Conference Reports
Feb. 03, 2020

Report on the 11th International Conference on Proteoglycans
(Glycoforum. 2020 Vol.23 (1), A4)


Shuhei Yamada


Shuhei Yamada
My studies on glycosaminoglycans were initiated under the supervision of Dr. Kazuyuki Sugahara, when I was an undergraduate student at Kyoto University. I have since been involved in research on glycosaminoglycans as well as proteoglycans for more than 30 years. My professional career started at Kobe Pharmaceutical University. I then worked for some time at Hokkaido University, and later became a full professor in the Department of Pathobiochemistry, Faculty of Pharmacy, Meijo University. At the beginning, my research topic involved fine structure analysis of glycosaminoglycans using various analytical methods such as NMR and MS. I have also investigated the functions, biosynthetic enzymes, and degrading enzymes of glycosaminoglycans. Recently, I have focused my research on the pathogenic mechanisms of intractable diseases caused by congenital defects in biosynthetic enzymes of glycosaminoglycans.

The 11th International Conference on Proteoglycans was held at Ishikawa Ongakudo in Kanazawa from Sept. 29 to Oct. 3, 2019. A series of these international conferences are held every even-numbered year and allow proteoglycan researchers to meet as well as present and discuss their findings. This year, there were approximately 170 participants with 53 and 84 oral and poster presentations, respectively.

The 1st International Conference on Proteoglycans took place in Japan in 1999 - that is to say, this is a Japan-originated meeting. Prior to this, the Gordon Research Conference was the only other conference specifically focused on proteoglycans. However, this conference was restricted in the number of participants who could attend, making it difficult for students and other members in the same laboratory to participate. To my knowledge, Professor Koji Kimata (Aichi Medical University, Japan) and Professor Masaki Yanagishita (Tokyo Medical and Dental University, Japan) were the first to organize an international conference that allows all proteoglycan researchers to attend. The Gordon Research Conference on Proteoglycans are held on odd-numbered years in the USA and the International Conference on Proteoglycans on even-numbered years in countries other than the USA. The 2nd International Conference on Proteoglycans was held in the UK, the 3rd in Italy, the 4th in Sweden, the 5th in Brazil, the 6th in France, the 7th in Australia, the 8th in Germany, the 9th in Korea, and the 10th in Italy. In recent years, the conference has alternated in location between European and non-European countries.

The various events during the 11th International Conference on Proteoglycans are summarized below.

  • Session 1: Plenary Lecture and Late Breaking Topics
  • Session 2: Biosynthesis and Metabolism A
  • Session 3: Biosynthesis and Metabolism B
  • Session 4: Novel Technologies
  • Session 5: Cell Signaling and Cellular Events A
  • Session 6: Cell Signaling and Cellular Events B
  • Session 7: Development, Genes, and Stem Cells
  • Session 8: Cancer
  • Session 9: Inflammation and Immunity
  • Session 10: Neurobiology
  • Session 11: Regenerative Medicine and Emerging Therapeutics

The first day of the conference (Sept. 29) began with a plenary lecture entitled “Genome-wide analysis of heparan sulfate,” presented by Dr. Jeff Esko (University of California, San Diego, USA). The invited speakers in the first session entitled “Late Breaking Topics” were Dr. Kadomatsu (Nagoya University, Japan) and Dr. Vives (CNRS-IBS, France). After the first session, there was a welcome reception with refreshments that facilitated networking among various research groups over beer, wine, or Japanese sake.

Plenary Lecture by Dr. Jeff Esko

The morning session held on the second day (Sept. 30) focused on “Biosynthesis and Metabolism” with invited speakers for this session, Dr. Passi (University of Insubria, Italy), Dr. Hascall (Cleveland Clinic, USA), Dr. Bollyky (Stanford University, USA), Dr. Day (University of Manchester, UK), Dr. Farrugia (University of Melbourne, Australia), and Dr. Kjellén (Uppsala University, Sweden). After an enthusiastic discussion in the morning session, a traditional Japanese box lunch was served. The poster sessions began after lunch. The poster presentations were split between two days; the second (Monday) and the fourth (Wednesday) day of the conference. Since many Japanese scientists participated in this conference, nearly half of the poster presentations were given by Japanese research groups. Ad hoc discussions sprang up in both Japanese and English. There was free time from 2:30 to 5 p.m. Some participants went sightseeing in Kanazawa town, some rested at hotels, and others returned to work. The evening session was entitled “Novel Technologies” and commenced from 5 p.m. Invited speakers in this session were Dr. Hung (Academia Sinica, Taiwan), Dr. Merry (University of Nottingham, UK), and Dr. Noborn (University of Gothenburg, Sweden).

