BIO-X: Biocomplexity, Biodesign, Bioinnovation, Biomanufacturing and Bioentrepreneurship


December 2018

The 17th International Summer School on BIO-X: Biocomplexity, Biodesign, Bioinnovation, Biomanufacturing and Bioentrepreneurship, sponsored by the NSF, the University of Houston Biomedical Engineering Department and technically co-sponsored by the IEEE Brain Initiative and the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, was held at the Chania Academy, Crete, June 11-17, 2018. This summer school was a continuation of previous summer schools. Thirty students and six distinguished and three junior faculty (post-docs) attended the 17th summer school. The NSF, the IEEE Brain Initiative and the University of Houston co-sponsored 30 students.

The objective of the BIO-X summer school is to train junior and senior undergraduate, graduates in biological science, neuroscience, bioengineering students in healthcare engineering, technologies and innovations, computational and data sciences in medicine, molecular, systems and synthetic biology, brain and life sciences.

The summer school was an excellent learning, teaching, and brain-storming platform for students, post-docs, young researchers, and summer school faculty. It provided students the opportunity to personally meet with leaders in the field while enjoying a pleasant location. Six distinguished faculty gave these lectures, including Drs. May Wang, a distinguished Prof at Georgia Tech/Emory, David Fenstermacher, the Vice President R&D-Bioinformatics at Medimmune, LLC, Colin Brennan, the founder and Chief Commercial Officer for HiFiBiO, Gudrun Zahlmann, the senior director imaging infrastructure at Hoffmann La Roche, Jose Pons, the Head of the Neural Rehabilitation Group at CISC and Dimitris Fotiadis, the EIC of IEEE Trans on Biomedical and Health Inforatics and the director of Medical Technology and Intelligent Information Systems, at the University of Ioannina, Ioannina, Greece. Three junior faculty were Drs. Jean C. Cruz Hernandez, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School, Jason Jones, a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University, and Altug Akay, a postdoctoral fellow at Colombia University.

The summer school lectures focused on the recent developments on Computational Medicine and Health Informatics, Advanced Technologies for BRAIN, Life Science Technologies and Healthcare Entrepreneurship

It exposed the attendees with biology backgrounds to the latest developments in these emerging computational technologies. It was also helpful to both students and post-doctoral fellows in computer science and mathematics who are interested in doing research in biology and bioengineering since the summer school provides exceptional insights into the fundamental challenges to provide the impetus to understand biomedical challenges and translate their research findings in practice to improve the quality of healthcare.

We believe that the summer school has stimulated interdisciplinary research and collaboration among engineers, mathematicians, computer scientists, and medical researchers that will help understand complex biological systems, and open new directions in biomedical research and its translations in practice.

The following three students and one junior faculty were partially sponsored by the IEEE Brain Initiative. They provided their perspectives of the summer school.

Jean C. Cruz Hernández, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School

Jean Cruz Hernandez

The 17th International Summer School on Biocomplexity, Biodesign and Bioinnova: from Gene to System, provided to the participants a series of seminars where the speakers from different backgrounds, including representatives from industry, academia, and government research centers highlight the importance and necessity of the interdisciplinary research and collaboration in order to maintain the advances and cutting edge science in the area of neuroscience (e.g., deeper understanding of neuro-diseases, discovery of new targets for treatments,  more efficient neuroprostetic devices, etc.). Through these seminars the students demonstrate their ability to integrate different perspectives and synthesize diverse ideas.Through the discussion and brainstorming sections the students demonstrate their ability to integrate the acquired knowledge from different scientific areas in order to synthesize ideas and/or provide solutions from multiple perspectives to the exposed scientific problem or situation.

As a Postdoctoral fellow in The Wellman Center for Photomedicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital at Harvard Medical School, attending this summer school gave me the opportunity to expand my professional network from national to global scale and from academia to industry and scientific centers.

Isle Bastille, Harvard University

Isle Bastille

This summer school has had a profound impact on my career outlook. I am currently completing my PhD in a basic neurobiology lab studying the blood-brain barrier. This summer school gave me the insight necessary for me to understand what is still lacking to bridge the gap between basic biology and pharmaceutical drug design to treat neurological disease. I now know that I would like to become a liaison between the two to create as many productive collaborations as possible between basic biologists and biological and chemical engineers to ramp up progress in the development of effective treatment for neurological disease. I also gained very valuable insight into becoming an entrepreneur and the ideals of an entrepreneur that can and should be applied to starting and running a lab.

As part of a department that is very heavily focused on systems neuroscience, it was refreshing to see other scientists from across the globe speak about their approaches to basic and clinical neuroscience from various fields including bioengineering and bioinformatics. There is unmet potential in the field of neurobiology and neuroscience that lies in the communication gaps between these sub-disciplines. Meetings such as this summer school can help bridge these gaps and spark significant progress in therapeutics for neurological diseases.

This platform is extremely valuable. I wish I had more opportunities like this to network with people in medicine, pharma and industry. Moreover, I became close with many students. These connections are invaluable and in fact, a student has already started organizing collaborations for sharing information across continents. It is this kind of collaboration and mentality that will really push science forward.

Ruta Deshpande, University of Southern California

Ruta Deshpande

When I applied to the BioX program, I knew it is competitive and didn’t expect to get in. Thanks to Dr. Akay I got an amazing opportunity to travel alone to Europe for the first time in my life. This conference gave me the opportunity to interact with different intellectuals-faculty, junior faculty and colleagues, and learn about their research journeys. The best impact of this conference is the inspiration to work harder and study further (possibly a PhD).

