Second SkinTERM Training Session

The host of the 2nd training session, Dr. Thomas Biedermann, inspired us for a 5 days virtual expedition through the vast landscape of skin tissue engineering, hair regeneration biology along with the nuances of scientific writing, poster designing and overview of intellectual property rights (IPR).

Days 1 and 3 are described by Haarshaadri Jayaprakash (ESR3) and days 2, 4 and 5 by Roman Krymchenko (ESR2)

Day 1. Intellectual property rights  (Dr. Robert Dekker & Dr. Liesbet Paemen)

This session gave us 101 to the world of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR); Why a PhD candidate needs to understand this at the start of their program. Since we work on creating new knowledge and contributing to the field by investing our time on specific objectives, our research can result in a candidate for patenting. But personally, anybody who is working in creating knowledge, designs or troubleshoots for existing processes to be efficient, deals with intelectual property, thus understanding of IPR is universal. Since IPR gives the creator the right of exclusive use to be secured for an invention and design, one can protect his/her own creation and use it for patent royalty. The relatable real-life examples of hurdles and do’s & don’ts of patenting made us introspect for our PhD research.

The next session gave an insider and PhD perspective on the ever evolving patent landscape. To understand the delicate balance of lifesaving medical treatment and patent protection in the EU. This may seem like a hurdle and risk of investing for companies and students working in the area of translational work to patients in clinics. However, if it comes to life or IP protection, life of the individual gets precedence and it should not be any other way. The session left us with knowledge on how to tackle the hurdle in patenting regenerative biology products, which is a balancing act.

Day 2. Writing a scientific paper (Dr. Markus Thiersch)

How to publish your research? What is the best way of writing a scientific paper? Which mistakes to avoid? This training course provided us with the answers during the lecture and especially with the analysis of 4 recent but differently written papers. It was a huge contrast between how-to-do and how-NOT-to-do, hints and tricks versus pitfalls on how to increase the impact of our work. Though it may seem strange, we can still find a badly written paper in the journal with impact factor ~5 in 2021. There we observed lots of grammar and spelling mistakes (even in the title!), inconsistent use of past and present tenses, long and complicated sentences, ambiguous phrases and chaotically aligned figures with missing elements.

The take home message: simplicity is the hallmark of genius. Keep your writing in a comprehensive, grammatically correct, short and precise way.

Day 3. Hair regeneration biology (Prof. Colin Jahoda & Dr. Claire Higgins)

The sheer amount of work done on hair follicle biology to be crunched in a day is a monumental task. This interactive session from the pioneer of papilla cell biology and hair follicle gave us a bird’s eye view; how the field shaped from his PhD days to the present. We were taken aback by the elegant ways devised to perform experiments on skin when tools were scarce. Those tools are still relevant to us and we all were given the thought process of it on a silver platter. Interesting fact to add is how Alan Turing, a famous mathematician and computer scientist, worked on patterning which helped solving the hair biology questions back in the day and is still in use and more relevant today. Furthermore, our questions asked before the session were discussed in the lecture and the integration gave rise to topics which went beyond the scope of lecture and it was dynamic. Since it was an online workshop, Ms. Yaqi, a PhD student from the Jahoda lab, supplemented us with short videos of techniques performed and pioneered in their lab. This workshop gave an overview of the timeline and experiments done in hair follicle biology to reach the present understanding.

The next session introduced us to the idea of growing rodents’ hair follicles in plastic wares and the method of spheroid culturing of dermal papilla cells that control hair growth. By the way, do you know we have papilla cells in the tongue which helps in taste perception as well? The session showed us studying hair follicle biology in academia can be translated in a clinical setting. We also discussed the role of bio printing and technology in pushing the frontier of hair follicle and skin biology. These techniques are relevant to us in many ways and will guide us in our present work.

