IUPS 2022: a virtual congress in Beijing

IUPS 2022, organized by IUPS and CAPS, was the IUPS’ first ever virtual congress, because of the challenges of the COVID pandemic. But thanks to the enormous efforts and flexibility of all involved, it was a big success and a good advertisement for the next IUPS congress 2025 planned to take place in Munich, Germany.

Overall, 4219 physiologists from 71 countries and regions registered for the congress reflecting the global importance of our discipline. Nearly 800,000 minutes of viewing on PC and smartphones were registered. It was indeed an excellent showcase for global physiology!

From in-person to virtual meeting:

Personal reflections of a history-making IUPS Congress in Beijing

by the immediate Past President – Julie Chan

“In retrospect, despite the virtual online format, the 39th IUPS Congress was a great success…” – read more

When Ulrich Pohl and I met with the local organizers from the Chinese Association of Physiological Sciences (CAPS) in Beijing in winter of 2018, we thought it was a routine site visit that follows the tradition of IUPS to exchange views on preparation for the 39th IUSP Congress to be held in 2021 and inspect the targeted venue. I recalled that we left Beijing with high spirit because the meeting was cordial and the selected venue opulent. Never would we have imagined that the two following years saw us witnessing the making of history in the quadrennial IUPS Congress. The 39th IUPS Congress marked the first virtual meeting in the history of the Union.

The outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 put a heavy burden on IUPS and CAPS. With only less than a year to the Congress originally scheduled for September, 2021, the pressing decision for IUPS was whether to cancel (followed the footstep of several international meetings) or postpone the 39th Congress. Given its nature as the most significant scientific activity in the international physiological community and the flagship scientific event organized by the Union, the IUPS Executive Committee, in consultation with CAPS, made the difficult decision to postpone the Congress to 2022 but maintained its format as an in-person meeting.

We soon realized that the decision was met with at least two hurdles. First, Europhysiology 2022 was scheduled in September and Experimental Biology 2022 in March of 2022. As a result, the window for availability of dates for the Congress was very narrow. I remember that Ulrich, Professor Sue Wray (then First Vice President of IUPS) and I arranged several online conference meetings with the representatives of the Federation of European Physiological Societies and the organizers of Europhysiology 2022 to settle the “date” issue. As situation of the covid-19 pandemic escalated in 2021 and international travels became restricted, the second issue IUPS faced was whether to hold the Congress as an in-person, hybrid or entirely virtual meeting; knowing that deposit has been made by the local organizers to reserve the congress venue and other facilities for an in-person meeting.

The IUPS Executives and the CAPS organizers were initially optimistic towards a hybrid Congress but finally receded to a virtual format in December, 2021 because there was no sign that the covid pandemic was easing up. This decision, at the same time, marked the adoption of a new format of IUPS Congress since the inauguration of the Union. With less than 6 months to the Congress in May, 2022, one could imagine the hustle and bustle, among many other things, of preparing for the 5-day scientific programs that accommodates invited speakers, presenters and attendees from every corner of the world with different international time zones. Instead of bothering everybody with details, I would like to extend my gratitude to all speakers and attendants who either got up in early morning or stayed up in late evening to participate in various scientific sessions.

In retrospect, despite the virtual online format, the 39th IUPS Congress was a great success based on the quality of scientific programs, the number of online viewers both during and after the Congress (the entire program was available for viewing until the end of May), the participation of our member societies and the enthusiastic engagement of our young physiologists. All these could not have been achieved without the contribution of the international scientific program committee, the support from the physiological community, CAPS, and most importantly, the dedication and devotion of the organizing committee under the leadership of Professor Yun Wang and the many staff who worked unfailingly behind the scene.

The daunting undertaking that leads to the history-making 39th IUPS Congress in Beijing during 2018-2022 would probably be forgotten by the physiological community in years to come. I therefore thought it is paramount to share my personal reflections on this bitter-sweet journey on this newly launched homepage not only for institutional memory of IUPS, but also to commemorate the resilience of CAPS in the organization of this history-making IUPS Congress.

The scientific highlights

The programme of our virtual congress 2022 (organized together with the Chinese Association of Physiological Sciences) had many highlights. Among them were the seven named IUPS lectures and the President’s Lecture.

