ACBI 2017 Annual Conference Report

This was my first ever attendance at an ACBI conference, having joined the profession as a basic grade clinical biochemist at the Mater hospital in Dublin only eight weeks prior.  Before starting this post it was pointed out to me that this profession is one which requires a great breadth of knowledge.  To this end, several colleagues have given me the advice to take as many opportunities as I can in obtaining this vast knowledge!  I kept this in mind as the conference began on the Friday morning.

The opening session of the conference was themed around neuroendocrine tumours, a subject I had some experience with having spent considerable time studying the potential therapeutic effects of implanting insulin, glucagon and glucagon-like peptide 1 secreting tumour cells in diabetic mouse models.  In particular I enjoyed Dr. Tricia Tan’s (Imperial Health London) talk entitled "Whistle stop tour: Biochemical investigation of neuroendocrine tumours" as it illustrated the clinical flipside of the knowledge I had gained on the subject through in vivo studies and, in a very clear manner, presented how patient symptoms and the biochemical profiles that we use in our clinical laboratories can be used to diagnose and monitor these pathological tumours.

After lunch, I browsed through the array of impressive posters on display.  These gave me a valuable insight into the type and extent of methodological and biomarker evaluations used for translational clinical research and service developments in clinical biochemistry laboratories.  In any case, it was quickly time to once again take our seats for the second session of the day, themed cell biochemical metabolism.  A recurring theme of this session was how innovation in technology, and in particular the rapidly emerging and improving next generation sequencing will affect how we screen for various inheritable conditions, as well the role that more traditional tests will have alongside such technologies.  This left me with some important food for thought regarding how clinical biochemistry will progress as a profession during the years ahead, and how we must be able to constantly evolve our skillsets to keep up with the celerity of technological advancement.  Indeed, I’m sure that clinical biochemists approaching the end of their careers started out in laboratory settings that would be almost unrecognisable to those of us beginning our careers in the present day, and I do not doubt that the same will be true some decades from now as I and other new clinical biochemists progress through our own careers.

With the Friday afternoon session drawing to a close, delegates returned to their quarters to get ready for the generously laid out dinner and entertainment provided for the evening.  Lacking the stamina of many of my colleagues, I abandoned the late night festivities shamefully early in favour of some extra hours sleep; a decision which I did not regret when the paracetamol was being passed around in the morning in advance of the ironically timed session themed around drugs of misuse!

This session had some excellent speakers and very interesting talks primarily focused on the struggles faced by pathology and drug-screening laboratories to keep up with the ever increasing availability of new types of drugs of misuse and abuse, ranging from sports performance enhancers to the emergent epidemic of "legal highs".  The session highlighted for me an unusual area of pathology, in that it is one where those whose samples are being analysed, may not necessarily want those tests to give the correct answers.  As a consequence, the already problematic issue of developing and adapting tests to characterise, validate and accurately measure constantly emerging analytes can often be compounded by the constantly adapting, and in some cases, highly creative compensatory measures that individuals will go to confound testing procedures; the "Whizzinator" being perhaps the most memorable example provided by Prof. David Cowan (Kings College London).  

Perhaps my favourite talk of the Saturday sessions was that of Dr. Margot Bolster (Cork University Hospital) on "The role of toxicology in the Coroner’s Autopsy" who despite on the face of it having amongst the most depressing of materials to speak on, managed to inject much appreciated humour into the opening of the fourth session, in particular with her take home advice of "If you are going to be an alcoholic, live in a bungalow".  I also particularly enjoyed Dr. Matthew Johnson’s (University of Exeter) talk on pancreatic beta-cell autoimmunity from monogenic diabetes given my background in diabetes research.  He spoke of research being carried out at Exeter to identify genetic biomarkers of autoimmunity and diabetes pathogenesis in individuals suffering from type 1 diabetes and the similar but separate condition neonatal diabetes, and how these can be used to help identify and guide the treatment of patients with these conditions. I found this particularly enlightening as it really emphasised to me how the findings of research studies such as those I conducted during my PhD (antidiabetic cellular medicine) can translate to a clinical setting where they are of tangible benefit to patients; something that those who have worked primarily in research do not always have the benefit of witnessing for themselves!  

Before the closing of the conference for another year, the awards for best posters were announced, with the award for best case poster deservedly going to my colleague at the Mater, Principal clinical biochemist Rachel Cullen for her case report of paraganglioma and papilliary thyroid carcinoma in a patient with a SDHB germline mutation; and the Geraldine Roberts award going to the team from the Craigavon area hospital for their excellent poster entitled "Identification through audit of a panacea to the age old problem of emergency department one hour turnaround time expectations".

All in all, the conference was a very valuable experience for me, and given the positivity of all those involved, I have no doubt that this feeling is echoed by the majority, if not entirety, of my fellow attendees.   Personally, I gained further insight on the scope of our profession, and the invaluable role that we play in so many diverse areas of laboratory medicine, and to view my new job with continued excitement for what the future may hold.  I greatly look forward to attending these events for years to come!

Dr. David Green,
Basic Grade Clinical Biochemist,
Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.

This 2017 conference venue was in the Ardilaun Hotel, Taylor’s Hill, Galway.

See Conference details: