Scientific Meeting 2021 – Interview with Jan Schwab

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Our Scientific Meeting is held every year in spring. This is where the Who’s Who of spinal cord research meets and exchanges ideas – this year via a virtual platform. We sat down with Prof. Dr. Dr. Jan Schwab, our Scientific Director, to discuss this year’s event.

Jan, three days of Scientific Meeting lie behind you. How was it?
I believe it was a fantastic, worthy Wings for Life Symposium. A virtual platform that meets the requirements of an international scientific meeting allowed researchers from all over the world to join. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, even enthusiastic in some cases. Many new insights prove that the effort was certainly justified.

How long had it been since you had seen or heard from each other? Did some of your colleagues suffer from “corona hair”? ;-)
The last Wings for Life Symposium took place in 2019, meaning that this time two meetings, for 2020 and 2021, were combined into one. I had no problem recognising all the people I spoke to in the chat. There were no major visual surprises. ;-)
What exactly happened during the three days?
The Scientific Meeting serves the purpose of a so-called “Investigator Meeting”. Researchers funded by Wings for Life report on the current progress of their projects. This includes completely new, unexpected, and unpublished results, which is what makes the meeting so compelling. The areas cover fundamental science, preclinical research, and early clinical testing.

The virtual research exchange hub
The virtual research exchange hub 

Are you happy with the new format? What worked and what didn’t?
Very happy indeed. The participation rate was exceptional. Moreover, the participants stayed – they didn’t log off. The event offered a great balance of pre-recorded videos and live-streamed presentations. This allowed the meeting to develop a momentum of its own.
In your personal opinion, which presentations and projects stood out in particular?
It is encouraging to see that a number of funded projects are now on the path to clinical testing. These range from innovative surgical interventions during the acute phase – i.e. shortly after a spinal cord injury – to the early testing of so-called plasticity agonists. The latter are biological molecules that should have the capacity to improve new growth of nerve fibres.

Which research field is currently the most dynamic?
Neuromodulation and the development of new biological molecules certainly deserve credit in this respect. The former enables us to activate dormant nerve fibre connections via electrical stimulation. The latter entails the use of molecules to promote the regrowth of nerve fibres at the location of the injury scar. We already fund three concrete approaches in this context.
Why is the Scientific Meeting so important for its participants?
It facilitates direct exchange, criticism, networking, and cooperation. All these aspects improve a scientific project, which is valuable and important for everyone involved. This also includes Wings for Life, because the investment in these carefully selected projects is further enhanced and thus more effective – especially for patients who are hoping for specific treatments.
Which three words would you choose to describe this year’s Scientific Meeting?
Inspiring, focused, and encouraging.
The Scientific Meeting 2021 in facts and figures
The Scientific Meeting 2021 in facts and figures