Investigating Dendritic Cell Development

Anirudh Muralikrishnan, MSc, PhD Student, Medical University of Graz
Anirudh Muralikrishnan

Anirudh is a PhD student supervised by Prof. Albert Wölfler in the Department of Hematology at the Medical University of Graz. In 2018, he shared with us a scientific discovery that inspired his own research and received a travel award from STEMCELL Technologies to attend a conference of his choice. He chose to attend the 5th European Congress of Immunology (ECI).


If I had to name one breakthrough event in the last 25 years that changed the course of my life, it would have to be the first cloned mammal, Dolly. This is what got me interested, like many other kids, in genetics, and I haven't looked back since. So many more breakthroughs have happened after that, and we haven't even scratched the surface in our study of life.

Anirudh Muralikrishnan, Medical University of Graz

Science moves forward when you share it with the world, so we asked Anirudh to share some information on his research and on his experience at ECI 2018.

The Research: Investigating the Role of CEBPA in Dendritic Cell Development

Can you tell us about your research?

My current project deals with investigating the role of a gene—named CAAT enhancer binding protein alpha ( CEBPA)—in early dendritic cell (DC) development, the results of which I was presenting in my talk at ECI 2018. CEBPA is a bZIP (basic leucine zipper) transcription factor that has been extensively studied in hematopoiesis, and is well known for its fate/lineage decisive functions, especially in myelopoiesis. It hasn’t been investigated as extensively in the formation of DCs and, hence, it piqued our interest.

The project uses an inducible knockout mouse model to prove that the lack of CEBPA disrupts DC formation. The final aim of the project will be to identify the mechanisms through which CEBPA controls of DC development might happen.

What is the significance of your research?

My project is, honestly speaking, completely basic science. It adds to the existing treasure trove of knowledge, which is the ultimate aim of scientific research. But keeping in mind that passion and knowledge aren’t the only aims of research, I could give you a couple of reasons that make DC development an important field:

Firstly, cancer immunotherapy is a hot topic, as is visible from the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine for 2018, being given to Prof. James P. Allison and Prof. Tasuku Honjo. Incidentally, Prof. Tasuku Honjo also had a keynote lecture on the “serendipities of acquired immunity” at ECI 2018. But back to the topic at hand, DCs are immune cells that can infiltrate tumor masses and contribute to the tumor microenvironment. DCs are also being used in cancer research to develop vaccines for targeted cancer therapy. To understand how DCs develop is essential to understanding how DCs can be manipulated and used to achieve successful therapy.

Secondly, acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a prevalent type of cancer, and a lot of research is being conducted to improve diagnostics and find therapeutic targets. More and more rare subtypes of AML, like dendritic cell sarcoma, are being discovered with increasing frequency. The role of CEBPA in AML in general is well known, and hence could easily be implicated and extrapolated to the rare subtypes, including dendritic cell sarcoma.

The Conference: ECI 2018, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Why did you choose to attend ECI 2018?

I work in the department of hematology, where the central theme is hemato-oncology. But as the sole student in the department working on immunology, I didn’t think I would feel at home attending the usual hematology conferences that the people from my department would attend. Also, I was at the 2017 FEBS summer school for immunology where I heard about ECI. It sounded like a perfect opportunity to check out the competition, identify potential collaborations, and look for ideas to strengthen my publication.

Can you tell us about your favorite presentations at the conference?

The best part of the conference had to be the exhibitions with all the goodies, like soft toys and pens. Jokes aside, the talks and posters presented at the conference were awe-inspiring. To pick a favorite would be unjustified and biased against other talks. But some talks did strike a chord more than others. For example, the talk by Prof. Laurence Zitvogel about the role of microbiome in regulating immune response in cancers was very informative and inspired me to look at cancer immunotherapy differently.

I also attended the “Experts Guide to Publishing” workshop conducted by Wiley. The workshop was a comprehensive guide on the publication process, with snippets from editors of immunology journals describing what they would like to see in submissions. The session was quite interactive, and it gave me a clear idea of what I need to get my work published.

Apart from the talks, the poster sessions were also very informative. My interest was in the myeloid lineage specification session, and I found a lot of interesting techniques and ideas to use in my future experiments.

What did you learn from the "Experts Guide to Publishing" workshop?

The workshop session was very informative, especially as I am close to finishing my project and will need to work on my manuscript soon. There were quite a few things the editors mentioned they would like to see in submissions.

  • First, and foremost, was the abstract. They mentioned how the abstract is the first impression and, as the saying goes, “the first impression is the lasting impression”. Something that all the panelists mentioned was that the abstract is what increases the visibility of the work, and therefore needs to be the best written part of the manuscript. But quite often the abstract is the worst part as it is written last and in a hurry.
  • The second point was about keywords; these are very important for the visibility of the article. They suggested choosing the keywords carefully, and keeping a balance between specific terms and general terms.
  • They also had some general suggestions for writing reader-friendly manuscripts. For example, they suggested limiting the length of a sentence to 15 words, as it would help people comprehend them better. They also suggested keeping titles appropriately short and avoiding acronyms for better understandability.

Most of what they said were things I would have thought of too, that is if I had given it a thought. But that is where the problem is, most people get engrossed in the science and the data so much that they forget about the importance of clearly communicating the data. So, the workshop helped me get a fresh view on the process of writing itself.

How has attending this conference inspired you or affected your current research?

The conference opened up new avenues and directions for research. I received some good suggestions after my talk and through interactions with poster presenters. I also got a clearer picture on what I need to do to have a smooth publication process, now that I am aiming to publish soon. The inspiration I got from the conference is not limited to my current project. Seeing researchers getting acknowledged for their hard work and seeing other researchers working equally hard for the betterment of science and life in general has got my blood racing again.

What advice do you have for the next generation of scientists?

Honestly, I am not the best person around to be advising people, but my life has been guided by one simple principle: science is the light that guides us into the future, and we are its light-bearers.

So simply put, I ask our future, the new generation of researchers, to look at science as the answers to the curiosity that mankind has always had, to build our knowledge-base on what we already know, and reach for the boundless limits that this world has to offer.


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