On the third day (Oct. 1), the morning session was entitled “Cell Signaling and Cellular Events.” Dr. Inoue (Tokyo Medical and Dental University, Japan), Dr. Lortat-Jacob (CNRS, France), Dr. Lee (Yonsei University, South Korea), and Dr. Turnbull (University of Liverpool, UK) were the invited speakers. In the afternoon, there was a bus trip to UNESCO world heritage sites Gokayama and Shirakawa-go. Sandwiches were distributed for lunch. At the first stop in Gokayama, a video was shown on how traditional Japanese paper, washi, is made from some types of wood. Participants were also able to purchase different items made of washi. The second and main destination was Shirakawa-go, which is famous for its traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses. Participants enjoyed strolling through the old village, eating ice cream or Gohei-mochi (grilled rice cake with miso paste) and conversing with each other.

Excursion (Shirakawa-go)

The schedule on the fourth day (Oct. 2) was similar to that on the second day. The morning sessions were entitled “Development, Genes, and Stem Cells” and “Cancer.” The invited speakers in these sessions were Dr. Apte (Cleveland Clinic, USA), Dr. Filmus (Sunnybrook Research Institute, Canada), and Dr. Whitelock (University of New South Wales, Australia). After having a box lunch, a poster session was held until 2:30 p.m. followed by a two and a half hour break. The title of the evening session was “Inflammation and Immunity.” Invited speaker’s lectures were given by Dr. Schaefer (Goethe University, Germany), Dr. Hippensteel (University of Colorado, Denver, USA), and Dr. Okada (Juntendo University, Japan). After the session, the participants relocated to Hotel Nikko for a conference dinner with western cuisine. Several types of local “sake”, Japanese rice wine produced in the Kanazawa area, were also served. Guests from abroad had a good opportunity to taste sake.

The final day (Oct. 3) of the conference began with the session entitled “Neurobiology.” The invited speakers were Dr. Oohashi (Okayama University, Japan) and Dr. Katagiri (NHLBI, NIH, USA). The scientific program of this conference ended with a final session entitled “Regenerative Medicine and Emerging Therapeutics.” Before the closing remarks given by the organizer Dr. Hideto Watanabe (Aichi Medical University, Japan), Travel Awards were given to ten speakers who were young scientists who gave excellent presentations. The winners are as follows: Ashworth (Cardiff University, UK), Delbaere (Ghent University, Belgium), Gopal (Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Australia), Kim (University of New South Wales, Australia), Suhovskih (Novosibirsk State University, Russia), Mii (National Institute for Basic Biology, Japan), Persson (University of Gothenburg, Sweden), Rudjord-Levann (University of Copenhagen, Denmark), Weiss (University of California, San Diego, USA), and Zhu (University of Hong Kong).

This 11th International Conference on Proteoglycans was organized by Dr. Watanabe as well as eight Japanese and ten international members. The efforts by Dr. Watanabe to manage this conference were greatly appreciated by board members. Overall, this conference was a success with some participants from abroad remarking that the conference had a high degree of hospitality while others commented that it was one of the best proteoglycan meetings attended. We were also favored with fine weather throughout the week, although the prior weather forecast had predicted rainy days because of a typhoon. Japan indeed suffered damage by a typhoon disaster two weeks after the conference. The most important thing I would say is that researchers in the proteoglycan field are really kind and friendly, and that the atmosphere of proteoglycan conferences is always wonderful. The next international proteoglycan conference will be held in 2021 and organized by Dr. Jeremy Turnbull, University of Liverpool, UK. This promises to be a great meeting. I look forward to participating in this next meeting and to seeing researchers in the proteoglycan field again. Scientists involved or interested in proteoglycan research are encouraged to participate in this meeting.

Group picture
Note: Photos supplied by the secretariat of the 11th International Conference on Proteoglycans.