Fighting Blindness recently offered Career Development Awards to early-stage researchers and clinicians for training, networking, and collaborations to support their career development. Two of our Career Development Award recipients were previously awarded funding to attend ARVO (Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology) 2022 in May. Our third awardee, Delphi MacWhite (PhD Student, UCD), was provided funding to attend and participate in the FENS (Federation of European Neuroscience Societies) Forum 2022.
The FENS is the main European organisation for neuroscience, promoting cutting edge neuroscience research and providing networking opportunities between international researchers in the field. The FENS Forum is a conference held biannually and the FENS Forum 2022 took place from July 9 – 13 in Paris, France. Welcoming over 8000 delegates, the FENS Forum 2022 was one of the first in-person international conferences held since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the largest FENS Forum to date!
This year’s programme celebrated all areas of neuroscience research from basic discovery to translational. There were a variety of plenary lectures and special interest lectures related to diverse topics, such as stem cell research, disorders of the nervous system, and clinical trials in vision restoration. A key focus of this year’s event was to help rebuild connections among the neuroscience research community and to promote scientific debate and collaboration. The array of workshops, symposia, and social events ensured plenty of opportunities for researchers to discuss their work and gain beneficial feedback from experts in their field.
Delphi MacWhite is a PhD student in UCD whose research focuses on retinal dystrophies. Delphi gave Fighting Blindness a brief overview of her work in a nutshell:
My research focuses on the use of stem cells to develop miniaturised models of the human retina (known as retinal organoids) and use them to study inherited retinal dystrophies (IRDs). Combining this model with a form of cutting-edge gene editing technology allows me to introduce changes in the DNA sequence of genes known to cause IRDs. This in turn allows me to study the development of the disease from a unique perspective and means that I can develop a deeper understanding of the changes which occur and eventually lead to blindness, as well as to identify potential therapeutic targets. This information can then be applied to the search for a potential cure, with retinal organoids being an ideal model for early drug screening trials.
Upon her return, Delphi shared her experience of the FENS Forum 2022 with Fighting Blindness and highlighted the abundant opportunities to network and engage with other researchers:
… there was a huge amount of opportunity to engage with researchers working in a similar area to my own. My research involves the use of organoid technology to model inherited retinal disease so I was very grateful to have been afforded the opportunity to interact with some of the leading experts in this field and to seek their advice on research that I am currently undertaking.
As well as showcasing the latest advances in neuroscience research, the FENS Forum 2022 also offered a large exhibition near the poster area to facilitate researcher engagement with various industry and commercial representatives. Delphi said:
… I found it highly beneficial to be able to interact with their technical representatives in-person, whether that was to seek advice about their existing products or to learn about new products that could potentially benefit my own research.
In summary, the FENS Forum 2022 delivered a rich programme covering a broad range of topics in neuroscience and sparking new ideas to support impactful research, with Delphi noting: “… attending this conference has been one of the biggest highlights of my PhD so far”. Once again, Fighting Blindness want to congratulate Delphi on her achievement in receiving this award and we look forward to hearing more about her interesting and important work during her PhD journey!