Day 4. Scientific poster design (Dr. Markus Thiersch)

Professional scientific visualisations methods are crucial in the research because they can help to represent the ideas graphically in a simple and clear way, convey a message quickly, attract attention and rapidly share the knowledge. This training course contained an overview on how to design a scientific poster and graphic design principles to avoid technical pitfalls concerning file formats, alignment of blocks, colour spaces, layouts and image resolution. We practiced by quickly preparing a poster in group assignments and presenting it in a poster pitch manner. And we managed to prepare for that in a very limited time, just 1 hour.

Day 5. Skin tissue engineering (PD Dr. med. Sophie Böttcher-Haberzeth, Dr. Agnes Klar, Dr. Luca Pontiggia & Dr. Thomas Biedermann)

Self-study assignments for this workshop provided us with the answers to questions like what are the general types of skin substitutes, what are the sources of human mesenchymal stem cells and what are Langerhans and Merkel cells. It was valuable and at the same time difficult to observe current clinical problems and solutions for burn and scald injuries, congenital melanocytic nevi, infections, meningococcal sepsis and other skin diseases in particular examples of suffering patients. But then we continued with the demand for skin tissue engineering, various types of engineered skin, their applications, their advantages and disadvantages. It was interesting to see how blood and lymphatic pre-vascularisation should prevent formation of seroma, support graft intake and accelerate wound healing. Moreover, we familiarized with the research from the speakers on melanocytes, their characterisation and effects on skin pigmentation.

That is the brief description of the Second Training Session of the SkinTERM project. Thank you for following us during this fascinating journey in exploring the sophisticated and endless world of scarless skin regeneration. Stay tuned and find out what we will have learnt by the next training session organised by Universidade do Algarve (Portugal)!

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SkinTERM First Training Session

A first landmark in this journey of scientific creation, connection and learning

The first SkinTERM training session, from the 25th to 28th of May, was an intense but gratifying week. This blog aims to bring you – the reader – on this adventure, to share with you what we learned during this week, never forgetting of course, to also share the other Early Stage Researchers’ perspectives. We all agree that this week offered us an amazing opportunity to get acquainted with each other, a way of interactive and dynamic learning, and a sublime introduction into the SkinTERM project. We felt connected and part of a puzzle: each of us is a crucial piece to complete it, but not just the sum of the parts. We are a complex interconnected whole.

“This first training session was the meeting point between science, ethics, personal development, and more, helping us and them to evolve.” – Gizem Coşar (ESR5)

A note from the authors:

 To quote a brilliant theoretical-physicist of all time – Albert Einstein, “Imagination is the highest form of research” – it is with this mindset and driven by a passion to learn and contribute to the field of skin regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, that I embarked on my first training session of the MSCA ITN SkinTERM project as ESR6, placed in Dr. Herbert Schiller’s lab at the Helmholtz Center München, Germany. Hailing from India, growing up I was always intrigued by the complexity of every aspect of all living organisms, every theory hypothesized and proven, every scientific discovery and marveled at the brilliance behind every innovation. Regarding the development of replacement tissues, as early as 1000 BC, Indians – such as the well renowned surgeon Sushruta – performed successful nose transplants; all facets that prompted a keen interest in me in bioartificial therapeutics for burn wounds.

Prerna Karthaka, HMGU, Germany (ESR6)

I remember finishing my first interview for the ESR4 position of the SkinTERM project, back in Portugal, with a quote of Marie Skłodowska-Curie – “It is my earnest desire that some of you should carry on this scientific work and keep for your ambition the determination to make a permanent contribution to science”. The field of biomaterials, tissue engineering, and regenerative medicine have always fascinated me. It is not only how interesting these themes are, but also how projects committed to investigate them contribute to the evolution of science. It is about the dedication of so many scientists and their cumulative achievements. It is about developing new therapies and devices which, one day, may change the life of someone, maybe millions of people. And I will certainly work to give my contribution. These are the main reasons why I have chosen during my master’s in biomedical engineering to develop my master thesis in this area and why I have applied to this PhD program. And it was with this mindset that I, now in the Netherlands, working in the Amsterdam UMC, location VUmc, faced this first training session, since learning is an important step in every science field.

