UF conference draws muscle biology experts and trainees from around the world

person at microphone at conference meeting
Photos by Jesse S. Jones

By Jill Pease

Nearly 400 participants from North and South America, Europe and Asia gathered at the University of Florida March 15-17 for Advances in Skeletal Muscle Biology, the world’s premier conference focused on adult skeletal muscle biology.

In addition to attracting a cadre of internationally-recognized researchers, the conference makes a special effort to encourage trainee participation. Nearly half of participants in this year’s conference were trainees, said scientific co-organizer Andrew Judge, Ph.D., a professor in the department of physical therapy at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions.

“Trainees bring fresh ideas and energy and, of course, they are the future of the field,” Judge said. “We work very hard to make sure the meeting is highly affordable for trainees by making registration fees as low as possible through the support of incredible sponsors. We also incorporated short talks from trainees into the program so they have opportunities to share their research beyond just posters, and we make the meeting as relaxed and friendly as professionally possible so that it feels like a safe environment for trainees to speak up and engage.”

Luca Delfinis, a Ph.D. candidate in kinesiology and health science at York University in Toronto who presented both a poster and a two-minute talk, said the level of interest and engagement in his work was unlike other conferences.

“Typically, at conference poster sessions I find myself lucky to have one or two good conversations,” Delfinis said. “At this conference, I found myself discussing science non-stop at my poster. As a trainee, this makes you feel like your work actually has impact and people care to learn what you’re doing at the lab bench.”

He called the opportunity to present a two-minute talk one of the highlights of his graduate school career.

“I’ve given several presentations throughout my education (as most trainees have), however, having the opportunity to present in front of this large of a crowd of experts was absolutely astonishing,” Delfinis said. “It’s not too common that you get to have such an impactful group of researchers looking at your presentation on the big screen and I think it’s amazing trainees were given this opportunity.”

A new conference feature this year was the creation of two “hubs” for remote participation: one at the Muscle Health Research Center at York University and another at the Center for Research in Myology in Paris. At these hubs, researchers gathered to watch the conference talks live through Zoom. The hubs were spearheaded by Sarah Judge, Ph.D., a UF PHHP research assistant professor of physical therapy, through a grant from the Company of Biologists.

“We hope participants took away new knowledge gained from colleagues that will help their own research path; new and renewed collaborations to help advance the field; and energy and excitement for advancements in muscle research,” Andrew Judge said. “We also hope trainees left thinking that myology research is the right field for them to stay in because it’s a community that’s supportive and is doing exciting work as it relates to improvements in human health. And I can’t help hoping that people left thinking what a gorgeous campus UF is!”

Advances in Skeletal Muscle Biology was co-organized by Andrew Judge, Ph.D., Leonardo Ferreira, Ph.D., Sarah Judge, Ph.D., Terence Ryan, Ph.D., Lee Sweeney, Ph.D., Karyn Esser, Ph.D., and Christa Stout, and was supported by several UF sponsors, including the Myology Institute, the colleges of Health and Human Performance and Public Health and Health Professions, the Office of Research, the department of applied physiology and kinesiology, the department of physical therapy and the department of physiology and aging. Visit the conference website for a full list of sponsors.

The conference received green level certification, the highest level available, from UF’s Office of Sustainability.