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Neuroscience 2015 Preview: Convening on the Lake Michigan shore
45th Annual Meeting
McCormick Place Convention Center, Chicago
Oct. 17-21, 2015
CHICAGO—If you’re of a “mind” to be in Chicago and have the “nerve” to dig into varied and complex topics, you might want to consider attending the 45th Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), which will be held at the McCormick Place Convention Center from Saturday, Oct. 17, through Wednesday, Oct. 21. More than 30,000 neuroscience researchers, clinicians and advocates from around the world are expected to gather there and share the latest developments in brain research and to hear from leaders in the field. Neuroscience 2015 (as this annual meeting is also known) will feature more than 15,000 presentations—whether poster, podium or otherwise—on brain function, health and disease, covering topics such as traumatic brain injury, addiction, technology and aging, among others.
To help attendees focus on activities most germane to their specific interests, DDNews asked SfN President Dr. Steve Hyman for a rundown on this year’s events.
“SfN’s annual meeting is unmatched in its opportunities for sharing great science, learning from experts in the field, hearing about and discussing the increasing impact of neuroscience in society and exploring professional development opportunities,” Hyman observes. “Neuroscience 2015’s broad array of events—from poster sessions to symposium to lectures to workshops—serves to provide a comprehensive look at the field.”
“The sheer scope of the meeting is extraordinary and showcases the depth and breadth of the field,” Hyman adds. “The nearly 15,000 abstracts sharing new findings and the hundreds of presentations from renowned scientists from around the globe highlight that there is something of interest for everyone and anyone interested in neuroscience. I would encourage attendees to benefit from the special lectures as a way of staying connected with the breadth of our discipline. Of course, the scope of the meeting makes it challenging to navigate, so SfN provides a meeting app that makes it easier to find all of the programs and events going on throughout the conference. It is always worthwhile to plan your itinerary ahead of time and to consider using the curated itineraries that are provided by the SfN Program Committee. These have been expanded because they received very positive reviews last year.”
Neuroscience and society
Noting that neuroscience is increasingly a focus of the news because of its influence on society, DDNews asked how the meeting is addressing such interesting and important issues, to which Hyman responded: “Each year on Saturday the annual meeting has a feature called Dialogues Between Neuroscience and Society. This year we are fortunate to have U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the Southern District of New York presenting ‘Neuroscience and the Law: Strange Bedfellows.’ Advances in neuroscience have raised knotty problems for the development and application of legal principles, including considerations of personal responsibility. Judge Rakoff, a well-known jurist and a founding member of the MacArthur Foundation Project on Law and Neuroscience, will address these issues in his remarks and will invite questions from attendees. As implied in the title, the goal is a true dialogue.”
Hyman also tells us that the Empirical Approaches to Neuroscience and Society Symposium titled “Statistics and Computation for an Increasingly Quantitative Scientific Future” is of great interest to the neuroscience field and to other scientific disciplines, as the topic of scientific rigor has been increasingly in the public eye.
“Speakers will discuss best practices in experimental design, statistical rigor, impact on animal use, methodological descriptions, reagent validation and sharing, data sharing and the impact these have on funding and publishing practices,” he relates. “This symposium will also explore the role of inherent scientific biases and how these might be mitigated to achieve higher standards of reproducibility.”
Also notable, he says, is the Public Advocacy Forum at Neuroscience 2015, which will focus on the pressing topic of traumatic brain injury. Former NFL player Chris Borland, two-time Olympic Gold Medalist in soccer Cindy Parlow Cone and neuroscientists Dan Gould and Anne McKee will discuss such matters in “Sports-Related Brain Injuries and Their Ethical, Social and Neuroscience Considerations.”
Sports-related brain injuries have been thrust into the center of public attention and have become a major concern, Hyman acknowledges, saying that this event will examine how, or even if, society can reconcile its love of sports with the duty owed to those who risk being harmed by them.
Getting back to matters more immediately pressing to researchers, Hyman also points to the neuroethics lecture “Giving Voice to Consciousness: Neuroethics, Human Rights and the Indispensability of Neuroscience,” which will raise the important issues that come into play as neuroprosthetics are increasingly able to change outcomes in patients with disorders of consciousness. The potential of reintegrating these patients into their families and communities raises discussions of morality, human rights and the role of the neuroscience community, he says.
“The Social Issues Roundtable, ‘The Income Achievement Gap: Insights From Cognitive Neuroscience,’ will focus on the timely issue of disparities in educational achievement associated with household income,” Hyman adds. “This session will address how contemporary methods in cognitive neuroscience shed light on the role socioeconomic factors may play in neurocognitive development as well as the ethical implications of these emerging findings.”
“One of the best aspects of being SfN president is the opportunity to select four presidential lecturers,” Hyman continues. “My recent predecessors began an informal tradition of selecting these speakers based on broad unifying themes. Especially in light of the White House BRAIN initiative, I thought it timely to address the theme of neural circuits, albeit from very diverse perspectives: development and remodeling of circuits in health and disease, the relationship of circuits to behavior in an invertebrate model, circuits’ role in helping us to self-locate and navigate and alterations in circuits observed in autism and other neuropsychiatric disorders.”
