Lisbon, Portugal — For the calpain research community, The Biology of Calpains in Health and Disease Conference sponsored by FASEB is one of the most anticipated events hosted once every three years. This year, researchers from over ten countries gathered in Lisbon, Portugal to share presentations and posters. The week-long conference fostered interdisciplinary collaboration among researchers studying calpains in diverse fields, including ophthalmology, neurodegeneration, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, musculoskeletal disorders, proteomics, and drug development.
Vinit Mahajan M.D., Ph.D., Stanford professor and vice chair of ophthalmology research, co-organized the conference alongside Michel Baudry, Ph.D. In addition to the scientific presentations, there were multiple mentorship sessions to connect junior scientists with scientific experts and to usher in the next generation of calpain researchers.
“Researchers around the world have made remarkable advances in the calpain field, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. This community’s perseverance and dedication are reflected in the ongoing discoveries of calpain molecular mechanisms and therapeutic strategies,” Mahajan said.
Mahajan lectured on calpains in eye disease, highlighting how the different calpain proteases are involved in retinal degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and eye development.
Jennifer Vu, the lead author of the lab’s recently published calpain review article and the most junior attendee at the conference, gave a presentation on a calpain mouse model with thyroid inflammation and obesity. She described novel experiments and data about the systemic expression of a pathogenic mutation in CAPN5, the gene discovered by the Mahajan Lab that causes the blinding eye disease NIV.
Vu said, “I’m grateful for this opportunity to meet and learn from so many superstars in the calpain field. This conference cemented my commitment to pursue translational research as I start my M.D. training at UCLA this fall.”
Gabe Velez MD, PhD, a Stanford ophthalmology resident, presented a talk titled, “Proteomics guided inhibitor design for CAPN5.” He explained how the unique combination of methods in structural biology, proteomics, and biochemistry is driving how researchers design peptidomimetic therapeutics .
It was a time to reconnect in-person with colleagues. Antione DuFour Ph.D., assistant professor at Calgary University, received the Junior Faculty Award. Dr. DuFour is an expert in proteomics and has been working with Mahajan lab members to analyze eye disease biomarkers.
Mahajan said, “Tony has been a great collaborator and has been teaching proteomic methods to Jen over zoom. Finally meeting in person and spending time together has allowed us to solve technical issues and develop some very creative experiments for the future. I was thrilled to hand him the highly competitive junior faculty award in Calpain research.”
In between conference sessions, members of the Mahajan Lab explored the beautiful sights of Lisbon, including Saint George’s Castle, Jerónimos Monastery, and the National Museum of Stagecoaches, and indulged in many delicious pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts).