Entry 1 – The ICS workshop in Cape Town, South Africa
In the seven years I’ve been an application scientist for Treestar I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many interesting folks working in the field of Flow Cytometry, have been sent to work in some exotic locations, and have been shown all sorts of innovations within our field. As part of the revision to the FlowJo website the application scientists have been given space to post articles. I intended to use my space to post a short story each month on the most interesting people, places, and technology that I’ve encountered recently.
Towards that end, if you see me in your lab, yes, I’d love to hear about something cool you’re working on, and certainly it would be better over a few beers!
The first event that I chose to write about is a pretty good combination of interesting people and an exotic destination. Recently, Treestar was generous enough to send me to serve as part of the faculty for the 5th annual African Flow Cytometry Workshop hosted by the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa. The workshop is a biannual course offered to the most promising young cytometrists in Africa for the purpose of developing expertise and building a critical mass of young African scientists studying cellular immunity to the three major pathogens, HIV, TB and malaria. The ICS committee solicits abstracts of prospective student’s work and provides travel scholarships for as many students as sponsorship money can be found for.
At UCT an excellent faculty of cytometrists (and me) taught the students through lectures and hands-on sessions, the principles of flow cytometry, set-up and quality control of flow instruments, design and optimization of flow experiments, and analysis and interpretation of flow cytometry data over the course of a week.
And what a week it was! Most of the days started well before dawn. Dr. Guido Ferrari of Duke
University, an ultra-marathoner, and Dr. Tom Scriba of UCT, a runner of similar caliber, led
morning runs up Table Mountain for the willing. Table Mountain is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, and is accessible from down town Cape Town. Rather than try to describe the mountain, I’ve included a couple of photos that tell the story of these runs; first a photo taken by Tom of myself, Guido, and Dr. Tony Moody also of Duke University freezing at the summit of the mountain at dawn. The second, more elegant, photo is the view we had from that vantage, taken by Tony.
Throughout the week the faculty rotated in and out of rolls teaching, running labs, and dealing with homework, each faculty member stepping forward when one of their areas of expertise came up. Dr. Mike Betts from the University of Pennsylvania caught everyone up to speed on a wide range of flow basics. Dr. Steve Perfetto of the NIH lectured on every aspect of instrumentation. Guido and Tom taught the students how to properly design a panel and how to titrate. Drs. Wendy Burgers, Andrea Soares, and Elisa Nemes of UCT covered all the fine details of proper ICS staining and the handling of cells. Dr. Catherine Riou of UCT and I stepped in for data analysis. It was a really wonderful group to be a part of and I can say that the lectures filled in many gaps in my knowledge of flow. I may have learned as much as any student.
My primary challenge was to incorporate as much of what the students were learning into the FlowJo lessons so that while they learned FlowJo we could reinforce many of the prior lessons. It became a running joke that Steve would make a point while lecturing, and then finish with ‘And John will show you how to do that in FlowJo’, while I whipped open my laptop to adjust my slides. When my turn to lecture came, I felt like I did a credible job, and it was a great feeling to know that I did my part and didn’t let the rest of that excellent team down.
And I know we did a good job. Guido played the role of task master and organized homework and quizzes throughout the week so that we could gauge the students’ progress. By the end of the week all students showed an improvement, with a median increase of 30%, which translated into a doubling of knowledge in most. Ask to describe the workshop in an anonymous evaluation at the conclusion, the students were very positive. A couple of my favorite quotes regarding the class are:
“Perfect, so much of what I have read in papers now makes sense. I really went from 1% flow knowledge to 98.9%. I have had answers to things I didn’t know I needed as well as things I did need to know. Really, it has been the best workshop I have ever attended.”
“It has been very helpful. I have learnt so much that I didn’t know about flow cytometry. I now realize what we need to do on the machine and the analysis to ensure our data is valid and credible.”
I’ve included below a picture of the workshop students and faculty, with me in the middle. This was a real good worthwhile week or work, one that I won’t soon forget.
Finally, the workshop ended Friday night and I didn’t fly home till Sunday, so I had a day off in Cape Town. So many possibilities, but the most appealing by far was to go great white shark cage diving with friends. We used Apex Predators (http://www.apexpredators.com/), the same folks who run the boats for Air Jaws on Shark Week. Take a look at the link, it was that cool. I promise to add a photo or two from this experience once we use up the film in the underwater camera!