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In February, the Said Business School played host to the Radcliffe Department of Medicine’s (RDM) Annual Symposium. Scientists from across the RDM’s departments were able to meet and present their research via both poster and oral presentations. For the majority, this also provided them a rare opportunity to go ‘down the hill’ – from the internationally recognised John Radcliffe Hospital to the historic centre of Oxford. The variety of work presented throughout the day highlighted the breadth of research being undertaken by the 5 units, which make up the RDM, including the WIMM. Raffaella Facchini, a final year DPhil student at the WIMM, describes the highlights of the day: from ‘big’ to ‘small’ science and the mysterious concept of the ‘unknome’…

Professor Hugh Watkins, Head of the Radcliffe Department of Medicine, kicked off the day by emphasising the importance of collaborations and mentoring of early career scientists. He used the introduction to launch two schemes, the ‘Pump Priming Awards’ – to establish new collaborative projects across the department and also the ‘RDM Mentoring Scheme’ – to facilitate the personal and career development for both ‘mentees’ and mentors. All the DPhil students I have spoken to agree that this is a brilliant idea – as a final year student myself, any words of wisdom and career advice are greatly appreciated!

The presentations sessions were divided into three topics: Cardiovascular Medicine and Metabolism; Immunity; and Stem Cell Biology to cover the RDM’s major research themes. Four of the speakers were from the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit (MHU) and MRC Human Immunology Unit (HIU) within the WIMM. The talks demonstrated how basic research is being directly linked to translational medicine. This was especially evident in the talk given by Dr. Adam Mead, whose presentation focused on investigating internal tandem duplications (ITDs) of FLT3, a cytokine receptor, which often occurs in acute myeloid leukaemia to help patients who are currently at a high risk of relapse.

Eight of the posters presented had contributing authors from the WIMM, with the majority resulting from inter-RDM collaborations. Special mention to DPhil student Kinda-al-Hourani, in Hal Drakesmith’s lab, who won the student poster prize for her work on subset of cytokines called activins – demonstrating how they act as signals as part of the innate immune system.

The enlightening day was rounded off with the keynote lecture given by Professor Matthew Freeman, Professor of Pathology and Head of the Dunn School in Oxford. Professor Freeman’s talk touched upon the highly topical issue of ‘small science’ versus ‘big science’. He commented on the large-scale projects which have been recently dominating the headlines in the top scientific journals. Despite the interesting findings which these projects have uncovered, he went onto explain that these studies can lack the detail and understanding involved of ‘small science’, which focuses specifically on a given problem in a highly defined setting. To demonstrate how using both ‘small’ and ‘big’ science together may help reap greater scientific rewards, he used the example of studying the ‘Unknome’ – the 30-50% of genes in the genome which we currently know nothing about. Prof Freeman suggested how the ‘big science’ of genome sequencing could give us a huge amount of general information, but it will be up to ‘small science’ to work out exactly what these genes are and what they do. This talk certainly gave the audience much food for thought.

Overall, the day shone a light on the number of collaborations and the strength of publications coming out the department. With the new initiatives in place, this is set to continue and will no doubt only lead to more exciting and rewarding research. This can only be a good thing and will leave us better placed to tackle the ‘Unknome’.

Post edited by Bryony Graham.