By Hayat Srour, Ruslan Fomenko, Shandra Bellinger, Ariel Stateman, Josh Baguley, and Dr. Felix E. Rivera-Mariani

In this special edition of the RIPLRT blog, we interview the members of the Respiratory and Immunology Project Laboratory (at Larkin University) research team about their experience during a recent scientific conference. Let hear their accounts of why they attended the 2019 annual conference of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, and what they learned from this experience. It is worth mentioning that this conference, frequently attended by Dr. Rivera-Mariani, brings experts from around the globe on different topics of allergies, asthma, immunology, and other respiratory diseases. This is the first scientific conference, of many more to come, that the RIPLRT attend together!

Hayat Srour (RIPLRT Lab Manager)

  • Interviewer: “Hayat, can you share with us your purpose for attending the AAAAI2019 Conference in San Francisco?”
  • Hayat: “With the influence and guidance of Dr. Rivera, I attended my first professional conference. I was given the chance to present my research topic on Atopic dermatitis. I was pretty nervous about presenting but what I learned is that people in medicine are genuinely curious in what you do and how you do it.”

Hayat Srour at AAAAI2019

Hayat Srour presenting her poster on the relationship of atopic dermatitis, air pollution, and meteorological variables.

  • Interviewer: “Hayat, what did you learned at the conference?”
  • Hayat: “This conference was a chance to expand the excitement I have for bettering the world through medicine and network with people who are interested in the same goal. After each day, I was exhausted (most from the walking the hilly streets of San Francisco) from how much I learned. And this exhaustion was the kind a child gets from spending the day at Disney World. In reality, research conferences are like amusement parks for Adults (see image below).

Hayat and Shandra at AAAAI2019

Hayat, together with Shandra Bellinger (Research Assistant - Intern), relaxing after presenting their poster. They acknowledge they were nervous at the beginning!

So with that I have to share my favorite learning experience, which I think can relate to the very reason RIPL has created a blog. That is communicating what you know to an audience. Immunology and respiratory diseases can be complex, involving processes that may be difficult to convey but they can affect people and readers all around.”

Shandra Bellinger (Research Assistant - Intern)

  • Interviewer: “Shandra, can you share with us your purpose for attending the AAAAI2019 Conference in San Francisco?”
  • Shandra: “AAAAI was the first conference I’ve had the privilege of attending. The reason I choose to attend is because I always try to surround myself with like-minded people and people whom I can learn from. So attending a conference filled with researchers and physicians, roles I aspire to one day be in one day, was a no brainer. Being amongst such well-known and established people was motivating and fueled my desire to continue along this path towards becoming a physician.”

Shandra at AAAAI2019

Shandra presenting her poster on food allergy prevalence in US and Australia. The topic of food allergies was the main theme of the conference.

  • Interviewer: “and Shandra, what did you learned at the conference?”
  • Shandra: “Often in the science field, you hear about how often and ever evolving science is, and that couldn’t be clearer when attending the conference. Whether it was learning new possible mechanisms for allergen immunotherapy or about new disease contributors, it exemplified how much is known and unknown within the world of science. As someone who is interested in nutrition and a promoter of healthy eating, I enjoyed learning about how the role of a diet rich in short chain fatty acids in early childhood could help to reduce allergic sensitization.”

Ruslan Fomenko (Research Assistant - Intern)

  • Interviewer: “Ruslan, can you share with us your purpose for attending the AAAAI2019 Conference in San Francisco?”
  • Ruslan: “The 2019 AAAAI annual meeting was a first large conference I attended, and it turned out to be so much more than I expected. I chose to attend the conference as a result of the recommendation from my PI/Mentor, Dr. Rivera-Mariani. It was a good opportunity to broaden my scientific horizons and to support my colleagues in their poster presentations. However, I received more than I bargained for, since the conference shed light on topics I have yet to encounter.”


From left to right, Ruslan, Hayat, Josh, Ariel, Shandra, and Dr. Rivera-Mariani.

  • Interviewer: “Ruslan, although you did not present in the conference, what did you learned at the conference?”
  • Ruslan: “I learned more about the interaction between the human microbiomes in body, and that they tend to communicate with one another, even though the topic is not understood completely. A new topic that peaked my interest was the human virome, which accounts for the viruses present on and in the human body. Other topics I found interesting were involved in food allergies, and how, for example, whey protein powder cause allergic reactions in people with no milk allergies due to the high concentration of milk protein. This event had a plethora of earlier unpublished data, and ultimately advanced my interests in various topics concerning immunology.”

