Trainees’ Perceptions of the GP2 Annual Investigators Meeting 2023
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Trainees’ Perceptions of the GP2 Annual Investigators Meeting 2023

By Pin-Jui Kung, Paula Andrea Saffie Awad, Benjamín Matías Pizarro Galleguillos, Tuğçe Gül, Paula Reyes-Pérez, Yasser Mecheri, Yi Wen, Alexandra Zirra, Arinola Omolara Sanyaolu, Victor Daniel Flores Ocampo, Kelis Vishala Rossi, and Ana Jimena Hernandez Medrano | , |
  • Pin-Jui Kung

    National Taiwan University | Taiwan

    Pin-Jui is a PhD Candidate addressing the integrative effects of genetic variants, circulating small non-coding RNA and environmental factors on the occurrence of early-onset PD and familial PD. As a member of the GP2 Trainee Network, she is able to further explore her interest in neuroscience and neurodegenerative diseases.

  • Paula Andrea Saffie Awad

    CETRAM/ Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul | Chile|Brazil

    Paula is a PhD Candidate addressing mutation prevalence and clinical characterization of monogenic forms of Parkinson’s disease in southern Brazil and Chile. As a member of the GP2 Trainee Network, she is committed to bringing forth knowledge and tools that will ultimately help patients.

  • Benjamín Matías Pizarro Galleguillos

    Universidad de Chile | Chile

    Benjamín is a PhD Candidate addressing the genetics of Parkinson’s Disease in the Chilean admixed population. As a member of the GP2 Trainee Network, he is working to achieve his dream of tackling the mysteries of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease.

  • Tuğçe Gül

    Koc University | Turkey

    Tuğçe Gül, a Suna Kıraç Scholar, has graduated from Yıldız Technical University, Molecular Biology and Genetics Department. Her undergraduate thesis investigated SOD1 mutations in Turkish ALS patients. She obtained her MSc degree from Yeditepe University, Molecular Medicine Department during which she investigated the effect of miRNA-148a expression on LDL cholesterol le... Read More

  • Trainee Representative – Latin America

    Paula Reyes-Pérez, MSc

    Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México | Mexico

    Currently, Paula is interested in studying the genetic basis of Neuropsychiatric traits in Neurodegenerative disorders through bioinformatic and epidemiological approaches. As a PhD student, she also serves as a research assistant in MEX-PD, a research consortium devoted to understanding the genetic, cognitive, and physiological basis of Parkinson’s Disease in Mexico. She com... Read More

  • Yasser Mecheri, MD, MSc

    Neurology Department at Centre Hospitalo-Universitaire Dr Benbadis Constantine | Algeria

    Yasser Mecheri is a Neurology fellow and a Geneticist from Algeria. Yasser is glad to be part of the trainee network and to participate in many ongoing research projects. Yasser aims to advance the understanding of Parkinson's Disease genetics locally and within the GP2 community and to expand GP2 project locally.

  • Trainee Representative – Asia

    Yi Wen, MSc

    University of Malaya | Malaysia

    Yi Wen is currently a PhD student at the University of Malaya, Malaysia after completing her bachelor degree in Biomedical Science. Her research interest mainly focuses on understanding the genetic causes of early-onset Parkinson's disease in the Malaysian population.

  • Trainee Representative – Eastern Europe

    Alexandra Zirra, MSc

    Queen Mary University of London | United Kingdom

    Alex is the East Europe Representative of the GP2 Trainee Network. She is from Romania and is currently based in London, training as a doctor, on her way to becoming a neurologist. Alex’s interest in research led her to work on PD in the highly diverse East London population with Professor Alastair Noyce at Queen Mary University London. This is how Alex discovered GP2 and the... Read More

  • Trainee Representative – Africa

    Arinola Omolara Sanyaolu, PhD

    University of Lagos | Nigeria

    Arinola is a neuroscientist from the University of Lagos, Nigeria, and her passion for translational research fueled her interest in neurodegenerative disorders. Although she obtained a Ph.D. in Anatomy, she is constantly developing and acquiring skills in Neurogenetics. Her research focuses on studying the complex genetics of neurodegenerative disorders and she is always seeki... Read More

  • Victor Daniel Flores Ocampo

    UNAM, Laboratorio Internacional de Investigación sobre el Genoma Humano | Mexico

    Victor is a recent graduate in Genomic Sciences from the UNAM in Mexico. He joined the MexPD team as a research assistant in 2021 and his focus has revolved around a GP2 trainee project, delving into the transferability potential of Parkinson’s Disease PRSs from European populations to Latin American participants. Victor is excited to start his PhD next year as part of the AP... Read More