Before going to the conference, I didn’t know what to expect given that it was my first. I got to know how conferences are because of this experience and I must say the bar is set high for future comparisons with other conferences. lt was a great networking opportunity with the researchers in neuroscience. I learned about the recent advancements through the interactions I had with them, and their presentations. It was a good opportunity to present my work in ‘Exploring Cortical Evoked Potentials as a Biomarker to enhance Deep Brain Stimulation on Therapy’ and receive positive feedback. The student presentation section was a confidence booster in terms of public speaking in front of a diverse group.

The location, Greek food and hospitality made this research conference fun. I am grateful to everyone who helped to successfully organize this event.

Mackenzie Grubb, University of Florida

Mackenzie Grubb

I would just like to start out by saying how grateful I am for the opportunity to attend summer school this year. Not only has this been the highlight of my summer thus far, but the relationships I have made at this conference I foresee to last for many years beyond.

I am an undergraduate Chemical Engineering student at the University of Florida, and being relatively new in the field of Biomedical research, this is the first conference I have attended. I had little to no expectations, but this conference far exceeded anything I could have imagined. Not only did I get to make valuable and personal connections with industry leaders that are directly translational in the field of research that I am in, but I got to learn about what is relevant and cutting-edge in Biomedical engineering as a whole. This conference has inspired me to look into totally new sectors of bioinformatics and personalized medicine that I previously did not know existed. In addition, I obtained valuable career advice from a well-qualified and inspiring set of junior faculty and seasoned professors. This experience has, without a doubt, shaped my last year of my undergraduate career and my professional path as a whole.

As a whole, I was most impressed with the personal relationships I was able to build with some of the brightest minds in science, the welcoming and friendly atmosphere that the Akay’s provided, and the amount I learned both personally and professionally in such a short time.

This conference provided an incredible open door to get a first glimpse into the world of neuroscience which I have always been intrigued by. The opportunity to learn from my peers about their work in the field allowed me to learn on a level that was feasible for my understanding yet cutting-edge and exciting.

Renee Keller, University of Houston

The BioX Summer School was a wonderful opportunity for open discussions between the life sciences, engineering, and entrepreneurship. The faculty and students made this experience so unique and significant. The faculty was inspiring—they were inviting and genuinely interested in helping students develop as researchers and entrepreneurs. Discussions and questions were encouraged and the students were eager to participate and excited by the topics. The field of biomedical engineering is diverse and appealing to the students, so the opportunity to talk with professionals about translating knowledge and passion into careers is priceless and the summer school really encouraged these interactions. I will remember this extraordinary experience, which exposed me to new people and perspectives. It is always uncertain how different people will welcome others, but the beauty was in the acceptance and warmth shown by everyone. This was a wonderful and unique opportunity to share experiences across different global perspectives. My research focuses on the effect of perinatal nicotine exposure on gene expression of dopamine neurons in the VTA. I found a few talks to be extremely helpful for my research, especially in the areas of neural gene expression, regulation, and plasticity. Overall, this was an inspiring and highly transformative event that encouraged scientific discussion from multidisciplinary fields with the bonus of the beautiful scenery and food of Crete.

Now that I am back home, I will remember this extraordinary experience and the valuable lessons the faculty and students shared with me. I believe this will have a significant impact on my career by expanding my knowledge and exposing me to new people. It is always uncertain how different people will welcome others, but the beauty was in the acceptance and warmth shown by everyone. This was a wonderful and unique opportunity to share experiences across different global perspectives. Overall, this was an extraordinary event that encouraged scientific discussion and connected people from multidisciplinary fields and, furthermore, was elevated by the beautiful scenery and food of Crete.

Krisztina Banfai, University of Pecs, Hungary

Krisztina Banfai

The Summer School definitely has a positive influence on my career. First of all I had the opportunity to gain more scientific knowledge. The presentations were one by one very interesting and it was very fascinating to get to know the research project of the other students. Moreover I could get to know how I could choose from different kind of directions for my future. I got new ideas about how I would like to continue my studies and my research. It was also very instructive to get advice from those, who have both experiences in the field of academic work and also in the business world. Also we started to talk about a possible future collaboration, which looks very promising.

I was very impressed. It was one of the greatest experiences in my life. I never thought that a Summer School can be so useful for me. I gained a lot of knowledge, had a chance to create new collaborations and I had a great time. For me it was especially positive, because I did not expect that people will really care about what I do and admire me for what I have reached so far (I experienced this on other conferences, scientific programs so far). So all in all I expected, that the program will be useful for me, but I experienced way more than that.

I think one of the disadvantages of other conferences or scientific programs, workshops is, that they only focus on one certain topic. At the BIO-X Summer School it was different. The most interesting part of today’s hot topics were grabbed and presented making it more colourful. Even though the presentations were quite long, it did not feel like. They were high quality presentations. Also very useful for me to gain some tips, how to present my work and research more professionally.

I am very glad and thankful getting the opportunity to attend. It had a huge impact on me both scientifically and personally. I also had the chance to meet new people, create collaborations and get some more friends as well. Everyone was nice, the place was very beautiful including the great meals and the nicest staff I have ever met. I am considering to visit the country soon again.