Lactoferrin is known as a multifunctional protein, which means that researchers in many disciplines are working on this protein but in very different contexts. I had been working on lactoferrin for several years, but when going to various scientific meetings I found very few colleagues sharing my interest in this protein. For example: there were at that time well-known conferences on “Proteins of Iron Storage and Transport”, but out of maybe 100 scientists primarily interested in ferritin, transferrin and hemoglobin, only 2-3 were interested in lactoferrin. Similarly, at conferences on pediatrics/infant nutrition, bacteriology, immunology, etc., very few had an interest in lactoferrin.
In the early 1990s, I had started to collaborate with Bill Hutchens and together we submitted a proposal for a conference grant to NIH with the theme being “Lactoferrin Structure and Function”. The purpose of this conference was to bring together researchers from a broad variety of disciplines, so that we could gather current information on lactoferrin research, stimulate discussion and collaboration, and to explore potential applications for this functional protein. We searched the literature and selected scientists in structural chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, immunology, oncology, neonatology/pediatrics, nutrition, animal science and veterinary medicine and put a program together. NIH funded the conference and we also got support from industries isolating and marketing lactoferrin. We chose Hawaii as the conference site as chartered trips were available from the US and Japan (where most researchers working on lactoferrin worked at that time) and hotels were available and inexpensive low season (inexpensive travel and lodging was important for NIH!). We afterwards heard that NIH was skeptical about a scientific conference on Waikiki beach, with lots of “distractions”, and that they sent an “observer”, who was amazed that not only was there 100% attendance day-time, but also until 10 PM and later at night!
The conference was a success and we were asked to repeat it 2 years later. At that time, we all thought that for future meetings it would be good to rotate between continents and the third conference was consequently held in Europe (France). Since that time we have alternated between Europe, Asia and North America – this time it will be in South America!
Bo Lonnerdal PhD.
University of California, Davis, California (UCD)