August 2011

International collaborative science courses

South and North American scientists team up to offer training in biochemistry and cell and molecular biology. 


Introduction

Undergraduate students in South America have limited opportunities to interact with researchers from outside of their institutions and countries. In addition, academic and private-sector research scientists in South America historically have had limited opportunities to present and discuss their work in an international setting, thereby diminishing the broader impact of their work and training. Although investment in scientific infrastructure has grown in some Latin American countries, it is increasingly apparent that a platform for discussion and communication of scientific activities is needed within South and Central America as well as with partners from the greater international scientific community.

For more information about IICBB-sponsored events, visit their website.

In 1993, three Brazilian researchers joined eight Uruguayan researchers to host a course about the molecular basis of muscle contraction in Montevideo, Uruguay, for 28 undergraduate and graduate students (1). The course had several purposes. First and foremost, the pedagogical mission was to advance undergraduate teaching and research by providing hands-on research experience in biochemistry, cell biology and molecular biology complemented by lectures from established investigators from throughout South America. In addition, the course focused on strengthening discussion and collaboration among South American scientists with common interests who otherwise would have had limited opportunities for interaction. This first course was sponsored by the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology as well as Brazilian and Uruguayan funding agencies.

The student and faculty evaluations of the 1993 course reflected its value to South American students. Indeed, the course proved to be the sole opportunity for many students to have a rigorous introduction to the curriculum topics. Research and training collaboration among scientists from neighboring South American countries was an important by-product of the course for its participants. The success of the course indicated that expansion to include participants from nations beyond South America was a worthy goal.

An early focus of the International Institute for Collaborative Cell Biology and Biochemistry was to facilitate discussion and collaboration among the small community working on non-muscle myosin V motors at that time. In 2000, the International Symposium on Myosin V was held in Paraty, Brazil. As a result of the scientific connections and personal friendships forged at the meeting, Ernesto Carafoli proposed the formation of the International Cell Research Organization course on molecular motors, which was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2001. The course was organized such that experts from broad disciplines in cell and molecular biology presented in three educational forums: 1) general lectures in their respective fields geared toward a general audience with a broad science background, 2) specific lectures relating to their own research and 3) research laboratory practicals using state-of-the-art methodologies and analyses to investigate the behavior of biological systems. This three-tier format has been utilized by subsequent courses.  

Present course format

IICCBB courses have been held in the U.S., Mexico, Brazil and Uruguay. They typically have about 100 attendees and span two weeks: two one-week lecture series and lab practicals with a research symposium during the intervening weekend in which faculty present seminars on their current research activities. The faculty members are diverse, spanning disciplines from neuroscience to proteomics. Students present their work in posters and short research talks during the symposium as well as in presentations of the results from lab practicals, which cover protein biochemistry, computational modeling of biological processes, analysis of cellular function, generating and analyzing gene expression/protein profiling data, and investigating phylogenetic relationships between protein family members. The lab practicals are limited to 30 to 40 students, since the goal is to have hands-on research experience in small groups.

 
Students participating in the 2010 Pan-American Advanced Institutes program on the function and regulation of the cytoskeleton, hosted in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. This and another PASI were initiatives of the IICCBB group.

 

Selection of students

A fundamental goal of the course is to make students aware of the interdisciplinary nature and diversity of researchers in biochemistry and cell biology. Screening of student applicants is competitive, with emphasis on potential for bioscience research. The variation in scientific backgrounds of the students is taken into account, and the incoming class is selected to represent a broad distribution of backgrounds that include cell biology, biochemistry, genetics, biophysics and bioengineering. In addition, the student body represents a broad spectrum of nationalities and affiliations. Achieving these objectives requires active and far-reaching recruitment efforts, a task that includes students and faculty previously involved in the courses as well as advertising with widespread visibility.

The 2010 participants stated in evaluations that the course had a positive impact on their career development: It increased student motivation for pursuit of a scientific career and, in some cases, also encouraged them to seek training abroad. Numerous collaborations, student internships and faculty sabbaticals have resulted from relationships formed during the courses. Nonscientific activities, such as faculty-versus-student beach soccer matches and late-night churrascos, contribute to the development of long-lasting friendships.

Funding

Due to the international nature of the IICCBB courses and necessary travel for many participants, the expenses associated with organizing the courses are considerable. Numerous funding agencies have generously supported the IICCBB's efforts throughout the years, though the support is frequently inadequate to defray all expenses associated with the course. Student travel and accommodations are priorities. Participating faculty members often pay for travel and other course-related expenses from their personal funds.

Future

The IICCBB has succeeded in organizing over 20 courses and symposia with more than 1,500 students from more than 28 countries and over 100 faculty members from more than 15 countries. We are working to secure funding to offer regularly scheduled annual IICCBB courses in countries throughout the Americas. The long-term mission is to expand and merge these efforts with others to foster scientific networks that are truly global and contribute to the development of scientific capacity in nations currently lacking these connections. Student feedback regarding career-development impact, in addition to the research collaborations and publications that have emerged from contacts established at IICCB-organized events, indicates that the courses are successful on several levels and that we are on track to accomplish this mission.

Reference

1. Benech, J. C., Galina, A., Cameron, C., Teixeira, A., Garcia, R., Sotelo Jr., J. R., Verdes, J. M., Sasso, A., Calliari, A., Kun, A., and Sotelo, J. R. (1995) Biochemical education: A strategy to introduce young students to biochemical research: Report of an IUBMB workshop held in Montevideo, Uruguay, April 12 – 16, 1993. Biochem. Educ. 23, 192 – 193.

L.C. Cameron (cameron@unirio.br) is a professor in the Laboratório de Bioquímica de Proteínas, Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.


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