21st Annual Spring Research Festival Highlights Science, Celebrates Collaboration

By Samuel Lopez, Staff Writer; photos by Richard Frederickson, Staff Photographer
A researcher and visitors at the scientific poster display.

Lyuba Khavrutskii discusses her poster with visitors to this year’s scientific poster display.

For two days at the annual Spring Research Festival, Fort Detrick was abuzz with scientific discussion as researchers and visitors from the site’s many resident government agencies and contractors gathered to share findings and recognize collaborative research.

Each year, the festival focuses on intermural scientific work, as well as challenges and discoveries in the fight against cancer and infectious diseases. Spread across three separate venues and packed with seven events that included lectures, a poster session, and a vendor expo, this year’s festival did just that.

The first day of the event kicked off with the Post-Bac/Post-Doc Scientific Symposium and Poster Blitz. Sixteen of the 17 presenters were from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at Frederick, including several Werner H. Kirsten (WHK) Student Interns who had a unique opportunity to share their research with fellow students, scientists, and other members of the scientific and educational communities.

That afternoon featured another series of presentations, including the festival’s keynote address, “Immunodeficiency, Immunopathology and Immunotherapy: The I’s Have It,” given by Steven Holland, M.D., director of the Division of Intramural Research and chief of the Immunopathogenesis Section, Laboratory of Clinical Infectious Diseases, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Three more lectures followed Holland’s: one by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Brian Sellers and Angelique Biancotto, Ph.D.; one by the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center’s Kristen Reifel, Ph.D., and Brandon Swan, Ph.D.; and one by NCI’s Amir Erez, Ph.D.

The second day of the festival began with the Scientific Poster Display, which is traditionally the most popular event. This year was no exception, as scientists, visitors, and even a United States Army camera crew strolled between the 118 posters on display and conversed with researchers about topics ranging from plant disease in the Pacific Northwest to new technologies for studying the human genome.

The poster display is also one of the festival’s most valuable events, since “[it] allows students and young investigators the opportunity to discuss their research and projects with senior scientists and learn about the diversity of work being done here on the campus,” said Marsha Nelson-Duncan, education outreach program specialist, Office of Scientific Operations, NCI at Frederick.

Staff and students at the NCI at Frederick appeared eager for the opportunity. Of the 118 posters, roughly 75 were from NCI at Frederick researchers, 27 of which belonged to WHK SIP interns.

The festival concluded that afternoon with the National Interagency Confederation for Biological Research (NICBR) Research Collaboration Forum, a group of presentations that highlighted the collaborative research environment at Fort Detrick by featuring projects that were conducted through interagency partnerships.

Both days also played host to the Biomedical Research Equipment and Supplies Expo, which allowed researchers and visitors to meet with vendors of laboratory equipment and other research materials. Held in a massive tent just behind the Army’s fitness center, the expo featured booths from over 200 organizations and companies, giving interested individuals plenty of chances to explore new products and partnerships.

“The vendor show provides scientists and investigators the opportunity to see the latest technologies in one place while also being able to speak with the company directly about their products,” Nelson-Duncan said. Since multiple local organizations, such as colleges, also attend, the expo helps attendees increase their community awareness and connect with the local area.

A fixture in the Fort Detrick community for 21 years, the Spring Research Festival has become known as a venue for sparking new scientific conversations and forging new cooperative bonds between the various agencies and institutes on the Detrick campus. Its reputation held true this year, as researchers from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (MRMC), the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, the U.S. Army Center for Environmental Health Research, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the NCI at Frederick, NIAID, and NICBR member agencies came together to share their research.

“[The festival] provides a unique opportunity for students, scientists, and the community to collaborate and discuss the research being done at the agencies located here,” Nelson-Duncan said. “[It] also recognizes collaborations between agency staff.”

Recognition usually comes in the form of awards given to outstanding participants a few weeks after the festival each year. This year’s recipients are Matthew Anderson (NCI), Alexi Baumgardner (NCI), Tiffany Bellomo (NCI), Irma Blanco (MRMC), Michael Boylan (NCI), Caleb Chen (NCI), Farivar Eskandari (USDA), Lixin Fan (NCI), Emma Gergel (NCI), Emine Guven-Maiorov (NCI), Helene Highbarger (Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research), Balamurugan Kuppusamy (NCI), Perrine Lallemand (Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research), Yanling Liu (NCI), Joshua Meyer (MRMC), Kim Peifley (NCI), Tauseef Rehman (NCI), Maggie Shi (MRMC), and Christine Stone (USDA).

They will be officially recognized in a ceremony at the Fort Detrick Community Activities Center on June 19 at 9:30 a.m. Maj. Gen. Barbara R. Holcomb, the commanding officer of the Fort Detrick garrison, is expected to distribute the awards.

The NCI at Frederick’s R&W Club and Green Team partnered with the USDA to sponsor a plant exchange at this year’s equipment and supplies expo. NIAID’s Steven Holland, Ph.D., gave the keynote presentation on the first day of the festival. Caleb Chen (right), a WHK intern, explains his research during the scientific poster display. A research team comprised of Rajini Mudhasani, Ph.D., USAMRIID, (at left); Thomas Turbyville, Ph.D., NCI at Frederick, (at right); and Krishna Kota, Ph.D., USAMRIID (not pictured) was among the presenters at the NICBR Forum.