A Perfect Pairing: Wine, Cheese, and Science

A Brief Report by Tom Bebee, Ph.D., Co-President of the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council (BPC), University of Pennsylvania

Six speakers at Penn's

Six speakers at Penn’s “Wine, Cheese & Science” event squared off in talks designed to ignite curiosity and conversation about science.

Have you ever wanted to know why some people get to enjoy ice cream while others are lactose intolerant, or why pills for different treatments also come in different colors? These and many other questions were answered by Penn and Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP) postdocs at the inaugural “Wine, Cheese, and Science” event. The Biomedical Postdoctoral Council (BPC) at the University of Pennsylvania hosted this event to provide an opportunity for postdocs to translate high impact scientific research in an engaging and accessible way for the general public. These TED-style talks are the first in a series of programs to address the growing need for communicating science to the public, and in turn informing the public of the impact of academic research on society.

Six postdocs (listed below) squared off to compete for the coveted “best speaker” title, covering topics ranging from basic biomedical research to translational medicine, and how these areas of research inform human health and disease. While the topics varied, several unifying themes emerged. One such theme was the need to better understand the “unknown” functions of non-coding DNA, and how these regions of the DNA can often shed insight into human development and rare diseases. Perhaps lending some insight into our own busy and stressful lives as postdocs, the role of stress on our daily lives was likewise highlighted by several talks covering the impact of the placebo effect, sleep and circadian cycles, and immune response.

Amanda Zacharias, Ph.D., “Non-Coding DNA: The Dark Matter of the Genome”

Jan Pawlicki, Ph.D., “The Power of Placebo: Can the Mind Heal the Body?”

Sarah Park, Ph.D., “Giving Rare Disease Patients Hope for a Cure”

Kathryn Driesbaugh, Ph.D., “How a Lawsuit Against a Pharma Company Led to New Insights into the Biology of Mitral Valve Prolapse”

Sarah McLoughlin, Ph.D., “Timing is Everything”

Liisa Hantsoo, Ph.D., “The Science of Stress”

As part of the speakers’ preparation, coaching was provided by experienced public speakers Dr. Amita Sehgal, John Herr Musser Professor of Neuroscience, and Helen Radenkovic, Director of Development for Companion Animals at Penn Veterinary Medicine . The coaches introduced the speakers to the skills and styles of presenting complex science in an accessible and engaging way to the general public. This approach is dramatically different than traditional science presentations, which is the focus of academic scientific communication. After the event, the presenters each expressed gratitude for the opportunity to reach a different audience with their science, and in turn it was clear by the audience’s response that the excitement and energy that each presenter brought to their talk was infectious. This was even more evident after the talks were over as the topics were on everyone’s tongue, in addition to the wine and cheese organized by the BPC Diversity committee and generously provided by Charles River Laboratories.

The winning talk, by Liisa Hantsoo, Ph.D. of Psychiatry at Penn, told a story of how stress can impact human health. The human body’s response to stress is the release of the hormone cortisol, which alters the body’s physiology, including immune function. This physiologic stress response is very important when we need to outrun a predator in a “fight or flight” response, but now stress encompasses our daily lives. Stress from work, family, school, and even the morning commute are interpreted by our bodies the same way and can place us in a chronic state of stress. Dr. Hantsoo went on to relate how waves of stressful periods of time can impact a wide variety of processes including the ability to combat illnesses like the flu and cold sores, as well as wound repair. Dr. Hantsoo finished her talk by discussing how better understanding our body’s response to stress and other stimuli will impact how we are able to treat diseases.

Dr. Liisa Hantsoo presents research on stress and immune function. (Image Credit: Simone Temporal, Ph.D.)

Dr. Liisa Hantsoo presents research on stress and immune function. (Image Credit: Simone Temporal, Ph.D.)

If you missed out on this event, come out next year when we roll out another edition of this highly entertaining event, and stay tuned to the BPC for upcoming events highlighting scientific communication in the coming months.

More information regarding BPC sponsored programming can be found at:

BPC Website: http://www.med.upenn.edu/bpc/

Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UPENNBPC

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