  • Kelis Vishala Rossi

    | United Kingdom

    Kelis is a recent graduate from Queen Mary University of London with Master's in Bioinformatics. Current activities include working on a GP2 trainee project centered around Geneformer - a relatively new transformer model

  • Ana Jimena Hernandez Medrano

    Instituto Nacional de Neurología y Neurología | Mexico

    MD from the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana - Xochimilco (Mexico). Currently, project coordinator and a clinical research apprentice at the Clinical Laboratory for Neurodegenerative Diseases at the National Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery Manuel Velasco Suárez in Mexico City. GP2 trainee and first-semester student in the Master's in Data Science program at the Univ... Read More

The GP2 Trainee Network currently consists of 223 members worldwide. It has been created to streamline training opportunities, direct expertise to places where it is needed, and facilitate access to data and analysis across our GP2 network.

Below are impressions from some of the trainees who participated in the second in-person GP2 Annual Investigators Meeting in Copenhagen.

Pin-Jui Kung | Taiwan
GP2 Trainee Representative – Asia & GP2-funded PhD Student

My GP2 AIM experience was profoundly fulfilling, especially as I had the opportunity to meet many wonderful people and discover a charming tea shop in the beautiful city of Copenhagen.

From seasoned scientists to passionate advocates, the GP2 AIM meeting brought together a diverse group of individuals, all driven by a shared commitment to unraveling the understanding of Parkinson’s disease. Over coffee breaks and engaging discussions, I discovered not only their professional expertise but also the warmth of their personalities, which truly stood out as a highlight of this remarkable gathering.

The encounter of meeting someone in person after having delved into their research papers beforehand was a particularly intriguing experience. Reading their work provided valuable insights, but engaging with them face-to-face added depth to my understanding and brought their research to life. It was a reminder of the power of human connection in the world of academia.

Additionally, participating in the GP2 Hackathon in Malmö was a valuable experience. This engaging activity not only enhanced my proficiency in analyzing genetic data but also provided deeper insights into the myriad of possibilities afforded by the extensive public data available through GP2 and AMP® PD.

The GP2 AIM experience transcended the boundaries of a mere meeting; it unfolded as a transformative journey through the realms of science, culture, and human connection, infusing me with a profound sense of renewed vigor.

Paula Saffie Awad | Chile/Brazil
GP2 Trainee Representative – Latin America & GP2-funded PhD Student

The GP2 AIM in Copenhagen was an event to remember, and it was an absolute pleasure to attend for the second time. The meeting showcased excellent organization, fostering a sense of pride in being part of the Training & Networking Group and the broader GP2 community. 

One of the standout features of this year’s meeting was the introduction of the breakout sessions. I participated in session 1, “How can GP2 support the development and promotion of trainees in the PD research space?”, where we discussed current and future training needs and opportunities. The synergy that emerged from these discussions demonstrated how GP2 can play a pivotal role in fulfilling these needs.

I was amazed, as last year, that every detail was carefully thought out, ensuring that attendees could participate in the meeting without distractions. From the well-designed agenda to the helpful staff on hand, it was clear that the organizers had gone above and beyond to make this event a success.

Having the chance to meet GP2 members in person was truly special. There’s something unique about face-to-face interactions – the camaraderie, the exchange of ideas, and the forging of connections that can only happen when being physically present in the same room. It was a powerful reminder of the strength of our global community.

Benjamín Pizarro Galleguillos | Chile
GP2-funded PhD Student

Science is about connections, such as the connections of ideas when conducting an experiment or writing a paper. However, it is also about the deep human connections we can make during our development as researchers. The GP2 AIM is ultimately about that. In my experience, I enjoyed this meeting even more than last year as it was a reconnection with friends. And it is in these formal and informal encounters that ideas and potential collaborations emerge.

The congress was perfect. The location, the program, and the atmosphere were second to none. The opportunity to present my PhD progress, although a bit stressful, was a very rewarding experience since all GP2 members were very supportive and showed lots of interest, wishing us the best.

And what can I say about Copenhagen, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited! I will fondly remember this GP2 AIM 2023!

Paula Reyes Pérez | Mexico
GP2 Trainee Representative – Latin America & GP2-funded PhD student

As the organizers emphasized on the opening slide of the meeting, the entire event was centered around us (the community) rather than just GP2. At first, I didn’t fully grasp what they meant. However, by the end of the first day, it became crystal clear. We learned more about the research being done, but mainly, about how WE can collaborate, create synergies, and overcome the challenges many of us face. The organization of the event truly set it apart from the usual format of an “important person addressing a silent room with applause at the end” that I had been used to. Everyone felt comfortable asking questions and contributing to the discussions.

