European Society for Biomaterials 2023 Conference Report from P4FIT Early Stage Researcher Francesco Iorio
From Monday the 4th of September to Friday the 8th of September 2023, I had the chance to travel to Davos, Switzerland, to attend the European Society for Biomaterials 2023 (ESB2023) conference, which is often recognized as the most relevant meeting for researchers involved in biomaterials, both in Europe and from all over the world. The conference consisted of a full face-to-face event and was organized by the chairs Professors Matteo d’Este, David Eglin and Marcy Zenobi-Wong in the Conference Centre of Davos, a renowned city for hosting the World Economic Forum and several research and healthcare institutes related to pulmonary diseases and orthopaedics. Overall, the conference hosted over 1200 attendees from young researchers to key players that contributed to pushing forward the boundaries of biomaterials-related challenges during the last years.
On the first day, I attended the conference opening ceremony in the afternoon, and I had the opportunity to listen to the very first plenary lecture by Prof. André Studart concerning the design of porous materials. The lecture actively reminded me the importance of designing materials with pores, and fibers in my specific case, with dimensions that can guarantee cell infiltration and motility, and provide mechanical cues for their differentiation. The welcome reception began right after the lecture was over, and it was the perfect occasion for reuniting with colleagues from FAU and other universities I had not have a chance to see in months due to my research stays in Italy and Portugal for the whole extension of 2023.
On Tuesday, the daily opening plenary lecture and awarding session were followed by interesting parallel sessions, from Prof. Antonella Motta talking about biopolymer-based scaffold design for regenerative medicine, to the groups of talks concerning supramolecular biomaterials and sustainable biomaterials research, which happened to take place at the same time and caused me to go from one room to the other to try to absorb as much information as possible. While supramolecular biomaterials were introduced by Prof. Eric Appel, who develops at Stanford biomimetic polymeric materials and uses them to better understand biological processes, the topic of sustainable research for biomaterials was extensively explained by Prof. Una FitzGerald, who leads a working group on sustainable public sector labs. Both topics were extremely relevant to my work, as it concerns the fabrication of biomimetic polymeric scaffolds for tendon regeneration through “green electrospinning”, and both talks seemed to consolidate the idea that we are moving in the right direction despite much still must be done both with regard to engineering advanced healthcare solutions and to reconsider the way labs should be more conscious about environment- and safety-related concerns. On Tuesday I also had the chance to assist to the rapid fire presentation of Florencia Diaz, a colleague from FAU and P4FIT working on natural polymeric patches for rotator cuff treatment, and to wander around the corridors of the Conference Centre for the Poster Session A, during which I focused on musculoskeletal tissue-related expositions.
Wednesday represented the highlight of the week, as it was the day filled the most with presentations strictly related to tendon tissue engineering and biology. For example, the session dedicated to musculoskeletal soft tissues was opened by Prof. Jess Snedeker with a lecture on the mechanics of tendon biology, a topic I had the pleasure to listen to during a previous conference as well. This time, specific insights on the relationship between cellular contractility, glycolysis and extracellular matrix remodeling were provided, stressing once again how important it is to have a highly aligned matrix in the suppression of an inflammatory response and the healing of the tendon. This concept is of course shiftable to biomaterials design, in the sense that the alignment degree of the material, electrospun fibers in my case, play a key role in directing cell survivability and teno-differentiation, as preliminarily observed in first person during my cell study experiments. Short talks about three dimensional matrices for tendon and mostly cartilage regeneration followed by, providing further insights on the importance of mechanostimulation in driving the healing response.
Besides attending the rapid fire presentation of Lisa Schoebel, another colleague from FAU working on conductive polymers mostly applied to hydrogel-based systems, Wednesday represented also a chance to socialize with other young investigators during the “Run around the lake”, a sport event consisting in running/walking around the lake of Davos for a total of 4.5 km. During the event, I reconnected with Dr. Gabriela Kronemberger and Kyle Storey, a postdoctoral fellow and PhD student in Prof. Daniel Kelly laboratory at Trinity’s College Dublin. While we mostly talked about the challenges of living in a relatively expensive city like Dublin, and trying to find a healthy work-life balance with regards to sport activities like the one we were engaging with, I had a chance to go into details with the work carried out at Trinity’s College when I later spoke with Francesca Spagnuolo, a former colleague of mine at University of Trieste where we both graduated in Nanobiotechnology Master’s Degree. Her work revolves around optimizing the fusion, growth and remodeling of cell microtissues into fused anisotropic soft tissues in the attempt of mimicking the architecture and properties of knee cartilage. Discussing both hers and my poster, we exchanged ideas on how to implement staining techniques for the visualization of extracellular matrix components, and how to extend our mechanical characterization to study the stability of the interface between our biomaterials and native tissue. Apart from Francesca, my poster was well-received by the attendees, with few people stopping by during the poster session to ask for further details about my fabrication protocol and the rationale behind the project, with a couple of constructive feedbacks from former FAU PhD student Dr. Lena Vogt and Dr. Arianna De Mori from the University of Portsmouth.
After a Thursday mostly focused on advanced fabrication techniques, with the highlight talk by Prof. Riccardo Levato in the afternoon session, and short talks in the morning by Sonja Kuth, another colleague at FAU, and Xinyuan Song regarding the production of anisotropic pores through freeze-drying of collagen, the day concluded with a interactive Gala Dinner which was the perfect opportunity to document and celebrate our successful participation through group pictures and toasts.
Lastly on Friday the conference closing and awards ceremony was held, during which my supervisor Prof. Aldo Boccaccini announced that Nuremberg will be hosting next year’s CESB2024, a conference that will hopefully see the participation of many ESB2023 attendees and carry on the discussion on biomaterials bloomed in Davos during the week.
Francesco Iorio, 13/09/2023
(PhD Student at the Institute of Biomaterials, Erlangen)