We were very lucky to receive two free places to attend the Danish Diabetes Academy’s Winter School in Malaga in March. The Winter School is an annual event for post-docs/final year PhD students working in the field of diabetes research. The 4-day programme covered a range of topics from molecular research into diabetes aetiology and complications to epidemiological techniques and clinical approaches. There were also sessions on career development, networking and a chance to take part in a group problem-solving challenge.
The programme began with a keynote lecture from Professor Toni Vidal-Puig who spoke about why it is the functionality rather than the amount of adipose tissue that causes the metabolic complications associated with obesity. Over the remainder of the week we enjoyed sessions on developmental programming, pancreatic development, diabetes complications and lifestyle interventions, among many other topics.
A highlight during the programme was the fascinating debate between Professor J Alfredo Martinez Hernandez and Proffesor Paul Franks, on the topic of pros and cons in personised treatment. The main cause for debate was whether new ‘big data’ technologies (multi-omics and nutrigenetics data) would have the ability to advise on personalised nutrient intake and therefore become a more effective way to improve health and prevent disease then conventional public health strategies.
Another focus was on career development and the question of whether to stay in academia or to go into industry. Professor Bente Stallknechht from the University of Copenhagen and Director Rasmus Rabol from Novo Nordisk A/S both shared with us valuable information on this topic, based on their own experience. To summarise what they said using a few keywords – pros as a researcher are: more intellectual and personal freedom, more stability in the long run; pros as a company employee are: more competitive salary and fewer worries about funding in the R&D field.
A unique aspect of the Winter School this year was that before the event, we were randomly assigned to small teams and given a ‘wicked’ challenge to develop either a lifestyle or personalised medicine approach to reduce diabetes levels worldwide. The challenge required us to communicate with post-docs from different countries and research disciplines before and during the Winter School and was therefore a great way to make new friends and discuss our research expertise. Th solutions the teams came up with were varied: they ranged from hypothetical biochemical techniques that would calculate an individual’s risk of developing T2DM, to a lifestyle intervention that would force office workers to stand up during the working day and encouraging teenagers to walk to school through a combination of interactive walking maps and competition, so that the school within a region that logged most miles walked would win money for sports equipment. We really enjoyed the interactive aspect of the Diabetes Challenge and how it forced us to think of an innovative solution to tackle the growing levels of diabetes rather than simply listening to lots of information related to the topic.
The Winter School was hosted in a wonderful hotel on the outskirts of Malaga. We enjoyed lunch in the sunshine every day alongside the rooftop ‘infinity bar’ and lots of delicious seafood in the hotel and at the beachfront restaurant in the evenings. For the more sport-inclined there was a paddle tennis tournament (a sport that is a combination of tennis and squash) that took place during the spare time each afternoon and some people even tackled Malaga’s moutains on rented mountain bikes.
We has a great time at the DDA Winter School (due to the combination of science, socialising and sunshine!) amd we would encourage any post-docs or PhD students offered the chance to attend this event in future to take the opportunity. We hope that the link betweent he Cambridge Metabolic Network and the DDA will continue to strengthen in the future. We would like to thank the Danish Diabetes Academy – in particular the organising committee and Professor Henning Beck-Nielsen – for allowing us to attend the Winter School and the Cambridge Metabolic Network for covering travel costs.
20-23 March 2017, Laura Dearden and Yue Ruan