Due to the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus and the cancellation of conferences as a measure to contain the pandemic, a lively scientific exchange is currently only possible to a limited extent. This is why almost 100 PhD students, postdocs and even senior researchers seized the opportunity to sign up for „Ask the Stem Cell Expert“, a virtual discussion format set up by the Stem Cell Network NRW to enable scientists to exchange views with renowned stem cell experts on diverse subjects, e.g. the possible treatment of Parkinson's disease patients with stem cells. The four one-hour sessions with the experts Prof. Ivan Martin (University of Basel), Prof. Christine Mummery (Leiden University), Prof. Roger Barker (University of Cambridge) and Dr. Nicolas Rivron (IMBA Wien) were very well received. Each video conference was moderated by a chair and consisted of a short introduction of the respective expert through the chair, followed by a talk of the stem cell expert on his/her research area which then turned into an open discussion about the presented data or related topics as well as about career recommendations. The expert presentations covered the following topics “Re-engineering developmental processes for bone and cartilage regeneration” (Prof. Ivan Martin), “Advancing human stem cell-derived cardiovascular disease models” (Prof. Christine Mummery), “Taking a dopamine stem cell therapy to patients with Parkinson’s disease – lessons learnt” (Prof. Roger Barker) and “Synthetic development: from stem cells to embryos” (Dr. Nicolas Rivron).
In addition to biomedical questions, experts and participants also discussed ethical aspects of the presented topics. There was also room to talk about career-relevant issues. One of the experts for instance encouraged to do an excellent PhD and explained that switching areas is still possible after the doctorate.
“To me as a PhD student the Ask the Stem Cell Expert format offers an exclusive opportunity to gain insights into the research of renowned stem cell experts, exchange ideas and even discuss career-related aspects. Something worthwhile, especially in times like these.“ states one of the participants.
Due to the positive response, a resumption of the format in winter is being considered.