“Chalk talks” foster community among San Diego stem cell researchers

Written by 
Jessica Moore
student writing on chalkboard

Many scientists in San Diego, and particularly on the Torrey Pines mesa, are working on therapies that rely on stem cell biology—modeling diseases for drug discovery, trying to understand the basis of a disease to develop gene therapies, or deriving transplant-based treatments. To Evan Snyder, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP), the local concentration of academic, clinical and industry research in this promising field creates an opportunity to encourage new collaborations.

“I wanted to get together those from multiple spheres in a way that would promote conversation,” says Snyder. “I had heard from both basic scientists and clinicians that they wanted to interact more with one another. And everyone wants to make connections with people from industry, since their work is what gets new treatments to patients. At our center retreat last year, the idea to have ‘chalk talk’ happy hours arose—instead of the usual seminar series where attendees sit and listen, this format allows attendees to interact before, during and after the presentations.”

“Chalk talks” are a way of presenting research that doesn’t rely on PowerPoint slides, creating an atmosphere that encourages audience participation and dialogue. To explain ideas visually, speakers draw on a board, the way it was done before personal computers and projectors became common.

“We also have research teams present together,” adds Snyder. “That way, you get to meet multiple people from a lab, not just the principal investigator. This approach also helps with getting collaborations started, because trainees might be more likely to approach fellow postdocs or students than they would a professor or lead scientist.”

The get-togethers, which have become well known among clinicians on the Mesa, are held the second Thursday of every month from 4-6 pm in Chairmen’s Hall and are open to all scientists and staff at the Institute. This month’s talk, on January 12, was given by the lab of Anders Persson, Ph.D., at UC San Francisco, who were visiting the Snyder lab. The topic, “Stem Cells in the Adult Cortex: Fact or Fiction,” sparked a lively discussion on the ability of the fully-formed brain to generate new neurons and how that relates to adult brain cancers.