Julie Chan, the president of IUPS had invited Professor Natalja Trajanova, (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, U.S. to give the President’s Lecture. Using a personalized simulation and machine learning approaches, Dr. Trayanova has developed new methods for predicting risk of cardiac arrest and improving the accuracy of atrial and ventricular catheter ablation therapies. This is an excellent example for the application of modelling in Physiology as underpinned in the Physiome project of IUPS.

The T.P. Feng Lecture was given by Prof. Jia-Wei Zhou (Institute of Neuroscience, Chinese Academy of Sciences). His research focuses on the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the maintenance of immune homeostasis in the CNS and the regulation of dopaminergic neurotransmission in mammals. There was a specific focus in understanding cell signaling that regulates neuroinflammation in Parkinson’s disease , as well as the molecular basis for dopamine storage and reuptake. The title of Prof. Zhou’s lecture was“Non-canonical role of dopamine receptor D2 in the modulation of neuroinflammation”

The Physiome Lecture, entitled Translating patient-specific Physiome models of the respiratory system to clinical applications was given by Professor Merryn Tawhai from the University of Auckland, NZ

She has developed an imaging-, statistical-, and biophysically-based model of the lung that pulls together our understanding of the interaction between different systems of airways, tissue, circulation, and exchange, and that accounts for scale-specific structure-function interactions. This digital lung includes sophisticated models of the pulmonary circulation that connect with the heart, respiratory gas exchange, and interacts with models of respiratory control. Thus, her research links patient-specific lung structure to function for simulation of ventilation distribution, perfusion distribution, and gas exchange

The Wallace Fenn Lecture was given by Prof Walter Boron (Department of Physiology and Biophysics , Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, USA). His lecture was entitled Gas diffusion through membrane proteins).

Walter Boron developed his life-long interest in acid-base transport and intracellular-pH (pHi) regulation during his PhD studies with Albert Roos (his official mentor), Paul De Weer, and John Russell; and his interest in renal HCO3 transport with postdoctoral mentor Boulpaep. Boron and collaborators described the first example of dynamic pHi regulation, co-discovered the Na+-driven Cl-HCO3 exchanger, discovered the electrogenic Na/HCO3 cotransporter (NBCe1), and introduced many of the paradigms and definitions used in the pHi-regulation field. Their cloning of the cDNA encoding NBCe1 led to the identification of numerous, related HCO3 transporters. An unexpected encounter with the first CO2-impermeable biological membrane led Boron and collaborators to search for the first example of a membrane protein with permeability to a dissolved gas. This work lead to the discovery that aquaporin 1 (AQP1) is not only a H2O, but also a CO2 channel.

The August Krogh Lecture was awarded to an outstanding physiologist nominated by the Scandinavian Physiological Society. The lecture, entitled” How vertebrates regulate oxygen transport and consumption to survive oxygen lack” was given by Prof Angela Fago.

Angela Fago is Professor at the Zoophysiology Section of the Department of Biology, Aarhus University, Denmark. Her research aims to unravel molecular mechanisms regulating oxygen transport in the blood and oxygen consumption in mitochondria in numerous animal species, including high-altitude mammals and birds, hypoxia-tolerant turtles and fish, hibernating bears and squirrels. Together with collaborators from USA, Canada and Europe, she has been at the forefront within comparative physiology uncovering the effects of hypoxia in animals on the regulation of heamoglobin and mitochondrial proteins and on the signalling molecules NO and H2S and their protein targets. Her research is providing new perspectives in how we understand human diseases caused by limited oxygen supply.

The Ernst Knobil Lecture was awarded to an outstanding physiologist nominated by the IUPS commission “Endocrinology”. The lecture, entitled “Hybrid Hormones against Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes: Discovery, Mechanism & Clinical Validation” was given by Prof Matthias Tschöp, the Chief Executive Officer and Scientific Director of Helmholtz Center in Munich, Germany.

Tschöp identified ghrelin as the hormone that signals hunger to the brain and thereby established one of the central pathways of modern metabolism research. He then dissected gut–brain communication to identify additional actionable targets against obesity and diabetes. Tschöp’s unique approach challenged traditional metabolism research, with a paradigm–shifting breakthrough being his demonstration that novel unimolecular polyagonists containing glucagon receptor activators which drive energy expenditure, while simultaneous GLP-1 and GIP incretin actions suppress appetite, improve insulin secretion and reduce hepatic glucose production.

