CBR Travel Awards: Attending the Gordon Research Conference

Written by: Colton Strong, Ph.D. Candidate
Supervisors: Dr. Christian Kastrup & Dr. Dana Devine
Conference: http://2023 Cell Biology of Megakaryocytes and Platelets – Gordon Research Conference
Location: Lucca, LU, Italy
Poster Presentation Title: Expression of exogenous proteins in donor platelets using optimized lipid nanoparticles and mRNA

The Gordon Research Conference (GRC) on the cell biology of megakaryocytes and platelets is a premier, international scientific conference that happens every two years within the field of blood research. This year, the conference was held near Lucca, Italy in March 2023 and was attended by senior investigators, junior researchers and trainees. Leaders in the field presented recent unpublished data to educate attendees and inspire interactive group discussion. Over the five-day conference, I attended numerous oral communication sessions and poster presentations focused on basic discoveries, technological innovations and clinical progress within platelet and megakaryocyte biology. The conference themes this year included the clinical importance of platelet receptors, megakaryocyte development in the bone marrow niche, and new technologies to expand platelets as a cell therapy; themes that aligned closely to my own research focus. Among these topics, interesting discussions centred around the occurrence of megakaryopoiesis outside the bone marrow, controversy in proposed mechanisms of platelet biogenesis and the feasibility of in vitro platelets to replace standard donor-derived platelets for transfusion.

GRCs are designed to be smaller in size compared to most conferences to facilitate a more relaxed and collaborative atmosphere. Program events beyond presentations and posters included social activities and gatherings intended to promote informal interactions between established researchers and junior trainees. Attendees participate in breakfast, lunch and dinner together in addition to various social hours. For example, one notable event that I participated in was the conference soccer (or football) game, a highly revered tradition that happens each time the platelet and megakaryocyte GRC community convenes. In this environment, I had increased exposure to principal investigators and professors which helped me expand my professional network. Through these connections, I not only received invaluable experimental recommendations, but was also provided personal advice regarding a career in academia.

This year, I was selected to give a poster presentation at the GRC. As a third year PhD candidate within the Centre for Blood Research at UBC, attending this conference expanded my network and my research impact. In my poster presentation, I shared new data describing how our team is using lipid nanoparticle (LNP) technology to produce designer platelets. Our goals are to supercharge donor-derived platelets for improved clotting and to expand platelets as a cell therapy. Building on previous data showing that platelets can be engineered to express luminescent enzymes, I showed that LNP transfected platelets participate in hemostasis in an animal model of bleeding. This data sparked significant excitement from conference attendees. Researchers from around the world expressed interest in collaborating with our group to apply platelet-optimized LNPs to their own research in applications such as platelet signalling, megakaryocyte engineering and in deciphering platelet aging. These collaborations will be highly beneficial to our lab program and in establishing our platelet-LNP technology as a research tool.

Attending the GRC on platelets and megakaryocytes has been highly beneficial to my current research training and career which would not have been possible without the funding opportunities provided by the CBR.

Colton Strong at the 2023 GRC on the cell biology of megakaryocytes and platelets in front of his poster “Expression of exogenous proteins in donor platelets using optimized lipid nanoparticles and mRNA.”

Colton Strong and senior scientists and trainees after competing in the annual GRC soccer (or football) match.

Colton Strong enjoys a sunset behind the Tuscan mountains.