The introduction of the breakout sessions was a fresh addition. It encouraged GP2 members to work together and synergize by facilitating focused discussion on opportunities and challenges across the community.

In summary, the GP2 AIM fully embodied the core of GP2 itself, bringing in a diverse and inspiring mix of individuals eager to collaborate, perform challenging science, and create an open and active community towards the understanding of Parkinson’s disease genetics. This meeting was a remarkable experience that united a diverse community, emphasized the power of human connection, expanded our skill set, transformed our perspectives on science, and showcased excellent organization while facilitating face-to-face interactions and collaborative efforts that will undoubtedly drive progress in Parkinson’s disease genetics research. 

Tuğçe Gül | Turkey
GP2 Trainee

Meeting my collaborators and friends at the GP2 AIM in Copenhagen was terrific. The warm hearts and supportive behavior of the scientists who inspire me with their publications make me feel lucky. 

My favorite part of the meeting was the breakout session. As a trainee, we had the great chance to meet with other trainees in person and to share our training needs during this section. Although we have monthly GP2 Trainee Network meetings, face-to-face communication always gives a different energy. 

GP2 provides outstanding collaborations and opportunities to expand our scientific and cultural perspective. Attending the GP2 annual meeting was again, to summarize in two words, beyond dreams!

Yasser Mecheri | Algeria
GP2 Trainee

Attending the GP2 AIM 2023 for the first time in Copenhagen was an amazing experience. It allowed me to meet many wonderful people from the GP2 community, some of whom I only knew virtually. The presentations were very informative and helped me gain a deeper insight into the GP2 initiative and the ongoing projects in different parts of the world.

I was fortunate to participate in the GP2 Hackathon in Malmö, where I had the opportunity to learn from a group of highly talented individuals on a bioinformatics project. I am really thankful to the organizing team for all their efforts and their kindness, it really felt like home! 

Attending the GP2 AIM this year was a delight and it is a must for me in the future. My calendar is already booked for next year. Hopefully, I will see you all again! 

Yi Wen Tay | Malaysia
GP2 Trainee Representative – Asia

As a trainee hailing from the Southeast Asia (SEA) region with limited resources in the research field, it is a profoundly eye-opening journey to have the opportunity to be involved in GP2 and attend my first GP2 AIM in Copenhagen, Denmark. Meeting researchers from different parts of the world was one of the highlights of this meeting as I had the opportunity to exchange viewpoints, discuss the problems we faced, and brainstorm more research ideas. This meeting reminds me how important multidisciplinary effort is in advancing PD genetics research. 

I would like to take this opportunity to appreciate the effort of the Training and Networking group and their constant support and guidance given to all the trainees. Science is about sharing, and without the generosity and willingness to share from the trainers we would not have been able to collaborate, learn, and grow our knowledge. Apart from that, I also had the opportunity to make new lifetime friends and meet trainees from different regions. 

Truly grateful for joining the AIM this year and I would also like to congratulate GP2 for organizing a successful meeting! Looking forward to the next AIM!

Alexandra Zirra | United Kingdom/Romania
GP2 Trainee Representative – East Europe

Attending the GP2 AIM for the first time as a trainee representative was a great experience. First of all, it was inspiring to see how quickly science can progress, in just 3 years, if a focused effort is shared between hundreds of researchers, clinicians, and allied health professionals. This was the first truly interdisciplinary meeting that I have attended and that shows how much can be gained from this approach. It made me incredibly proud to see that a novel GBA1 risk variant was discovered in the African and African admixed populations as a result of the GP2 effort. This shows that the way GP2 members want to collaborate and share opportunities and expertise is what makes our network so successful. 

It was also great to meet the other GP2 trainees and collaborators and learn about their experiences in research and life in different parts of the world. I can’t wait to meet them again! In addition, being given the opportunity to present our projects to an audience of first-class researchers and clinicians was daunting but also exciting. With the support received from the GP2 Training and Networking group, after our session, I think we all felt empowered. The support that GP2 offers its trainees is one of the unique and amazing experiences from the GP2 AIM.

Some of the trainees and I participated in the Hackathon in Malmö. This was a great experience to learn to apply the skills we acquired by being part of the GP2 Trainee Network. It was so much fun that we did not want to leave our seats. It also helped that we had great mentors for each group, highlighting again the amazing support our network offers. 

Attending the GP2 AIM and Hackathon was eye-opening for me. I am incredibly happy to be part of such an inclusive, transparent, and supportive research community!

