Pre-pandemic meetings: The 32nd Head Group Meeting

Successful applicants for one of our Meeting Grants are asked to submit a short report about the event after it has taken place. We always enjoy reading the reports as we can find out about all the incredible science taking place thanks to our financial support.

Following COVID-19, it’s even more special for us to look back at events that took place pre-pandemic, when auditoriums were full and scientists could chat in person. One such event was the 32nd Head Group Meeting, which took place on 20 January 2020. Little did we know that this would be one of the last events in person for a long time!

The meeting has been an annual event since 1989 and aims to discuss various aspects of normal and abnormal head development, from craniofacial to neural, and to offer young scientists the opportunity to present their work and foster collaborations. The 2020 edition was organised by Patrizia Ferretti and Paula Alexandre, group leaders at University College London, with the theme ‘Understanding Normal and Abnormal Development of Head Structures’.

Over 110 participants joined the meeting from Universities and Institutes in London, as well as the University of Sussex and the University of East Anglia. The meeting also attracted several newly established groups. Lasting the whole day, the meeting comprised of three sessions with 14 short talks given by PhD students and postdocs. A wide variety of topics were discussed, ranging from regeneration, neural crest and the nervous system, to the use of innovative technologies such as live-imaging, single cell RNA sequencing and biomechanics, to study tissue morphogenesis. The sessions were chaired by Dr Alessio Delogu, Dr Katherine Lone and Dr Gabriel Galea, and the organisers note what a pleasure it was to see how much of the discussion was generated by junior scientists.

The 32nd Head Group Meeting was one of the last in-person meetings before COVID-19

The Peter Thorogood Memorial Lecture closes the meeting each year, and the organisers used our Meeting Grant to support the travel of Professor Malcom Maden from the University of Florida, USA, to give the lecture. Talking on ‘Progress towards inducing regeneration in mammals’, Professor Maden gave an insightful overview of his work on tissue regeneration in different species. He peppered his talk with entertaining stories on his latest regeneration model, the African Spiny mouse, which displays an unusually highly regenerative ability for a mammal.

The meeting closed by announcing the best presentation awards – Frances St George-Hyslop won the Best PhD Student Presentation Award and Dr Gareth Powell won the Best Postdoc Presentation Award. As well as the excellent presentations, the participants had plenty time to network and chat throughout the day.

This year’s event, the 33rd Head Group Meeting, was understandably an online affair. Like many events, the organisers missed the real-life interactions. “The 32nd Head Group Meeting seems to belong to another era!” says event organiser Patrizia. “This year we ran the 33rd Head Group Meeting online, adjusting the format. Although it went rather well under the circumstances, and we might consider running hybrid meetings in the future, there is no comparison with the level of interactions, excitement and benefit to young people that this series generates when people share a real rather than a virtual space.”

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