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BSI virtual Winter School 2020

An important part of the British Society for Immunology’s mission is to support future generations of immunologists. We do this through numerous initiatives, including our Winter School event, which we adapted to a virtual setting in 2020. This one-day online event gave immunology students at a Master’s degree level the opportunity to hear from top immunologists. Here, our Education & Careers Officer, Eolan Healy, talks about how the highlights of the day, featuring scientific talks on a range of topics, a careers panel and a wellbeing session.

On 3 December 2020, the British Society for Immunology hosted an online Winter School geared towards those studying immunology at Master’s degree level or those with equivalent industry or clinical sector experience. It was also suitable for PhD students and postdocs wishing to update and revise their immunology knowledge. The event gave attendees the opportunity to hear from some of the leading immunology researchers.

The programme for the day

The event was split into morning and afternoon sessions. The former was chaired by Dr Sue Outram from Middlesex University and the latter by BSI Education & Careers Secretary, Dr Donald Palmer from the Royal Veterinary College. The scientific talks were spread out over a wide variety of immunology topics, with a particular focus on the latest COVID-19 research. Each 30-minute talk began with an overview of each topic and moved onto details of the speakers’ research before ending with questions from the attendees. The speakers represented a range of UK institutions and were all leading researchers in their respective areas of immunology.

In addition to the six scientific talks, the programme was supplemented by a session on wellbeing and self-care, which focused on some of the methods students could use to maintain their wellbeing and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. We also hosted a careers panel showcasing professionals from different areas of science highlighting some of the routes that immunology graduates can take – the academic route, the clinical route, the industry route and the route into science communications.

I really liked the talks and the time each presenter took to answer questions. The chair was great too, with positive energy. I enjoy learning a new thing every day and today I learnt several things both in science and how I should try to balance my life. A day well spent.

I really enjoyed the course and found the talks engaging and informative, I feel very fortunate to have attended this meeting and it was a very good use of my time and I learnt so much. Thanks so much for arranging. 


Talk summaries

COVID-19 and complement. A toxic combination

Professor Paul Morgan from Cardiff University introduced us to the ideas underpinning the complement system and the importance it plays in the immune system. He also detailed some of the latest research than both he, his team and others have undertaken with regard to the complex relationship between an infection such as COVID-19 and complement, and how a combination of the two can be a danger to human health.

How parasites regulate the immune system

This talk was introduced by Professor Rick Maizels from the University of Glasgow. Rick focused on how parasites such as H. polygyrus can inhibit immune cell responses and how infection with this parasite can suppress airway allergies, colitis, inflammatory disease and other pathologies.

Introduction to immunometabolism

In the third session Dr Sarah Dimeloe from the University of Birmingham introduced us to immunometabolism. Sarah focused mainly on T-cells and how activated T-cells change their metabolism via aerobic glycolysis, altered mitochondrial function and altered amino acid metabolism.

Strategies for vaccine development

The next talk was given by Dr Alex Spencer from the University of Oxford. Alex gave an overview of infectious diseases and the development of the first vaccines historically. She then went on to discuss the methodologies of vaccine-induced immunity and how to measure antibody responses. She concluded with discussing the ground-breaking research undertaken at the University of Oxford to develop their vaccine against COVID-19.

Inflammageing: Who started the fire?

BSI President, Professor Arne Akbar, from University College London, talked about the topic of inflammation and ageing and how this interaction can be mitigated with treatments and therapeutics. He went on to describe how tissue microenvironments change, T-cell functionality changes and how inflammageing develops.

Controlling inflammation in the lung and its dysregulation in COVID-19

In the final session, Professor Tracey Hussell from the University of Manchester introduced us to the topic of lung inflammation and how it is dysregulated during COVID-19. Tracey discussed the innate immune rheostat and presented the CIRCO study of immune profiling of COVID-19 patients from hospitals across Greater Manchester and the resultant clinical implications.

Wellbeing and self-care

In this session mentoring and coaching expert, Alexis Hutson, highlighted both the common issues people face during lockdown and remote working/learning environments and some ways to mitigate these problems.

Careers panel

This panel discussion was hosted by Dr Donald Palmer and included panellists that covered a variety of career routes. The panellists were Dr Alison Whitelegg (clinical), Alik Vodyanov (industry), Dr Faith Uwadiae (academic) and Gabriela de Sousa (science communication). They spoke about their own personal journeys into their respective fields and took questions from attendees.

For further information on the virtual Winter School or on any BSI education and career related event, please do not hesitate to contact me at

Eolan Healy
BSI Education & Careers Officer