Scientific Conference Abstract Scholarship 2022: William Davis Birch

Conference: ASM Microbe 2022, USA

This is the first in-person conference I have attended as part of my PhD, and it was a fantastic experience both in terms of sharing my work and learning about state-of-the-art research in the field which will help guide future research. Although I have previously attended (and had some success at) virtual conferences, I had been unable to participate in any in-person events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I believe that running these events face-to-face has huge advantages in terms of engagement, networking opportunities, and overall experience. ASM Microbe is by far the best opportunity I have had to share my work on an international stage, with the attendees being the end-users of the technology I have developed during my PhD. Furthermore, ASM Microbe offered an overview of current state-of-the-art research, and an insight into future directions the field might take. This is particularly pertinent as I am a third-year PhD student, with my studies due to conclude in May 2023. These insights will be tremendously valuable in directing my final few months of research and helping shape any grant proposals and/or career decisions which will come thereafter. Lastly, ASM Microbe was a fantastic networking opportunity; as a research group, we are continually seeking new collaborators and new applications of our novel technology. Throughout this conference, I was able to establish new connections with researchers from around the world, which I hope will lead to many fruitful partnerships.

I presented my work as part of the “Host-microbe biology” track, under “Cell and tissue responses to microbes”. As well as a poster, I had a demo of the in vitro model I have developed, helping viewers better understand the device. I found that even within the microbiology community, few people had encountered in vitro models of the human gut microbiome. In fact, it was clear throughout the conference that there was still a huge reliance on mouse models. There are known issues with using mice to model the human microbiome, as differences in anatomy and bacterial composition can lead to poor correlation with clinical outcomes. Furthermore, there is the overall need to reduce and refine the use of animals in research.

I found there was a lot of interest in my work, with researchers often asking how they could use this technology in their own laboratories. The need for an effective commercialisation plan has been a key outcome of the conference, which I am currently developing alongside my supervisors.

Another comment from many viewers was the lack of host-cell interaction. This has been something we have been considering for some time, and the outcome of this conference will certainly lead us towards implementing a solution to this in the near future. Overall, I am extremely happy with the outcomes from the poster presentation, and I hope that they will guide any future work.

The generous funding granted by the Awards Committee was enough to significantly subsidise travel costs and expenses while at the conference, and I would like to thank them enormously for their support.