Ariel Stateman (Research Assistant - Intern)

  • Interviewer: “Ariel, can you share with us your purpose for attending the AAAAI2019 Conference in San Francisco?”
  • Ariel: “I was thrilled when I learned about the AAAAI conference and the chance that I may be able to not only attend but be able to present a poster on research I am passionate about. I chose to attend for several reasons. I have never attended a conference of such magnitude. Being surrounded by the best researchers and physicians in the field was an honor and such a humbling and motivating experience. I also saw it as an opportunity for growth. I met some amazing people and learned about the latest research that is happening right now.”

Ariel at AAAAI2019

Ariel during her poster presentation on air pollution in the US: East vs West coast air pollution.

  • Interviewer: “Ariel, we know you were the first one of the group that presented the poster. But, what did you learned at the conference?”
  • Ariel: “I got to attend some awesome lectures ranging from how pediatricians are using the 2017 peanut guidelines to atopic dermatitis to physicians talking about bridging communication gaps with their patients. I learned a lot of information. I also learned there is a lot we don’t know about science and the human body. But that is the cool thing about these conferences. You get to talk to people working on similar projects and share your experiences. It’s a great opportunity for collaborations and trying to solve some of the unknowns.”

Josh Baguely (Research Assistant - Intern)

  • Interviewer: “Josh, can you share with us your purpose for attending the AAAAI2019 Conference in San Francisco?”
  • Josh: “I was first introduced to the AAAAI conference by Dr. Rivera in the Fall of 2018. I have always wanted to attend a conference and hoped that this would be my opportunity. I loved learning about immunology in class and the conference seemed to be the perfect place to take what I learned in class and apply it in a practical sense. I believed that it would both test what I did know as well as greatly improve my knowledge of the subject. I also gave me the opportunity to come up with and test my own hypothesis, which has always been a dream of mine.”

Josh at AAAAI2019

Josh during his poster presentation on the topic of dendritic cells and respiratory diseases.

  • Interviewer: “Josh, what did you learned at the conference?”
  • Josh: “I learned learned much about the topics of asthma, allergies, and immunology. There were countless seminars over a myriad of subjects, all of which interested me in some way. Being able to pick and choose which ones I wanted to attend was a great experience, and learning directly from the top minds of the field was a priceless opportunity. I also learned about how to present a poster in the conference setting and the many hours of work that goes into preparing. It is vastly different from an academic setting, you are not presenting to peers that have a similar level of knowledge on the topic. Many of those you discuss your project with have much more expertise in the subject than you do (or maybe that’s just me…). Thus, I needed to prepare with that in mind and learn every aspect of my topic in a much more comprehensive manner in order to adequately discuss my project. “

Dr. Felix E. Rivera-Mariani (PD/PI of the RIPLRT)

  • Interviewer: “Dr. Rivera-Mariani, we know this is one of many conference you have attended. What was the purpose of you attending the AAAAI2019?”
  • Dr. Rivera-Mariani: “The AAAAI conference is one of the main scientific meetings that I like to attend. I am currently a member of the AAAAI organization, and have many colleagues who are also members. I am also active in many of the committees within the organization. It is also a good opportunity to catch up with colleagues and friends, and be up-to-date in the fields of allergy, asthma, and environmental health (specifically air pollution). Ironically, the timing of attending the conference conflicted with a deadline I have to submit a grant proposal in response to an NIH Funding Opportunity Announcement; therefore, I was also on the clock, making sure that everything related to the grant proposal was addressed (i.e. constant communicatio with collaborators of the project). Nevertheless, I was able to enjoyed many talks on the topic of microbiome and “omic” approaches (which are field I want to innovate in my line of research) and environmental air pollution as it relates to respiratory diseases, spend time with the research team, and with my darling wife (Gina Martínez-Rivera): my #1 fan and the #1 fan of the RIPLRT.”

Dr. Rivera-Mariani at AAAAI2019

Dr. Rivera-Mariani during his talk on allergen reactivity profiles among Puerto Rican subjects.

  • Interviewer: “Although you are the PI of the group, there are always learning from these conference. What did you learned at the conference?”
  • Dr. Rivera-Mariani: “I learned that it is joyful to bring your research team to a conference and attend their poster sessions. It makes us proud as mentors. My wife and I like to travel – it is always joyful to bring her to conferene that I attend and enjoy different cities around the country. I also learned that the members of the RIPLRT are capable of sharing knowledge with experts in the field of asthma, allergy, and immunology. Not sure why they were so nervous at the begining of their poster session jaja!”

Dr. Rivera-Mariani at AAAAI2019

Dr. Rivera-Mariani with his research team at their poster session; at the bottom left picture, we also have the PhD student Lorraine Velez-Torres (and Nelson), one of the mentees of Dr. Rivera-Mariani; in the middle bottom picture, guess who is Dr. Rivera-Mariani’s wife jaja.

Cheers for the RIPLRT!!!