Solutions to old experimental problems or inspiration for new studies

FORSKARBLOGG: Maria Kasper

Our annual lab retreat at Lake Mälaren has made many hairs stand on end. Responsible for this so called pilo errection (or goose bumps) is the arrector pili muscle, a small muscle connected to our hair follicles.

This year’s retreat was a truly exciting scientific and social experience! Stunning Swedish nature, thirty-seven participants from seventeen countries and five different labs, and one common interest: discussing science. What made the retreat stand out was the immense diversity of topics, perspectives and approaches. My research group studies hair follicle regeneration and skin cancer development from a "tissue-centric perspective", i.e. we are interested in how different cells in the skin interact with each other during health and tumor formation. Several other speakers focus on answering similar questions, however in distinct organs such as the colon or mammary gland, or they look at cancer formation at an entirely different level. For example, they investigate how malfunctions of the cellular machinery transmitting signals from the outside to the core of a cell could contribute to cancer formation, how drugs could regulate this machinery in case of disease, and how three-dimensional structure biology helps to uncover interactions between the cellular machinery and drug molecules.

All these different research angles come with unique sets of experimental techniques and analytical methods. Since exchange between researchers looking at similar processes at different levels can lead to novel and original ideas, the participants of the retreat were encouraged to present their latest data, or their newest ideas for future experiments, instead of presenting the results of already finished studies. Generous time slots for discussion after each presentation and the collegial atmosphere among the participants have lead to a fruitful and creative debate in which also unintuitive, highly ambitious or even "crazy" ideas were thoroughly discussed.

All in all, the retreat helped many students, postdocs and group leaders to find solutions to old experimental problems or inspiration for new studies, and the positive outcome shows how different scientific perspectives on similar biological questions can complement each other and propel scientific knowledge fast forward.

And, what about the social aspect in science? We of course have introduced our new lab members to the Swedish sauna tradition that is followed by a swim in the ice-cold lake Mälaren. What a great experience to feel our arrector pili muscles at work to make the hairs stand on end!