Yangon Meeting.

After a year-and-a-half interval from the previous ACBI meeting series held in Mongolia, the ACBI made a comeback to Asia: ACBI 2019 Yangon Meeting was convened from January 19-20, 2019, at PARKROYAL Yangon, in Myanmar.

 

The Yangon Meeting manifested itself as one of the most meaningful meetings in two aspects: The meeting was attended by the highest number of ACBI members in its 8-year record; and, right at the timing of this meeting, JSPS, a major sponsor of the ACBI, announced that the ACBI’s journey would be financially supported for another three years of time. Thus, the ACBI 2019 Yangon Meeting opened in a joyous and congratulating tone.

Asian Chemical Biology Initiative 2019 Yangon Meeting

Scientific Sessions

The Yangon Meeting also welcomed 3 junior faculty members of 2 top universities of Myanmar: The University of Yangon and Yangon Technological University. They enjoyed the privilege of giving a 5-minute introductory presentation of their respective school, and socializing with the ACBI members throughout the conference period.

 

Professor Motonari Uesugi, Chief Organizer of the ACBI, kicked off the scientific sessions by impressing the audience with very dashing news: the ACBI’s proposal for an extended journey has been officially approved by JSPS. The advanced ACBI’s scheme is titled ACBI Sharing Platform, which establishes four pillars that will lead its visions: sharing and maximizing efforts in research, education, talent hunt and training, and globalization of member laboratories. Specific action plans in the next phase include implementing a co-mentorship program, sharing online resources of chemical biology lectures among the members, and organizing seminars and student interviews in Asia. Members were encouraged to participate in the new scheme and take full advantage of this international sharing platform.

Following his introduction, ACBI members presented their ongoing research for 12 minutes each, including questions. Discussions and brainstorming continued and extended during coffee and lunch breaks, with the intention of grasping opportunities for joint projects and getting ready for applying for external research grants.

A total of 48 ACBI members from Japan (22), Korea (12), China and Hong Kong (9), Singapore (1), India (3), and the Philippines (1) gathered at the Yangon Meeting. As mentioned early on, the number of attendees to the ACBI 2019 Yangon Meeting surpassed those of the previous ACBI meetings, hinting well that members are really keen on networking and collaborating with other ACBI members while being scientifically inspired by the international and interdisciplinary environments of the network on an explicit or even subliminal level.

 

In addition to the regulars and new faces of the ACBI network, 2 special guests were present from Frontier Research on Chemical Communications (FrontRes ChemComm) (http://www.pharm.kyoto-u.ac.jp/fr_chemcomm/en/), a Japan-based scientific platform on deciphering complex chemical communications in cells. The platform is currently taking a big stride toward international expansion of research, so their mission at the meeting was to build a solid network base of their growing organization together with Asia’s leading chemical biologists.

 

Tutorial & Student Interview Sessions

To promote chemical biology in emerging countries of Southeast Asia, ACBI has been trying to proactively recruit students in good academic standing to the field. Several months before the Yangon meeting, Myanmar students majoring in chemistry and biology were invited to visit the ACBI website (https://www.asianchembio.com/) to browse the member database and were encouraged to register for an interview opportunity of the Yangon Meeting. From among the 46 applications received from the entire nation, 41 students were invited to attend the event held on January 20, 2019. Student profiles varied from chemistry, botany, zoology, to marine science, and a majority of the students were either undergraduates or in Masters or Ph.D. programs.

The afternoon event kicked off with 5 tutorial lectures by leading ACBI members. Topics covered were “Introduction to Chemical Biology” by Dr. Motonari Uesugi of Kyoto University, “Bioimaging” by Dr. Young-Tae Chang of Pohang University of Science and Technology, “Target Identification and Small Molecules” by Dr. Minoru Yoshida of RIKEN, Chemical Biology of Peptides by Dr. Jiang Xia, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and “Chemical Biology of Nucleic Acids” by Dr. Orlando D. Scharer of UNIST/IBS. The tutorial session was received unanimously well by Myanmar students, most of whom had never been exposed to chemical biology in their home country.

Following the tutorial lectures were interview sessions set up in a speed interviewing format. The ACBI professors had an opportunity to meet with about 8 students each and talk with them about research and scholarships for overseas graduate programs in chemical biology in individual countries or at specific institutions. Each10-minute slot went like a flash as every pair was so engaged in their conversations and fully maximized the allocated time period.

Many ACBI members commented that they found Myanmar students quite vibrant and highly motivated to study abroad, with their ultimate goals attuned to improving their home country. Students who found their prospective host professors from the interview have started seeking scholarship opportunities abroad.

ACBI Ties with Myanmar

After due discussion, ACBI has agreed to welcome Myanmar to join the ACBI as a sub-member country. Prof. Uesugi mentioned a possibility of providing a week-long ACBI-sponsored class in the University of Yangon, for the purposes of training Myanmar students and junior faculty members with the basics and applications of chemical biology. Some of the ACBI members agreed to go hand-in-hand with this international teaching scheme. Further discussion and planning will be undertaken between the ACBI and the Yangon side.

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It takes several stages for a country to develop. The primary focus should be placed upon the engineering field, including infrastructure and industrial development, to build a solid foundation for life. One of the faculty members of Myanmar’s top university indicates that Myanmar is nearing to the secondary stage, which is to train resourceful talents in scientific disciplines to promote the substantial maturation of the country. The ACBI wishes to contribute to Myanmar’s growth by training the next-generation leaders in chemical biology.

 

Rather than a conventional concluding note, this report closes by introducing some of the fresh voices from the Myanmar students who attended the tutorial and interview sessions:

 

  • I don't forget the day of my life.

  • Thank you for this initiative, and I hope you will bring similar opportunities in the future as well! =)

  • It is a great program that allows prospective students from developing countries like ours.

  • I got so many ideas and experiences from this program.

  • I don’t know how to say thank you. I have got benefit from ACBI interview session. Thank you so much.

  • ACBI is a good trace for our new research and a new generation of Myanmar.

  • It is really a great event that I have ever seen. We still need to get much knowledge about chemical biology and to improve this sector. So, I wish they will have some opportunities for students to study abroad or support grants to make better research in the future.

  • It was a big support to me because I was able to broaden my knowledge about what is happening in the world and I got many contacts and chances to associate with professors.

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