Behind the Bench: 3rd International Symposium on Neglected Influenza Viruses, 15-17 April 2015

This edition of the Behind the Bench (BTB) column is written by Laura Eckard, a graduate student in Dr. Richard Webby’s laboratory at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where she studies a novel influenza virus discovered in pigs and cattle. Laura attended the 3rd International Symposium on Neglected Influenza Viruses and provided a summary of the conference. The BTB series publishes articles written by CEIRS Network graduate students and postdoctoral fellows sharing their perspective on influenza-related news, scientific accomplishments, and other issues of interest to the influenza community.  

Attracting over 130 attendees from 19 countries, the 3rd International Symposium on Neglected Influenza Viruses at the University of Georgia Center in Athens, Georgia aimed to promote a “one world” approach to control nonhuman/nonavian influenza viruses. In line with this objective, the first keynote speaker, William Karesh of EcoHealth Alliance, discussed unique approaches to virus surveillance including analysis of diverse animal hosts across the world in an effort to comprehensively survey many virus genera. He also outlined future surveillance studies that would follow the animal host through the food production/market chains to learn how the ecology of influenza viruses contributes to its evolution. The second keynote speaker, Montserrat Torremorell of the University of Minnesota, discussed persistent influenza infections in commercial swine populations and the importance of aerosol surveillance in swine barns.

Opening remarks from Stacey Schultz-Cherry and Tom Chambers.

Opening remarks from Stacey Schultz-Cherry and Tom Chambers.

The speaker sessions, held over two days of the conference, covered themes of Surveillance and Disease Investigation, Virus Transmission and Control, Clinical and Experimental Virology, and Emerging Issues and New Developments. These sessions addressed a variety of topics including surveillance and vaccine efficacy, and the talks included results from diverse host species (e.g., swine, equine, canine, bovine, and marine mammals) surveyed over a wide geographical range.

Throughout the symposium, organizers Stacey Schultz-Cherry and Tom Chambers placed a strong emphasis on highlighting research from investigators with fewer than ten years of post-Ph.D. experience. As such, nearly 70% of the selected oral presentations were from junior investigators; ten junior investigators received an NIH Research Conference (R13) travel grants to attend the symposium, and many of these investigators served as session co-chairs. To promote one-on-one interactions between senior investigators and junior investigators looking for professional contacts or their next career move, the conference premiered a science “Speed Dating” session. Additionally, MSD Merck sponsored two junior investigator speaker and two poster awards, which were announced at the close of the meeting.

Best Speaker Awards

  • Tavis Anderson, Assistant Professor of Parasitology, Georgia Southern University
  • Erik Karlsson, Postdoctoral Research Associate, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Best Poster Awards

  • Sarah Nelson, Research Assistant, Animal Influenza Ecology and Epidemiology Research Lab, The Ohio State University
  • Mario Aramouni, Jenner Postdoctoral Fellow, The Jenner Institute, University of Oxford, The Animal and Plant Health Agency, UK
Wendy Vaala (middle) from Merck-MSD with the Young Investigator awardees (left to right): Tavis Anderson, Erik Karlsson, Sarah Nelson, and Mario Aramouni.

Wendy Vaala (middle) from Merck-MSD with the Young Investigator awardees (left to right): Tavis Anderson, Erik Karlsson, Sarah Nelson, and Mario Aramouni.

Other highlights of the conference included an overview of the Influenza Research Database (IRD) with new features demonstrated by Yun Zhang from the J. Craig Venter Institute and an expert panel discussion on ways forward for the neglected influenza virus field. Participants in this panel included representatives from both industry and government.

Panel Participants


  • Zoetis
  • MSD Merck
  • The National Pork Board


  • The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
  • World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)
  • The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Every attendee of the 3rd International Symposium on Neglected Influenza Viruses was given a year-long membership to the International Society for Influenza and other Respiratory Virus Diseases in an effort to continue discussion and sharing of resources for further research and surveillance efforts. The 4th International Symposium on Neglected Influenza Viruses will be held in 2018.

Images courtesy of Greg Gray