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Belfast Bound! – A report on the Joint Spring Meeting of the ACB Northern Ireland Region and ACB Ireland held on 20th April 2012. (by Lee Armstrong)

The plan of the meeting was adventurous to say the least. We wanted to have a focus and yet be inclusive for the extended membership of the ACB, involving both our immunologist and microbiologist colleagues. I think we managed to pull it off! This was in most part due to the quality of preparation and delivery of the lectures by our invited speakers.

The morning session was focused mainly on cancer markers. Dr Dale Powner from The Binding Site explained the value of Freelite assays in the early detection of Monoclonal Gammopathies. He then introduced the potential of heavylite assays for the differential diagnosis within monoclonal gammoapathies, leaving us to consider the potential application of this new diagnostic tool. This was followed by a talk from the renowned expert in the field of Myeloma and MGUS, Professor Curly Morris entitled “ Myeloma – new drugs, new techniques, new outlook.” In this talk he discussed the stages of a pre-existing MGUS period, of variable time period, leading to myeloma. Of particular interest was the report on new and surprising drugs (for example thalidomide) that have emerged in the last decade and have accomplished response in patients with refractory myeloma. These drugs seem to interfere with the ‘cross talk’ between stroma cells and myeloma cells. Other drugs (for example Bortezomib) disrupt the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway. He left us knowing that prognosis was definitely improving for patients with myeloma.

The final topic of the morning session was covered by Professor (Michael) Joe Duffy when he asked the question “Can biomarkers be used in cancer screening?” We were captivated by his honest appraisal of the benefits and pitfalls of national screening programmes. He inspired us to reappraise the role of the laboratory in screening programmes and the assumed benefits of clinical outcomes.

After a pleasant hour of lunching, networking, chatting and renewing old acquaintances, we returned to an enjoyable and varied programme. This began with a talk from Professor Ian Young from Belfast HealthTrust/Queen’s University Belfast, on “Diet, nutrition and the laboratory”. With his usual eloquence, he expounded on the ideal diet, the consequences of metabolic syndrome and the inherent problems of laboratory measurement of macro and micronutrient status – food for thought (if you will pardon the pun!). This was followed by ‘something completely different’ yet equally compelling. Ms Michele Gorham, the National Clinical Lead Nurse for Prion Disease based in UCLH, London expertly led us through the various types of prion disease, familial (autosomal dominant), sporadic and iatrogenic. She described the various presentations and symptoms for each type of disease and covered the known mutations within the prion gene and the precautions now set in place to avoid transmission by blood and blood products. Dr Ishola Agbaje delivered a brilliantly prepared talk on Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH), describing the history of its discovery, its actions in gender determination and its role in ovarian follicle maturation. He then spoke of the uses of AMH assay in the context of his work as consultant in the Regional Fertility Centre in Belfast. In addition to providing a surrogate marker of ovarian reserve, it is useful in the detection/prediction of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome which occurs in about 1% of IVF cycles. Since AMH is raised in individuals with polycystic ovary syndrome, he proposed that a future AMH antagonist may be a treatment for this disorder.

The last (but certainly not least!) talk of the day was given by Stephen Henderson from Randox Laboratories Ltd. He reported positive results of various studies on the measurement of Heart type Fatty Acid Binding Protein (H-FABP) in combination with other cardiac injury markers to predict outcome and prognosis in patients who have experienced a cardiac event. At the close of the meeting there were many encouraging comments on how interesting and informative every talk had been and everyone appreciated the quality of the presentations and the value of coming together to share knowledge and experience.


ACBNI Spring Meeting 2012 - ACBNI Chair & Speakers
Left to right - Curly Morris, Michele Gorman, Peter Sharpe (ACBNI Chair) and Ian Young

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Updated 20th August 2013

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