The Robert Pitts Lecture was awarded to an outstanding physiologist nominated by the IUPS commission “Secretion/ Absorption”. This year, the Robert Pitts lecture entitled Maintaining balance under pressure: how concerted transporter regulation achieves fluid and salt homeostasis” was given by Prof Alicia McDonough (University of Southern California).

Early on, her research focused on the assembly of Na,K-ATPase (sodium pump) subunits and then the mechanisms controlling Na,K-ATPase isoform function, and regulation across organ systems including cardiac muscle during heart failure, skeletal muscle by potassium status, and brain during development. Subsequently, the McDonough laboratory turned their focus to molecular mechanisms responsible for sodium, potassium and volume homeostasis. Dr. McDonough and her colleagues have pinpointed how sodium retaining stimuli increase renal sodium transport and how the resultant hypertension drives compensatory natriuretic responses. Recently, the McDonough lab profiled transporters in female vs male kidneys which defined significant differences and their physiological consequences. 

The Schmidt-Nielsen-Lecture was awarded to an outstanding physiologist in the field of comparative physiology, nominated by the IUPS commission “Comparative Physiology”. It was given by Prof Roger S Seymour, Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of Adelaide, entitled “Paleophysiology: How fossil bone foramina can measure metabolic intensity of extinct vertebrates and brain perfusion of human ancestors

His research has been an eclectic mix of studies involving how whole organisms interact with their environments, particularly unusual species in exotic world locations.  His major contributions are in the areas of respiration, metabolism and energetics of vertebrate embryos, cardiovascular and respiratory physiology of vertebrates and insects, comparative thermoregulation and gas exchange in heat-producing flowers, and the relationships between the structure and function of vertebrate cardiovascular systems. 

Behind the scene

The preparation of the IUPS Congress was a challenge for all involved. Original planning had to be stopped when it became clear that Covid would curtail freedom of movement. We postponed the congress to 2022, hoping that an in person meeting would be possible by then. But then the plans had to be changed first to a hybrid and later (in October 2021) to a virtual meeting, unknown territory to most of us. We had to find solutions for appropriate time slots allowing the majority of delegates to follow lectures and symposia live and solutions for those speakers who had to present during unsociable hours.

All these challenges were overcome with enthusiasm and it was great success. We were particularly grateful or the flexibility and enthusiasm of speakers from the USA and Canada who voluntarily gave presentations during the night. The scientific programme committee did a great job selecting excellent symposia and keynote speakers and virtually everyone invited accepted our invitation. The local organisers from CAPS, under the leadership of the CAPS president, Prof. Yun Wang were extremely flexible and effective.

We would particularly like to mention our central contact, Mrs Elise Mei Zhu who was an invaluable help in the preparation. For the technical realisation of the virtual meeting, a project group from China Star, a professional conference organizer (PCO) and a destination management company (DMC) was responsible under the project leadership of Mrs Chen Qu.

Chinastar was well chosen by CAPS: China Star is a member of ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association), IAPCO (International PCO Organization), and WPCOA (World PCO Alliance) with 3 SITE (Society for Incentive Travel Excellence) individual members. China Star is active in the international community of MICE (meeting, incentive travel, conference and event) and continuously receives its training and guidance to guarantee the quality of services.

For the online meeting, the preparatory work needed to be meticulous to ensure that the congress went smoothly. Rehearsal and testing for speakers had to be arranged. Guidelines needed to be sent to the speakers/participants and a lot to be considered. A series of crisis management plans also had to be made as well as ensuring that the volunteers and staff were well trained to ensure the success of the Congress. Thanks to this professional project group, IUPS2022 went extremely well. Some smaller technical issues, caused by factors beyond our control happened but mostly without notice of the audience. Many thanks to those who worked hard to bring about the success of this event.

It was so sad that we were unable to organize an in person meeting and enjoy the beautiful city of Beijing!

What young physiologists report

The IUPS 2022 Congress was an eye opener for me to rediscover physiology as a discipline that requires the coming together of the different divisions and experts in order to achieve a common goal of advancing research through integration and translation. I thank the organization for offering me free opportunity to attend the congress. I thoroughly enjoyed the IUPS conference. The experience was awesome!…

It was a pleasure to participate in such a well organized meeting and I wish it had been ‘in person’.

Thank you for presenting a truly global event

I look forward to attending future scientific conferences organised by IUPS.