The Southeastern Regional Lipid Conference
|High Hampton Inn. Photo courtesy of Larry Daniel, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.
Great ideas stand the test of time, and so it is with a meeting conceived over 45 years ago in Tennessee. The concept was to create a high-quality, focused and accessible conference that emphasized participation of students and postdocs and in doing so encouraged entire labs to attend, mingle and form long-lasting relationships. The enduring success of this meeting, the Southeastern Regional Lipid Conference (SERLC), is a testament to this model, and we would do well to emulate this format in other disciplines.
In 1966, Fred Snyder of Oak Ridge Associated Universities Medical Division and John Coniglio of Vanderbilt University, pioneers in the fields of ether-linked lipids and fatty-acid metabolism, respectively, realized that within driving distance of eastern Tennessee were a number of labs with strong lipid-research programs. They devised a small, informal meeting with the expressed purpose of giving junior lab members a place to present their work and hobnob with leaders in the field. For 45 years, through epic changes in the science, this meeting has flourished and yet retained its original intimate character. The original meeting had about 40 participants. Over time, the meeting has expanded moderately. Recent meetings have had about 120 participants.
This meeting may be small, but its quality, convenience and informal format draws keynote speakers from the upper echelons of lipid biochemistry. In its early years, speakers included such pillars of the field as P. Roy Vagelos, Konrad Bloch, Bob Bell, Bill Lennarz, Dan Lane, Konrad Sandhoff, Bill Lands and Ralph Snyderman, to name just a few. More recent speakers (pillars-in-waiting) have included Judy Storch, John Exton, Dennis Vance, Wim van Blitterswijk, Bob Dickson, Mike Frohman, Bill Smith, Claudia Kent, Ed Dennis, Fred Maxfield, Jim Hurley, Bob Michell, Tim Hla, Alex Brown, Gordon Mills and Charles Serhan.
A majority of the attendees have been participating for years, some since the earliest stages of their careers. With the exception of two keynote speakers, the talks at the meetings are exclusively from graduate students and postdocs. Session chairs are drawn from the ranks of postdocs and junior faculty. Candidates for the conference chair are chosen from participating junior faculty by a more senior steering committee. In this way, the meeting provides the opportunity not just to give talks and present posters but also to train young researchers in the vagaries of meeting organization. True to its name, this is a regional meeting that includes laboratories from Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Maryland, North and South Carolina, and Virginia. As the lipid cognoscenti know, this region encompasses some of the lipid powerhouses in the country, including those at Medical University of South Carolina, Virginia Commonwealth University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, among many others. Avanti Lipid Award recipients Yusuf Hannun and Sarah Spiegel are longtime participants, as are lipid mass spectroscopists at Georgia Tech Al Merrill and Cameron Sullards, who have pioneered and perfected analytical technologies that have reinvigorated the field. Members of other key labs, too numerous to mention, also are regular attendees. The strength of the meeting has pulled in participants from as far away as Washington state and California, and interlopers from Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio and other states are not uncommon.