Arinola Sanyaolu | Nigeria
GP2 Trainee Representative – Africa

After my exciting experience at the GP2 AIM 2022, I was looking forward to this year which was considerably more exciting. As a GP2 Trainee Representative for Africa, I had the opportunity to meet with fellow trainees with whom we had previously only interacted virtually. I am truly honored to be part of GP2 because it’s a platform where individuals interested in Parkinson’s disease genetics can express themselves and improve, regardless of their degree of expertise as a researcher or clinician. 

This year’s meeting in Copenhagen convinced me even more that the investigators are not only concerned with finding solutions to today’s challenges in Parkinson’s disease genetics research but are also establishing a legacy of developing the capacity of young investigators to become confident and independent researchers, capable of contributing innovatively to understanding the genetic architecture of Parkinson’s disease. The ability to network and interact with possible mentors adds value to the gathering, especially for trainees from underrepresented groups.

Victor Flores | Mexico
GP2 Trainee

This was the first time I had the opportunity to attend the GP2 AIM and I would absolutely love to attend next year. The whole event was in very few words amazing and useful. Working as part of such a large initiative might be challenging when trying to connect with people you don’t know in person. The GP2 AIM was a wonderful chance to connect with people we’ve only talked with virtually and also get to know new people who have similar interests and to promote synergy between labs.

One of the things I noticed during the events was the very prominent effort to make it a fully inclusive space. The environment was just very coherent with the values GP2 stands for. The diversity of backgrounds of the attendees made it a very enriching experience. Having each group talk about their needs and accomplishments by themselves made it ideal.

I am very grateful to have been invited to the meeting and to have the opportunity to interact with all the amazing people from GP2. I really appreciate the fact that as an undergraduate student, I was able to explore opportunities in finding places to do graduate research. The meeting made me want to stay around for a long time, within a very humane, very socially aware group of people.

Ana Jimena Hernández Medrano | Mexico
GP2-funded Master’s Student

In my life, only a few times I have felt such a profound sense of belonging as in my journey with GP2. I remember back when I was a medical student, participating in the Human Rights Committee. Our motto was simple but powerful: ‘Many small people, in small places, doing small things can change the world.’ We focused on helping children, women, the elderly, and others in need, striving for equity in health and social justice. That was almost a decade ago, and nowadays, I find myself amidst a community that feels like home. We are a dedicated tribe, united by our unwavering commitment to unravel the mysteries of Parkinson’s disease, exploring its intricate genetic architecture.

You don’t fully grasp the magnitude of it until you experience it yourself. Walking into the GP2 Annual Investigators Meeting, I was met with a kaleidoscope of emotions – awe, inspiration, and an overwhelming sense of purpose. It was a symphony of global minds coming together, an orchestra of collaborative efforts. In the flesh, listening to talks from scientists who are both brilliant and down-to-earth, discussing new ideas, problem-solving as a team, and in the midst of it all, I found myself engaged in curious and uplifting conversations with newfound friends.

GP2 is about breaking down barriers and building bridges. GP2 is a neural circuit, where each one of us shines as a distinct, invaluable neuron. The connections within the GP2 network, our synapses, nurture us, fortifying our resolve to press forward, learn, and evolve on this extraordinary journey – the GP2 experience.

We are the embodiment of ‘Many small people, in small places, doing small things, changing the world’ for every person living with PD…TODAY.”

Kelis Vishala Rossi | United Kingdom
GP2-funded Master’s Student

If I were to summarise the GP2 AIM, it would be as follows: A celebration of the hard work generated by a community of intelligent, driven, and passionate individuals all united by a shared goal. It was my first time attending a meeting such as GP2 AIM. I flew into Copenhagen not knowing what to expect and left with a renewed drive, several new experiences/ opportunities, and a wealth of knowledge.

The atmosphere was electric. Each day had a variety of activities scheduled ranging from talks and panels to breakout sessions. Although there are universal challenges in research, GP2 AIM did a great job at highlighting the specific obstacles that impact attendees when conducting research on their particular underrepresented populations. However, this was not the sole focus as many attendees,  including trainees, also presented their achievements from the past year. We were afforded the opportunity to present our research projects to the audience of 270+ experts. As a postgraduate student with no prior experience, it was a truly special moment.

After GP2 AIM, I participated in the GP2 Hackathon in Malmö. In a team with other trainees, I was introduced to and worked with recent technological advancements in the bioinformatics field. I think everyone in attendance could attest that collaborating with one another on these tasks was thoroughly enjoyable and almost addictive!

After attending the meeting, I can’t imagine not being involved with such a wonderful program as GP2. Thanks to GP2 for the opportunity to attend such a brilliant event, a definite high point of 2023!