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China conversations: building international collaborations

Calum, Ryan & Laura with their Chinese counterparts at the Key National Laboratory of Medical Immunology

As part of our strategy to work with international partners to promote excellence in immunology research, the BSI has been developing links with the Chinese Society for Immunology (CSI), examining areas we can collaborate on to reach common goals. As part of this, three BSI Early Career Members, Calum Bain, Laura Pallett and Ryan Thwaites, recently attended the CSI’s Annual Congress. Here, they report on their experiences.

On 7–10 November 2018, the Chinese Society for Immunology (CSI) invited three BSI Early Career Researchers (ECR) to their annual Congress in Shanghai. The CSI boasts in excess of 10,000 members, making it one of the largest national societies for immunologists, with ambitious plans for continued expansion. International collaboration and early career support are just two of the focal themes of the BSI, as stated by CEO, Doug Brown, “[Our aim] is broadly two-fold; firstly, to maintain and enhance connections with the CSI’s ever-growing membership to foster future partnerships; and, secondly, to provide BSI ECRs the opportunity to build personal scientific networks while broadening research perspectives with respect to Chinese research.”

This year commemorated the 30th anniversary of the foundation of the CSI. This special occasion was marked in suitable style in the Shanghai International Convention Centre, on the banks of the Huangpu river among the bright lights of the Pudong New district, Shanghai. The conference attracted over 2,300 attendees, with plenary sessions held in the cavernous central banqueting hall.

The conference began with 1,000 attendees, including the presidents of the British, German, American, Japanese and Australian societies for immunology, treated to a spectacular opening ceremony and banquet. Individual groups within the CSI provided entertainment in the form of music, dancing, poems and short plays – many with an immunological theme!

A number of the plenary sessions focused on two central pillars of Chinese immunological research: innate immunity and tumour immunology. Talks, including data on the biology and signalling of checkpoint inhibitors, were particularly well received, capturing the post-Nobel enthusiasm for this topic. The president of the CSI, Professor Xuetao Cao, presented recent data on the signalling of the IFNγ receptor (IFNγR) in macrophages, where E-selectin signalling drove translocation of IFNγR to the plasma membrane from the Golgi, enhancing IFNγ sensitivity, a real tour de force of macrophage signalling.

A session at the Chinese Society of Immunology Annual Congress

Having seen the results of the Cao group, we were invited to tour their laboratory at the Key National Laboratory of Medical Immunology (Second Military Medical University), 30 minutes from central Shanghai. BSI members would be familiar with much of their lab – flow cytometers, confocal microscopes and tissue culture rooms – though the surrounding military school may be less familiar. Having discussed ongoing projects in a variety of viral infection and innate immunity models, we were invited to another banquet in the nearby hotel – more commonly frequented by visiting Chinese military personnel than early career immunologists. This gave us an opportunity to discuss the relative benefits of the British and Chinese methods of funding and performing immunological research, and the career opportunities available to young immunologists in our countries. Though many differences were apparent, a common passion, commitment and enthusiasm emerged. The most notable difference was the working hours of ECRs, with our Chinese counterparts putting in a 7-day, 91-hour working week!

We were each given the opportunity to present our work on tissue-residency in the human liver (Laura Pallett), Respiratory Syncytial Virus (Ryan Thwaites) and macrophage biology (Calum Bain) in the ‘International Young Immunologists’ session – one of few sessions conducted in English – alongside ECRs from the American, Australian and German Societies for Immunology. This gave us further opportunity to network with members from these societies and explore shared interests, as well as the wider audience.

We did of course also get some opportunity to explore the city and the local culture – including a spectacular river cruise and local delicacies, such as chicken claws and boiled pigeon soup – and only one upset stomach!

Upon returning to the UK, we reflected on the trip, and the relative opportunities available to BSI and CSI ECRs. Our freedom, and support, to develop independent ideas and research proposals was perhaps the greatest single difference we observed. In addition, the ability to gain independent feedback by presenting at conferences and through discussion with international collaborators appeared more restricted for our Chinese counterparts. As the BSI recently celebrated its 60th anniversary, we hope to contribute to the continued growth and development of our relatively younger counterpart society.

We are enormously grateful to our wonderful hosts and the British and Chinese Societies for Immunology for sponsoring the trip. We look forward to welcoming ECR delegates from China on their visit to our BSI Congress in December 2019 in Liverpool.

Laura Pallett, University College London; Twitter: @ljpally19
Ryan Thwaites, Imperial College London; Twitter: @InThwaiteImmune
Calum Bain, University of Edinburgh; Twitter: @bainlab