  Madalena Gomes, VUmc, The Netherlands (ESR4)

SkinTERM ESRs Group Picture

As everything in life, there was a beginning and an end, the sessions were led by Dr. Willeke Daamen, SkinTERM Project Coordinator and Associate Professor of Biochemistry, and Danique Hof, SkinTERM Project Manager. Everything in the middle comprises the different training courses (TC) of the program, which we will tell you about throughout this post.

Day 1: TC Personal Development – Prerna Karthaka

Dive deep within yourself and introspect on the various aspects of your personalities, without shying away from your weaknesses or getting lost in your strengths. What do you think you can do to improve yourself?

Our first training course in the morning session was on our Personal Development Plans, facilitated by Annet van de Laak, wherein we introduced ourselves and talked about various areas in our individual personalities we would like to improve. This was majorly influenced by our individual results of the Myers-Briggs and the Carl Jung’s Personality tests, completed as a preparatory assignment for the course, which highlighted our strengths and weaknesses. The ESRs were divided into small groups to get to know each other’s areas for improvement and exchange ideas, which was a good way to break the ice between each other.

“Fearless organization – introducing this idea at the first meeting. Brownie points for this for the SkinTERM project.” J. Haarshaardi (ESR3)

What business planning leads a good invention to commercialization, taking into account – supply and demand, market size and volatility, competition, and impact factor?

The afternoon session consisted of Valorization of our projects, instructed by Dr. Robert Dekker and Leen Limbourg MD, co-founders of Atoms & Art. The main goal of the session was to educate us on the steps involved in research product quality, production, preclinical and clinical development up to commercialization; and stimulate our ideas in the direction of classification and marketability of our individual PhD projects. As an aspiring future bioentrepreneur, I found this session to be scintillating and highly informative.

“A very small change may lead to a new idea. And remember to start from a small innovation, not all innovations can get a Nobel prize.” – Jiazheng Lai (ESR8)

Day 2: TC Data Management and Biomaterials Workshop (Part 1) Prerna Karthaka

What is the theory behind the components of the extracellular matrix that contribute towards skin wound healing and the application of translational biomaterial products in scarless skin regeneration?

The morning session of our second day was focused on the first half of the Biomaterials workshop, where we were taught about the extracellular matrix, skin wound healing, dermal equivalents and applicability of biomaterials – by Dr. Willeke Daamen, Dr. Daniel Behrens from MedSkin Solutions Dr. Suwelack, and Dr. Toin van Kuppevelt, Associate Professor of Biochemistry. Along with the preparatory assignment of reading nine review papers that we were provided beforehand, this workshop helped give us a background in biomaterials and translational products and solidified our knowledge in skin biology.

Extracellular matrix components are our canvas which we will fill with different colours: cells, macrophages, fibroblasts, growth factors, and cytokines.” – Roman Krymchenko (ESR2)

How can we effectively manage and store our research data for future use?

We discussed efficient Research Data Management practices and FAIR (Findable Accessible Interoperable Reusable) principles in the afternoon session, conducted by Mirjam Brullemans-Spansier, Data Steward. This offered us the unique opportunity to learn how to manage, organize and store our research data using the website – DMP Online.

“The earlier you start managing your data, the easier it will be to understand and use it in the future.” – George Vogelaar (ESR7)

Day 3: TC Scientific Integrity and Research Ethics Madalena Gomes

How can we prevail researchers imbued with integrity in a world where it is frequently corrupted?

I was immensely excited for this training course led by a very energetic and enthusiastic Dr. Jos Kole, Assistant Professor of Professional Ethics. Our reflection on Cantor’s Dilemma – a novel authored by Carl Djerassi – a preparatory reading assignment of chapters 7-9 having been set beforehand for context, initiated a discussion on authorship and referee manipulation in scientific papers, issues faced by women in science, and many other issues pertaining to one’s scientific integrity. Moreover, we were assigned the task of interviewing our respective supervisors on their experiences with sloppy science and questionable scientific practices before the course, which opened a discussion among all the ESR candidates on various situations where scientific integrity was not respected.

