What is a symposium?
Symposia were important social gatherings amongst scientists, philosophers, teachers and students in Ancient Greece. Participants would drink, eat and contemplate various issues. It is through such symposia that some of the pivotal philosophical ideas emerged and later became pillars of democracy.
Removed from formalities, symposia participants were able to hold discussions after a lavish dinner. Strong friendships were formed, establishing a true and honest discourse and exchange of ideas. It was in symposia that intellectual discovery was made possible.
Inspired by the Ancient Greeks, the Nikolas Symposium emulates this social institution.
“The word “symposium” has the meaning of friendship and togetherness implied in it. The social setting and the symposium environment are conducive to relationship and network building, which is so important for rare diseases. By associating top scientists and inviting them to the symposia, we managed to organize a worldwide network of scientific contacts that now makes up the Nikolas Symposium ‘Family’.”
Paul and Elizabeth Kontoyannis
The Nikolas Symposium is an unconventional international foundation that promotes the exchange of ideas. It sustains its humane spirit of friendship by balancing medical research with an amicable, festive setting and offers scientists and clinicians a small break from their daily routines. After the lively debating concludes, our scientists take the newly conceived ideas to their labs, then to a doctor’s office and finally, to the patients all under the umbrella of the Nikolas Symposium.
The Nikolas Symposium has been a catalyst for research. Over the years, the Symposia have originated concepts and examined numerous questions, spurring advances in the quest for a cure. The clinical and pathological features of the disease are much better understood today than in 1989, when the first Symposium took place.
Cheryl Willman on clonality
Dr. Cheryl Willman conducted tests and proved that, contrary to the earlier prevailing opinion, Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH) is a neoplastic process rather than a reactive disorder. Although the biological significance of the detection of clonality was not fully understood at the time, Willman’s data suggested that LCH may be a clonal neoplastic disorder with highly variable biological behavior and clinical severity. This discovery provided clear directions for studies that were further undertaken to understand more fully the biological and clinical significance of clonality in LCH.
Ralph Steinman on The Dendritic Cell
The “dendritic cells” – named after their tree-like shape – were discovered by Dr. Steinman (Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine) while conducting research on the production of antibodies in his lab in the ‘90s. Dendritic cells are the main T cell-stimulating cells. Immature dendritic cells lay in hibernation and are activated as soon as they take their first antigen stimulus. Dr. Steinman further discovered that not only do those cells train T cells how to fight foreign antigens/ intruders but also that they train T cells to tolerate harmless self-antigens.
Barrett Rollins on the BRAF Gene
BRAF is a human gene that encodes a protein called B-Raf. It is involved in sending signals to cells involved in directing cell growth and is shown to be mutated in some human cancers. In 2011, it was discovered that about half of the patients suffering from Histiocytic diseases have a mutation in the BRAF gene. Based on this pivotal discovery, international studies have been conducted treating patients with a medicine that blocks this BRAF mutation.
“I cannot think of a better time and place to celebrate and honor those who through the Nikolas Symposia have continued to challenge paradigms, helped advance our knowledge and improved the care of histiocytic disorders.”
Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, former president of Histiocyte Society
The upcoming Nikolas Symposiums marks an important turn point; its 30 year anniversary.
Its topic is “Thirty Years of the Nikolas Symposium” and “Neurodegeneration in LCH”.
The 29th Nikolas Symposium
The 29th Nikolas Symposium was held from May 16th until the 19th, 2019 at Divani Apollon Palace & Thalasso. Its focus was on Immune Strategies in the Histiocytoses and the discussion was twofold. First, the conference centered on the use of the new family of drugs called kinase inhibitors. These are highly effective; however, they do not cure the disease but rather its symptoms. The second aspect of the Symposium focused on new approaches to treatment that might be used together with kinase inhibitors by targeting blood vessels which supply nutrients to the lesions for instance. Kinase inhibitors are an important new weapon for treating Histiocytic Disorders. Detailed proceedings will be available soon.
The Jon Pritchard Fellowship was awarded to Dr. Thomas Michael Burke and Dr. Olive Eckstein. The Symposium ended with a lovely excursion to Sounio on the outskirts of Athens.
The 28th Nikolas Symposium
The 28th Nikolas Symposium was held from May 10th until the 13st. It focused on Myeloid Cell Programming and Differentiation and examined the link between myeloid cells that function abnormally in LCH and the mutation of the B-RAF molecule. Proceedings are available here (See detailed proceedings). The Symposium revealed that there are now new technologies to study the effect of the B-RAF mutation on myeloid progenitor cells, which will surely reveal new targets for therapy. The Jon Pritchard Fellowship was awarded to Drs. Karen PhaikHar Lim and Roei D. Mazor.
The Symposium also organized a trip to the Acropolis. Notably, right below the world-renown Parthenon lies the temple of Asclepius, god of medicine, and his daughter Hygiea, the goddess of health.
The 27th Nikolas Symposium
The 27th Nikolas Symposium, held in May 18th – 21st, was very prolific and marked a major advancement by focusing not only on unsolved questions around the development of LCH but also on the implementation of a rationale cure. The Symposium’s topic was LCH: The Cell of Origin and a Pathway to a Rationale Cure and the proceedings are available here (See detailed proceedings). The Jon Pritchard Fellowship was awarded to Dr. Paul Milne, Dr. Matthias Papo and Dr. Brandon Hogstad.
Moreover, the Symposium organized a trip to the National Archeological Museum, a landmark museum, home to Greece’s largest collection of ancient artifacts. Notably, the museum is home to the famous Antikythera Mechanism, the world’s oldest found computer.
The 26th Nikolas Symposium
During the course of this four-day symposium, participants discussed the Histiocytic disorders and enjoyed Greek hospitality. The Symposium’s topic was Beyond BRAF: Mechanisms of Resistance and Therapeutic Development and the proceedings are available here (See detailed proceedings). The Jon Pritchard Fellowship was awarded to Dr. Rikhia Chakraborty and Dr. Benjamin Durham.
The Symposium organized a trip to the archeological museum of Eleusis located in Eleusina, one of Greece’s most important cities. It is the location of the famous “Eleusinian Mysteries,” where initiations were held every year to honor the goddess Demetra. These celebrated Persephone’s annual return to Earth from the kingdom of Hades. The mysteries pay homage to life, an appropriate metaphor and a wonderful way to close the 26th Nikolas Symposium.