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MIRA hosts interdisciplinary symposium exploring aging communities and infectious disease

The McMaster Institute for Research on Aging, in partnership with Canada’s Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats, hosted the two-day event featuring speakers, panels, a trainee poster competition and a free public talk that drew over 300 people in-person and virtually.

Connecting an engaged and collaborative research community, the MIRA Knowledge Exchange, held June 23 and 24 at McMaster Innovation Park (MIP), brought together worldwide experts with the McMaster aging and infectious disease research communities around the topic of “preparing an aging world for emerging infectious threats.” 

Sitting on couches on a stage, Rebecca Ganann addresses a panel of guests including Jennifer Walker, Arthur Sweetman, Doug Oliver, Laura Griffith, Jonathan Bean and Marla BeauchampResearchers from each of McMaster’s six faculties gathered to share ideas, discuss and connect on the multi-faceted topic of aging.

Hosted by the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging (MIRA), in partnership with Canada’s Global Nexus for Pandemic and Biological Threats, the in-person knowledge exchange saw experts from all six Faculties discuss topics including immunity, vaccination, mental health, mobility, social isolation and infectious disease as they apply to aging populations.

“Aging creates many multi-faceted opportunities and challenges. We aimed to highlight how research from different approaches enriches how we learn about the experience of aging” says Parminder Raina, MIRA’s scientific director.

: A man in an oxford shirt, Parminder Raina, stands at a poium on a stage and addresses an audience. Marla Beachamp and Jonothan Bean chat nearby on couchesParminder Raina, scientific director of MIRA, introduces speakers Jonothan Bean and Marla Beachamp for their plenary talk on movement and rehab in the wake of COVID 

The event also featured thirteen exhibitors and a trainee poster competition highlighted MIRA-funded research projects and allowed close to 40 presenters (some virtually) to showcase the contributions of students and postdoctoral fellows to interdisciplinary research in the field of aging. ​

MIRA’s yearly Knowledge Exchange, aims to give aging researchers the opportunity to connect, discuss ideas and form new collaborations. Partnering with Nexus has allowed MIRA to expand on this, adding perspectives from infectious disease research to strengthen and advance the holistic nature of aging research at McMaster. MIRA and Global Nexus, two leading examples of interdisciplinary study at McMaster, have also deepened their connection around RAPPID (Readying Aging Populations for Pandemics and Infectious Dangers), an innovative and sweeping program of research McMaster is applying to pursue through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.  

A young man, Farzad Haji Boloori, points and explains a poster board to another young manUndergraduate poster competition silver winner Farzad Haji Boloori presents during the MIRA Knowledge Exchange poster competition.

The event featured keynote talks from Jonathan Bean of Harvard Medical School, Marla Beauchamp of McMaster and James Kirkland, President of the American Federation for Aging Research and Professor at the Mayo Clinic. Bean and Beauchamp spoke about rehabilitation in aging and Kirkland presented on senescence, senolytics, and immunity.

Presentations and cross-faculty panels explored topics including immunity, diagnostics, vaccination, social impacts of infectious disease and how COVID affects vulnerable populations, including an appearance via Zoom from Dalhousie frailty expert Ken Rockwood, who was unable to travel at the last minute. Researchers from the fields of health sciences, medicine, rehabilitation, business, economics, engineering physics, humanities, nursing and philosophy shared perspectives in the sun-drenched Atrium of MIP.

A rapt audience, wearing nametags and masks, sits in a large sun-drenched room. McMaster researchers and trainees from all facultoes joined experts from institutions like Dalhousie, Harvard, and the Mayo Clinic to share ideas and connect in McMaster Innovation Park’s The Atrium.  

A large interdisciplinary panel discussed the many ways that health systems have been strained under the pressure of the pandemic — analyzing individual, social and system-level vulnerabilities impacting our aging communities.

A public talk, which drew over one hundred community members in-person and another 200 online to discuss the lessons of the pandemic for aging communities capped the first evening. Featuring celebrated Globe and Mail health columnist André Picard, director of the Center for Peace Studies Chandrima Chakraborty and infectious disease physician Zain Chagla, the talk approached the lessons of the pandemic from a clinical, community and social perspective followed by a question-and-answer period. The event engaged the public in discussing why and how marginalized aging communities were disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

“Complex topics require a broad set of expertise and perspectives. We were proud to bring together some of these voices to advance aging research at McMaster and beyond” says Ine Wauben, Managing Director of MIRA.

Artists Shannon Loomer and Vesna Asanovic visually narrated the symposium, creating large illustrations in real time that highlighted the connected and complex topics of aging and infectious disease in an accessible and visually appealing way.

Suzanne Labarge, former Chancellor of McMaster and a longtime supporter of aging and mobility research at the university ended the symposium by presenting awards to the winners of MIRA’s trainee poster competition:

  • Postdoctoral Fellow
    Gold: Isabel Rodrigues
    Silver: Alexandra Mayhew
  • PhD
    Gold: Karla Martinez Pomier
    Silver: Kevin Moncion, Jennifer Williams
  • Masters
    Gold: Sophia Werden Abrams
    Silver: Jayati Khattar
  • Undergraduate
    Gold: Janani Sridev,
    Silver: Amraj Dhillon, Farzad Haji Boloori
  • People’s Choice (virtual posters)
    Yuva Venkata Raghava Neelapala

Szanne Labarge stands onstage flanked by two women who smile and hold certificatesSuzanne Labarge, longtime supporter of againg research at McMaster, smiles with poster competition winners Isabel Rodrigues and Alexandra Mayhew

MIRA would like to thank everyone for their participation and engagement, and for their outstanding capacity to support and advance aging and infectious disease research at McMaster. 


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