Hydra XI Summer School in Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine

HumEn scientists enjoyed an uplifting week of science and inspiration at HydraXI from 6-13th September.

Anne Grapin-Botton, part of this years science faculty, presented the story of stem cells and diabetes to 55 young scientists, 6 of whom were from HumEn partner labs. Here, the  story of Hydra is told through the highlights of the week from these scientists:

Maya Friis Kjærgaard’s of Danstem, recalls her highlight from the series of lectures and workshops covering basic science, translational progress, ethics and public engagement:

One of the talks during Hydra summer school that I found especially inspiring, was Malin Parmer’s talk on stem cell therapies for Parkinson’s disease. The advances her lab and other labs working on similar questions, have made in the past years are truly impressing. In just a couple of years, Malin Parmer and her team are going to treat the first Parkinson’s patients with dopaminergic neurons derived from human embryonic stem cells. The whole setup is part of a huge collaboration involving several research groups in Europe as well as a group in the US. It was very motivating to hear how several years of bench work can eventually culminate in a clinical therapy, and I was also impressed by the collaborative efforts between the partners who have standardized all procedures to make their clinical results comparable between the countries.


For Sri Teja Mullapudi of The Max Plank Institute for Heart and Lung Research the chance to create scientific connections shone:

In contrast to the bustling life of principal investigators (PIs) and students in the academic setting, Hydra offered a contagiously relaxing atmosphere where we could slow down and a have a long meaningful conversation with one another. Removing the “official” component usually associated with such interactions also removed any inhibitions that you might have while approaching PIs with questions. The summer school was designed to have experts covering several branches of stem cell research, each having developed new and unique approaches. In addition to giving a holistic view of the field, this model spreads ideas – looking at your own research in ways not seen before. Since you now know whom to approach for expertise with a certain technique; a highly collaborative atmosphere is fostered.

One of the PIs highlighted what can be considered as the most important aspect of networking at such meetings – far too many people spend far too much time trying to meet and network with the most famous PIs attending the meeting. However, it is equally important, if not more, to get to know other students attending the meeting. 10-15 years from now, each of the students would have his/her own lab and be an expert in a field which you have a shared interest.  Bonds formed at such meetings can go a long way in fostering synergistic collaborations in the future. This aspect is in addition to the fact that you now have amazing friends from all over the world. The summer school made it very easy to have long-lasting memories among the students – be it diving in to the Mediterranean Sea in the middle of night among bioluminescent plankton or jogging every morning along the sea and to hilltops for the sunrise!

“People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel”


For Marta Perera Pérez of Danstem, the opportunity for in depth conversations with leading scientists about the work they do was a unique opportunity:

During the week at Hydra we got the opportunity to talk with the speakers in small groups. So, after attending the lecture, you could have the opportunity to actually get closer to them and discuss the topics more deeply. I was surprised that they also shared with us their opinions and insights and not only the points discussed at their talks. I think all of them made a great effort to level with us and to speak to us as colleagues and not as students.


For Hjalte List Larsen of Danstem the poster sessions provided a vibrant atmosphere:

In addition to the many great lectures, the Hydra summer school offered a truly inspiring poster session. At 9 AM 12-15 designated students would put up their posters on the white boards located in a small hotel patio amongst palms and colourful flowers. Even though the poster session wasn’t scheduled until late in the evening, and despite the location of the posters close to the tempting pool area, there was a constant buzz at the posters in the breaks between talks. The fact that only few students presented posters every day created an intense atmosphere during the evening sessions, as the many remaining students were free to browse the posters. I was very impressed by the level of interaction and engagement at the session, and the mix of people from multiple different fields within stem cell biology research challenged me to explain my research in different ways and made me see my project from whole new perspectives. There was a continuous flux of people at posters and on many occasions people were lining up for the next start of that two minutes poster description. After two hours of non-stop engagement at my poster, I left the session overwhelmed by the interest and the flood of exciting feedback, craving a drink after all that talking in the dry Greek summer night air.


For Sara Schmidt of The University of Edinburgh, the chance to reflect on engaging with the public about science led to new insights:

One part of the Hydra summer school were the Inspire sessions, which were all about public engagement and different ways for us young researchers to communicate our research. I personally think public engagement is incredibly fun and have done my best to do as much of it during the first year of my PhD. The first session was attended by all delegates and dealt with communicating your research to a non-specialist audience. We spoke about everything from what language to use, how to pitch and use your voice at its best capacity and an exercise of writing one sentence to explain your research in a simple manner. The session was particularly good as it got us all up on our feet and engaged with plenty of discussion and laughter with other delegates. A very nice break from the more “traditional“ lectures!

For the four other Inspire sessions we were divided into smaller groups. I attended the patient engagement session, which I found particularly inspiring since Malin Parmar from Lund University gave the story of how her lab and collaborators have dealt with patient engagement in light of the advanced research and clinical trials they are undertaking for Parkinson’s disease. She told us about the Parkinson’s café that they have in Lund, where patients and researchers come together to discuss the research advances that are happening and what it can mean for patients in the future. I really liked this idea of a very intimate and personal way to engage with the public.