The Featured Lectures also touch on the theme of circuits, he adds, “with a focus on subjects such as the biology of mammalian taste, understanding stressors and the brain’s responses to them, and synaptic function during periods of development, maturation and disease.”
“The Special Lectures are segmented into the major themes that cover the field and generally focus on the latest developments in those areas. Examples of topics included this year are the influence of dopamine on choice, uncovering the mysteries of the basal ganglia and the relationship between striatal strength and connectivity and Parkinson’s disease,” says Hyman.
In addition to some of the names already mentioned, this year’s special lecturers include Dr. Cori Bargmann, co-director of the Shelby White and Leon Levy Center for Mind, Brain and Behavior at The Rockefeller University; Dr. Thomas C. Südhof, professor of cellular and molecular physiology at Stanford University; Dr. Beth Stevens, assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School; and Dr. May-Britt Moser, co-director of the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience and Centre for Neural Computation and co-founder of the Centre for the Biology of Memory at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology—who also happens to be a co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
An iPSC-focused symposium of interest for drug discovery
CHICAGO—Society for Neuroscience (SfN) President Dr. Steve Hyman points out that attendees of the SfN annual meeting interested in drug discovery should take note of the symposium, “Human iPSC-Derived Cells for Modeling Neurodegenerative Disease and Drug Discovery,” which will focus on how human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are providing unprecedented access to neurons and glia to study neurodegenerative disorders.
This symposium will highlight research that demonstrates the broad utility of iPSC technology in developing better tools, models and biomarkers for innate, induced and infectious neurodegenerative disorders.
Also, iPS cells will be the subject of focus in a daylong course before the meeting begins, titled “Using iPS Cells and Reprogramming to Model Neural Development and Disease.”
Expert advice at Neuroscience 2015
CHICAGO—In SfN’s “Meet the Expert” series of events, being held again this year at the annual meeting, distinguished neuroscientists will describe their research techniques and accomplishments in a personal context that offers participants a behind-the-scenes look at factors influencing each expert’s work. Students and postdoctoral researchers in particular may appreciate the chance to interact with experts in this informal dialogue, Hyman says.
About the SfN 2015 Logo
WASHINGTON, D.C.— Each year, the annual meeting features a logo inspired by the area of neuroscience relevant to the current SfN president. For Neuroscience 2015, the logo is reflective of Hyman’s research on the genetics of neuropsychiatric disorders.
Hyman’s research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard focuses on disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disease, with the goal of facilitating the discovery of new therapeutics. The logo incorporates the DNA double helix positioned between different-colored halves of the brain. The DNA puts genetics at the core of where therapeutics for disorders begin. The halves of the brain represent the duality of neuropsychiatric disorders, specifically bipolar disorder.
A Spring 2015 message from SfN President Steve Hyman on scientific rigor and why it matters
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Recently, SfN President Dr. Steve Hyman addressed the increasingly debated subject of scientific rigor and why it matters in Neuroscience Quarterly. His discussion, edited for length, is as follows:
The challenge of scientific rigor is now receiving extensive coverage in scientific and lay media in response to high-profile reports of failures to replicate numerous studies in fields as diverse as cancer biology and social psychology. The rates at which academic studies replicate in industrial settings, especially in preclinical research, has been reported to be far lower than should be expected. This state of affairs has drawn concern from government agencies (including NIH and NSF), journal publishers and members of Congress. Some colleagues have expressed worries that the attention being paid to scientific rigor carries its own risks of spreading negative views of science; others have pointed to scientific fields that have allegedly spawned “replication vigilantes” who fail to recognize that non-replication is not always a bad sign, but often central to the self-correcting nature of science.
I believe that the Society for Neuroscience, like other major professional organizations, must forthrightly address concerns about scientific rigor and take appropriate steps to support the scientific enterprise and ensure the public’s confidence in our work. To effectively attend to these concerns, SfN convened a Scientific Rigor Working Group in the fall of 2013 to analyze the situation in our field and make recommendations. This working group is giving the issue the serious attention that it deserves and recognizes that its recommendations must be formulated in a constructive manner. Over the past year-and-a-half, the working group has set in motion several initiatives, including developing a set of research practices for scientific rigor and supporting programming on scientific rigor at SfN’s annual meetings. The actions of SfN, executed in the proactive and constructive manner that the working group has adopted, will strengthen the scientific endeavor and improve public appreciation of science.
Current concerns about the inability to replicate findings must be properly distinguished from willful scientific misconduct. Appropriately, the discussion of rigor within SfN is instead largely focused on improving study design, scientific reporting (not only of data, but also methods) and characterization and sharing of reagents. Many concerns about scientific rigor can be dealt with by improving the training of our students and postdocs in these areas. However, we also need to address troubling cultural issues, including pressure from academic departments or funding agencies to publish too rapidly, difficulties in obtaining funding for and publishing replication studies and obstacles to publishing negative findings. Colleagues also report difficulties in obtaining funding or approval of committees overseeing animal use for adequately powered studies. These issues will require long-term efforts to address policies that have resulted in complicated webs of “perverse incentives” or otherwise put obstacles in the way of studies designed effectively to test worthy hypotheses.
