BioDynamics Workshop 2016

Report by Dr Wessel Woldman

Although the 2016 BioDynamics Workshop officially kicked off at the University of Exeter on 7 September with an excellent presentation on the devastating environmental impact of the rice fungus Magnaporthe oryzae by Professor Nick Talbot - one of the several Fellows of the Royal Society giving a keynote presentation - for many the workshop had started unofficially with a workshop the day before on transient dynamics and epilepsy. This one-day-workshop was supported in part by the EPSRC Centre for Predictive Modelling in Healthcare and brought together clinicians, mathematicians, engineers, physicists, biologists and computer scientists with an interest in understanding, analysing, modelling and predicting epileptiform activity. With such a multidisciplinary set of presenters and participants, this was a perfect reflection of what BioDynamics has been all about since its inauguration in 2013 in Bristol. It provides an interdisciplinary platform for scientists from a wide variety of backgrounds to learn about new developments in understanding complex systems rooted in biological, clinical and medical settings. And indeed, the work presented over the course of the workshop spanned across many different disciplines, subsequently describing many different methods, techniques and approaches (both experimental and computational) relevant to addressing the complex questions emerging from those biomedical contexts. 

In addition to fantastic keynote presentations, the workshop featured a mini symposium, a wide variety of selected contributed talks, and poster sessions. Specifically, there were talks focused on diabetes (Benoit Huard, Kyle Wedgwood), neuroendocrinology (Konstantinos Kalafatakis, Gareth Leng), phagocytosis (David Richards), and biophysical biomolecular modelling (Nadin Haase, Charlie Jeynes).

The keynotes were all absolutely fantastic and inspiring, and included professor Peter Hunter FRS (University of Auckland) speaking on the role of computational physiological models with respect to healthcare practice, professor Gareth Leng FRSE (University of Edinburgh) providing an overview of the interplay between experimental and computational work aimed at understanding how neuronal populations give rise to coherent functioning of the hypothalamus. Professor Angela McLean FRS (University of Oxford) gave a fascinating talk on the importance of HIV sequence data in the broader context of developing effective drugs and the conference finished with a final keynote from Prof. Philip Ingham FRS (Nanyang Technological University) on the dynamic and spatial aspects relevant to the embryonic development using the zebrafish as a model organism.

The mini symposium centered around epilepsy and was lead by Professor Mark Cook (University of Melbourne). It brought together concepts from physics and mathematics such as critical slowing (Christian Meisel), as well as applying model and computational techniques with tools from engineering and neurophysiology (Dean Freestone), and the identification of biomarkers characteristic of epileptic seizures (William Stacey). The symposium started after an excellent keynote from Dr. Greg Worrell (Mayo Clinic, Rochester, USA), who provided an extensive overview of the state-of-the-art techniques and tools of localising and predicting epileptic seizures.

There was a great turn out with over 80 people who had travelled from all over the world, including the States, New-Zealand, and Australia. With the audience consisting of everyone from PhD students all the way up to Professors, the conference enabled a highly interdisciplinary and stimulating environment which was perfectly suited for learning about recent developments as well as discovering the potential of future work and collaborations. I know for a fact that this was the case for myself, and so I can look back at a successful workshop.