A Yale immunologist meets Nobel laureates at Lindau Meeting

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Next-generation scientists, including Yale's Carina Dehner (second from left) with 1996 Nobel laureate Peter C. Doherty (center) at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany.

It’s not every day that a young scientist gets to meet and mingle with the titans of her field: Nobel laureates. But that’s exactly what Carina Dehner, postgraduate research fellow in immunobiology at Yale School of Medicine, did earlier this month at the 2015 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting held June 28-July 3 in Germany.

For a full week, Dehner had the rare opportunity to attend lectures, discussions, networking events, and a master class in which she presented her research before an audience of the world’s top scientists.

The purpose of the annual Lindau meetings is to bring together former Nobel Prize recipients with emerging scientists from all over the world to exchange ideas and foster mentoring and dialogue. Dehner, who was initially recommended for the meeting by her former university, the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, presented her current work in the lab of Yale assistant professor of immunobiology and medicine Dr. Martin A Kriegel.


Sign welcomes participants to the 65th annual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.

After arriving in Lindau on Sunday, Dehner attended a welcome ceremony where German President Joachim Gauck delivered opening remarks followed by a procession of the 65 Nobel laureates who attended the meeting — a record number for the annual event, now in its 65th year. That first day concluded with a concert by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and dinner.

The next day kicked off with a “Science Breakfast,” in which partners and supporters of the Lindau Meeting offered presentations during the morning meal. Dehner attended a session titled “Decoding Science Leadership: What Matters in Leading Innovative Labs, Leading Great People, Leading Self.” Following the presentation was the real piece de resistance, she said: brief talks by each of the laureates, who shared the research and work leading to their Nobel awards.

Throughout the week, Dehner and her fellow young scientists attended master classes, meetings in which select participants presented their current research to a Nobel laureate and an audience of fellow scientists. On Monday afternoon, Dehner seized the opportunity to sit in on a master class about “antimicrobial defenses,” led by fellow immunologists Jules A. Hoffmann and Bruce A. Beutler, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2011 with Ralph M. Steinman.

On Tuesday, Dehner and a small group of scientists had lunch with Peter C. Doherty, who won the 1996 Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine, along with Rolf M. Zinkernagel, for discoveries relating to cell-mediated immune defense.

“We spoke to Peter Doherty for hours,” Dehner recalls. “He was really interested in getting to know us, and he gave us good feedback.” Prior to the meeting, Doherty had selected Dehner to give a presentation in his master class based on a research abstract she had submitted. That night, at a “Grill & Chill” event, the laureates, young scientists, and Lindau locals continued to talk science over barbecue.

Wednesday was filled with more scientific discussions and a lecture by Wole Soyinka, the first African to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.

The master class

Carina Dehner presents her research during a master class about how the immune system works.

In the afternoon of the fifth day, Dehner made her presentation in Doherty’s master class, titled “How the Immune System Works.” Doherty opened the class by first asking who was in the audience, and says the responses demonstrated the interdisciplinary nature of the Lindau meeting: the audience included scientists representing physics, chemistry, and other disciplines.

As the second presenter, Dehner described her work on the autoimmune disease known as anti-phospholipid syndrome and how the “microbiome” is influencing this disease. (The microbiome refers to the genetic material of all the microbes — bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses — that live on and inside the human body.)

“I got questions from a scientist specializing in physics about my statistics, and there was someone else in the audience working on microbiota,” Dehner recalls. A few attendees have since followed up by email to continue the dialogue, she adds.

That evening, all of the scientists were entertained by a Bavarian-themed event, complete with costumes, folk music, food, and two more scientific talks. For the next and final day of the meeting, attendees enjoyed a boat ride, picnic lunch, and a panel discussion about science education before the conclusion and farewell.

In closing

Dehner (left) dines with fellow scientists, including 2011 Laureate Bruce A. Beutler.

Asked about the best part of her experience at Lindau, Dehner says, “First, meeting so many young scientists and talking about different projects. I liked the interaction.”

She especially enjoyed the chance to meet Nobel laureates she otherwise would never have encountered. At one dinner, she recalls, the young scientists were given a plan showing where the different laureates were seated so they could choose where and with whom they would sit and exchange ideas. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, she says. “We could ask them anything.”

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Ziba Kashef: ziba.kashef@yale.edu, 203-436-9317