“Moral conduct plays an important role in science success and, so, for the society.” – Nancy Avila (ESR1)

Where lies the line between right and wrong in research? Is it even a line – perhaps a grey zone dependent on different perspectives?

The afternoon session, guided by Dr. Anke Oerlemans, an Assistant Professor of Medical Ethics, focused primarily on research ethics, particularly our opinions on the same, which are quite diverse showing conflicts of values. After being divided into groups, we were asked to ponder upon several ethical questions such as: “Should the data for Tuberculosis provided by the cruel experiments conducted on prisoners of WWII be used in modern day research?”, “Should informed consent be requested from patients to use tissues surgically removed from their bodies for scientific research?”, “Should animals be used in research?”. Overall, the course was highly interactive, dynamic and intellectually stimulating.

“Sharing and interacting with each other is the key to grow as a researcher and as a person.” – Irene Sala (ESR11)

Day 4: Biomaterials workshop and TC Personal Development (Part 2) Madalena Gomes

A challenge of cooperation and critical thinking – the clock is ticking – what are the main messages?

The morning session brought to us the second part of the Biomaterials workshop, led by Dr. Willeke Daamen, Dr. Claudia Doberenz and Dr. Daniel Behrens from MedSkin Solutions Dr. Suwelack. We were divided into four groups, each provided with a different research paper focused on dermal substitutes and wound healing and instructed to prepare a short presentation on the paper covering – a 1-sentence summary of the paper, production and properties of the biomaterial used, discuss the results and translatability of the technology. It was an exhilarating challenge for us to accomplish our tasks within 3 hours and truly helped us realize our potential to work as a team and our individual contributions to the assignment.

“Work smarter not harder, and communication is key.” – Maaike Fransen (ESR12)

How important is sharing ideas, conquering fears and giving feedback? Why should we give small steps towards our goals?

The afternoon session of the last day comprised the second part of the Personal Development course. We began by sharing the Google Document wherein all the ESRs pitched in by identifying their own shortcomings and contributing to each other’s personal development and learning goals by providing tips and tricks. Then, discussions followed on our opinions on issues such as: asking for help, working together, receiving and giving feedback, dealing with mistakes, and relation with supervisors. This provided us with a good opportunity to get to know each other a little bit better and form a good bond that will help our future collaborative work.

“The metaphor of the stairs with smaller steps really helps me not to feel overwhelmed.” – Weronika Bartosik (ESR10)

A final message:

We hope this blog has given you an idea of ​​what this week was like and made you curious about the project. We all eagerly look forward to the next session where we get to meet again and learn with each other! And, as a final consideration, and remembering the idea of interconnected pieces which build this project: as one of us had said during this week “we are all in the same boat!”. And, in the SkinTERM project, we surely want it to “arrive at a good port”, which in Portuguese means to succeed, for all of us dedicated to it and for all those lives that we hope to impact in a positive way through our research.

“We are all like different parts of the skin: we can ensure its health and survival by personal growth and development, as well as interacting with each other and helping each other.” – Masoume Yousefi (ESR9)

SkinTERM Kick-off meeting

Last Friday, March 19, 2021, we kicked off the SkinTERM project! Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the Kick-off meeting was held online. After our coordinator Willeke Daamen welcomed all consortium members, including the External Advisory Board and recruited Early Stage Researchers (ESRs), the scientific part of the meeting started. Each SkinTERM partner presented their research project and/or activities and introduced their recruited ESR. These presentations demonstrated the multidisciplinary of the project, in which we all can learn a lot from each other’s expertise. The meeting concluded with our milestones and deliverables to be achieved the next 12 months. Furthermore, the training programme was discussed with the preparations for the first training session in full swing.

Our first ESRs are expected to start working on the project very soon. Interested in their research activities and SkinTERM progress? Follow us on twitter @SkinTERM_EU!

Group photo of our SkinTERM Kick-off participants
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