behavior".
     Within this mix of talented people, scientists such as Dr. Thomas Sudof from the University of Standford, CA will speak on the progress in understanding autism and autism spectrum disorders.

   Other guest speakers include Dr. Elizabeth Phelps from University of New York who will showcase her work on how different animal models of fear help us understand how human beings develop and respond to fear in different social contexts.  More non-conventional and off-tangent presentations include a seminar that will be given by Arthur P. Arnold who will speak on the “Biological Origins of Sex Differences in Brain Function and Disease” .

3. Scientific Posters and Minisymposia presentations

    Yes, this is the "cream" and highlight of the agenda of SFN2009 in which approximately 1,000 different scientific posters are shown every days for the duration of the conference. Many neuroscientists fill their busy schedules in order to network with other scientists at poster presentations, foster collaborations and take note of the latest preliminary data.

   Of course, there are hundreds of scientific poster abstracts which makes it impossible to list all the topics that will be covered during the conferencee.  There are many neuroscientists from the University of Pittsburgh who will be showcasing their work during this five- day conference.

   Since the titles or information of the abstracts cannot be published prior to the conference, only a brief overview of topics will be listed below.   It is important to point out that some of the authors claimed to have unpublished work-in-progress that may eventually lead to potential treatments and cures for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease patients. I will provide summary of only the most relevant publihed work following the conclusion of the conference.

   Here is a brief list of some of the topics that show great promises for finding cures and alternate treatments for neurodegenerative diseases:

1. Protective effects of curcuminoids, compounds found in curry, in reversing symptoms and neuronal cell death in different models of Parkinson's disease . These abstracts show confirmatory data on the protective effects of turmeric and how these compounds can be used for the pharmacological treatment of PD. The protective effects of curcuminoids was highlighted in a previous Examiner related article.

2. How viral mediated gene therapy at the experimental stage can be used to knock-down the expression of alpha-synuclein and other proteins that are found aggregated in Parkinson's disease. In addition, the authors of some of the abstracts provide strategies on how this technique can be refined and translated to the clinical phase to treat PD patients with the hope of reversing neurodegeneration caused by alpha-synuclein.

3. The discovery of many different drugs and agents that bind to certain receptors in the brain which promote neuroprotection against different Parkinsonian toxins and how it reverses symptoms of disease in mouse models of PD.

4. More findings and discoveries showing protective effects of caffeine in preventing the onset of AD and the biochemical mechanism of how this phenomenon works.

5. Novel compounds and nuclear receptor ligands that show neuroprotection and that may be used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis and in AD.

6. The discovery of additional genes and gene variants in addition to ApoE4 that are associated with a higher risk of developing AD in certain patient populations.  

7. Strategies and the discovery of compounds that convincingly lower brain inflammation in neurodegenerative disorders associated with inflammation such as AIDS associated dementia and multiple sclerosis.

   Concluding remarks-

   As a Medical Technology Examiner, it is my duty to summarize the most relevant events of the conference, provide you with an update on the latest medical breakthroughs in clinical research, interviews with scientists and recaps of the most interesting findings in basic research. Following the conference, my later Examiner articles will provide a detailed summary of promising scientific data that has been published and  that demonstrates potential cures and alternate treatments for many of these devastating neurodegenerative diseases. 

For more info:   Click on the following links to obtain more information.

Society for Neuroscience:

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  • Tita 5 years ago

    This is a great oppotunity for students interested in science, I went to one of those condferences and I learned a lot. It gives you the chance to make connections with people that you might work with in the future. thanks for the info, Ruben!