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 27th Nikolas Symposium will be held in Athens from 18th to 21st May, 2017. The theme of the Symposium is “LCH: The Cell of Origin and a Pathway to a Rational Cure”.
The Symposium, through the Jon Pritchard Fellowship will host interested and inquisitive young researchers for the first time.
Learn more about the Jon Pritchard Fellowship and apply here.
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.
The 25th Nikolas Symposium
Both a celebratory and a commemoratory event, this year the Symposium celebrated its 25th birthday and honored Dr. Jon Pritchard. Dr. Pritchard’s daughter received a Career Award on his behalf in a ceremony dedicated to his memory and life achievements. The symposium also organized a visit to the Museum of Cycladic Art, which held an exhibit on the subject of health. The topic discussed at this the Symposium was Mechanisms and Long-term Consequences of Neuroinflammatory Diseases, and the proceedings can be found here: (See detailed proceedings).
The 24th Nikolas Symposium
The topic of the 24th Nikolas Symposium was Harnessing Immunology and Inflammation in Neoplasms: Relevance to LCH and Histiocytic Disorders. Over the course of those three days, attendees deliberated on the advancements made in research since the discovery of the BRAF gene. Proceedings to the 24th Symposium can be found here: (See detailed proceedings).