The Life Sciences Institute hosted its 14th annual symposium, titled “Defense Mechanisms in Life: From Bacteria to the Human Body,” at Palmer Commons on Thursday.
The LSI houses interdisciplinary biomedical research at the University, and its faculty members hold academic appointments in various departments and colleges. The departments and schools include Chemistry, Cell and Developmental Biology; Physiology; Human Genetics; Bioinformatics; Hematology and Oncology; Medicinal Chemistry; the Medical School; College of Pharmacy; and College of Literature, Science and the Arts.
The symposiums aim to gather top scientists from diverse variety of fields to meet and share their work around a common theme, which changes every year.
The featured speakers for this year’s symposium came from a variety of fields, but their presentations all centered around the immune system — more specifically, how an organism fights off and/or responds to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens and toxins, and returns to a normal state.
During his presentation, Ruslan Medzhitov, David W. Wallace professor of immunobiology at Yale Medical School, was one of the speakers whose talk focused on inflammation. Inflammation is a biological response to harmful stimuli.
Medzhitov said that disrupting biological homeostasis, a state in which the conditions are stable due to an internal regulation, is a cause of inflammation, which restores homeostasis. Homeostasis in the human body is indicated by factors such as constant body temperature and blood sugar levels.
“Homeostasis normally will maintain all the essential parameters in the system,” Medzhitov said. “But in the case homeostasis is (disrupted) — for example, infection and injury — that’s when inflammatory response is induced to enforce restoration of homeostasis.”
Medzhitov added that homeostasis works like a controlled circuit, in which a variable is maintained at a desired range of levels. When the variable’s value goes out of the desired range, different responses can take place depending on how badly the homeostasis was disrupted. In order of increasing degree of homeostasis disruption, Medzhitov listed stress response, para-inflammation and, finally, inflammation.
Monday’s symposium will also be the last symposium to occur under the leadership of Alan Saltiel, who is the director of the institute. Saltiel, the Mary Sue Coleman Director of the LSI, thanked former University President Mary Sue Coleman for her efforts in establishing the organization.
“She presided in the initiation and the birth of the institute,” Saltiel said. “She was involved in most of our big decisions, playing an important role in our ability to execute our key plans, especially the establishment of our centers, investments in big technologies and especially the recruitment of our faculty.”
Saltiel said though establishing the LSI in 2002 was not an easy task, the hard work of her and her fellow faculty members within the institute was worthwhile.
“There were naysayers, and there were outright opponents to the Institute, lots of pressure, and, honestly, a few believers,” Saltiel said. “But I’m really proud to say that we persevered, protected our values and protected our high standards.”