Friday, 16 May 2014

First Aberdeen Myology Meeting, 25.4.2014

On the 25th of April, 2014 we organised the First Aberdeen Myology Meeting with support from the MRC grant that is shared between Pete Zammit, Cosimo De Bari and Henning Wackerahge. For the meeting the speakers were:

Prof. Pete Zammit, King's College London
Prof. Mike Rennie, University of Nottingham
Prof. Steve Harridge, King's College London
Dr. Henning Wackerhage, University of Aberdeen

In order to make it suitable for a wider audience we asked the speaker to give the first half of the talk in a way which is suitable for the general public followed by a second half which is specific to their research. 

Pete Zammit started the afternoon with a basic introduction to skeletal muscle and genetic disorders which worked very well as it reminded the muscle researchers of some basic facts (human muscle fibres can be up to 20 cm long and probably have tens of thousands of nuclei) and at the same time introduced the non-muscle researchers and general public to the topic. 

He then went on to talk about his work on his teams work on laminopathies. These are genetic diseases involving mutations in genes that encode proteins which are in the nuclear lamina and in some cases cause muscular dystrophy. He also presented data on exon skipping, a promising treatment to turn dysfunctional genes into genes that result in a moderately affected protein and thereby result in treatment. This is promising research as exon skipping has been tried with success in patients with muscular dystrophy. 

Figure 1. Prof. Pete Zammit during his talk. 

Mike Rennie gave a talk introducing sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass during normal ageing, and the concept of 'anabolic resistance' which refers to the observation that older human muscles respond with less protein synthesis to anabolic stimuli such as amino acids than young muscle. Mike has led human muscle protein synthesis in the field and thus it was an excellent review of the work which spanned several decades. Towards the end he has presented a reinterpretation of his data which he is currently presenting at various meetings.

Steve Harridge started by introducing Masters athletes and his studies on Masters athletes as a model for ageing. The world records of Masters athletes show that at least some individuals can maintain a very high level or aerobic capacity and strength into old age. He then presented work by Chibeza Agley who was an oustanding with Steve and who is now a Postdoc in Cambridge:
Bezza, as he is known, optimised the methods for isolating myoblasts and fibroblasts from human muscle biopsies and then differentiated these cells. This research showed that fibroblasts but not myoblasts can differentiate into fat cells:

 Figure 2. Prof. Steve Harridge during his talk

At the end I introduced our research on the Hippo pathway in rhabdomyosarcoma which just got accepted by Cancer Cell. This work was led by Fernando Camargo and Annie Tremblay at Harvard who did the mouse models whilst we worked on human cancer cells and stained human tissues. Edoardo Missiaglia, Pete Zammit and Janet Shipleys were other collaborators on this large scale project. 

In the first part I was introducing the hallmarks of cancer (sustained proliferation etc) and how mutations in cancer cells or the germline drive these hallmarks. In the second part I presented the data showing that started with the discovery that the Hippo protein Yap can drive the proliferation of satellite cells. We then asked the question whether persistent Yap hyperactivity would lead to cancer and found that it did but only in activated but not quiescent satellite cells. These cancers in mice mimicked human embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma (ERMS), which is the most common form of this cancer. When Yap is reduced in human ERMS cells then these cells differentiate into normal, differentiated muscle tissue. We also studied the molecular mechanisms by which Yap alone can drive this cancer and many other aspects. This will be covered in another blog entry. 
Figure 3. Dr. Henning Wackerhage during his talk on Cancer and Muscle. 

So overall it was good to see many colleagues, students and researchers attending the myology day. I think the combination of an introductory part and an actual research part worked well, giving non-muscle research participants the chance to learn.

Last but not least the acknowledgements. Thanks to all the speakers for travelling to Aberdeen! Thanks to Rosa, Claire, Vanessa, Roby, Abdalla and Raphael for organising the day which involved advertisment, communication, catering, transport, accommodation and so on. You have done a fantastic job!