Too often—and obviously with important exceptions—the required courses in responsible conduct of research are taught in a dry manner or treated as unwanted distractions from lab work. In truth, the evolving standards of research and scientific reporting are important and engaging topics that should be central to the education of our students. Trainees should expect appropriate instruction and mentoring in study design and the analysis and interpretation of data.
Individual PIs are crucial to this training process by ensuring that their labs are modeling best practices, such as use of power calculations in designing studies, use of blinding and a sophisticated appreciation of the strengths and limitations of statistical tests. While clinical trials and much research involving human subjects requires strict attention to study design and significant sophistication in statistics (often with a professional statistician as a member of the team), basic and preclinical research has, as we have been learning, too often treated these matters as secondary.
NIH and SfN are both developing training programs in experimental design, rigor and reproducibility. NIH will soon release a series of training modules and is seeking to fund online courses in experimental design. For Neuroscience 2015, the society is planning a symposium on the topic as well as a new short course.
Training can only accomplish so much, however, if young scientists emerge into an incentive system and culture that pushes scientists to hurry their work, skimp on reporting their methods and publish in a small number of high-profile journals that favor unexpected results—the kind of results least likely to stand the test of time.
The understandable propensity of some scientific journals to emphasize the “exciting” can, when overdone, limit the publication of information critical for replicability, such as methods and detailed information about cell lines and animal models. Also understandable is the challenge for many journals of obtaining expert consultation on design and statistics on all manuscripts for which they are needed. Unless this shortcoming in scientific publishing is addressed, peer reviewers will continue to face pressure to tackle these critically important matters that may lie well outside their comfort zone.
With the launch of eNeuro, SfN aims to alter some of the troubling patterns in publication. The new SfN open-access journal publishes a wide array of content, explicitly including replication studies and negative studies. In addition, both SfN journals, The Journal of Neuroscience and eNeuro, are committed to full and appropriate reporting of studies. Among their intellectual commitments, both journals have signed on to the NIH-led Principles and Guidelines for Reporting Preclinical Research, which outlines principles to facilitate the “interpretation and repetition” of published experiments.
The global scientific community must also find ways to encourage the earlier and more complete sharing of data and reagents, which is vital for scientific progress. Several efforts are underway in neuroscience to increase data sharing and publishing transparency by disambiguating authors and resources. For example, the Resource Identification Initiative is designed to help researchers sufficiently cite the key resources used to produce scientific findings, and ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID) provides a registry of unique researcher identifiers to link individuals and their research activities. Both SfN journals have joined the ORCID system, and The Journal of Neuroscience participated in a three-month pilot program for the Resource Identification Initiative.
A matter of principle
While issues of rigor affect the entire scientific community, we in neuroscience often deal with the most complex systems and datasets. Attention to improving study designs, transparency and sharing of tools and data, along with shared commitments to alter perverse incentives and change culture for the better, is something we owe to our field and especially to our students.
ADDITIONAL NEWS OF NEUROSCIENCE 2015
Symposia vs. minisymposia
What’s the difference? Well, at Neuroscience 2105, at least, a symposium contains four speakers who present during the two-and-a-half-hour session. A minisymposium accommodates six speakers who give shorter talks over a two-and-a-half-hour session. Whereas well-known, top researchers are typically chosen as speakers in regular symposia, minisymposia are geared to a generally younger cross-section of neuroscientists. The Program Committee created the minisymposium format so that junior investigators (including senior postdocs and junior faculty) have an opportunity to present exciting and cutting-edge research in a formal setting to a broad audience.
What is a dynamic poster?
This experimental presentation format allows presenters to create an electronic, multimedia version of a paper poster. Abstract presenters are provided with a flat-screen display that incorporates videos, animated charts or graphs and more into the presentation.
SfN notes that it is “committed to bringing the annual meeting into the digital age and exploring new technologies. This goal is challenged by the size of the annual meeting scientific program: SfN hosts nearly 15,000 abstract presentations at the annual meeting. The dynamic poster experiment at Neuroscience 2015 will allow SfN to continue to test available technologies and applications, explore attendee interest and determine the challenges presenters and logistical staff may encounter.”
As a service to annual meeting registrants, SfN will provide free wireless Internet access in designated areas of the McCormick Place Convention Center during Neuroscience 2015. SfN will also provide support for wireless users. As the society puts it, “Feel free to browse the Web, communicate with your colleagues or use it for any other Internet activity,” but adds, “We expect thousands of attendees to use the system at any given time, so please refrain from using bandwidth-intensive applications (e.g. video and audio streaming, app downloads, transferring large files, etc.) to prevent your wireless speed from slowing to a crawl.”
For more information, go to SfN.org/wireless for instructions.