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Sarajevo is called the Maybe-City by its inhabitants because you never know what will happen. Its history is full of surprises and the weather is unpredictable, thus the airport may suddenly close for some days due to unforeseeable fog. Nevertheless, the 4th EFIS-EJI South East European Summer School in Immunology was planned to be held in Sarajevo and we had chosen a small hostel in the mountains as the venue. Four weeks before the school was due to take place we learned that the hostel had been sold and the new owner had not been informed that a meeting was to take place in his premises; however, in Sarajevo unbureaucratic solutions are common, and after some interventions by the local organisers the school could take place as planned.

The hostel for the school (Hostel Feri, www.feri.ba) is located in the Igman mountains, about 25 km from the center of Sarajevo. This remote place had the advantage that all participants were together with the faculty in one place and nobody could escape. There were no other guests in the hostel whose location is near to the facilities of the 1984 Olympic winter games, facilities that were destroyed in the civil war in the 1990s. In fact, the soot-blackened ruins of hotels and other buildings can still be seen there and some areas around are still infested with land mines. In addition, cemeteries of the victims of the war can be found at many sites.

The primary aim of this summer school was to teach immunology to students and young investigators in immunology from South-East Europe. This region is still far behind in resources and needs help to establish state-of-the-art immunology. -Infrastructure and equipment of many of the institutes of immunology in the South of this region are underdeveloped, but interest in immunology is high and immunological societies in these countries have been or are being formed. EFIS in cooperation with EJI has therefore supported this school to teach immunology to postgraduate students and postdocs, as well as young physicians interested in clinical immunology, from the region and to foster new contacts among them and their institutions. Due to the generous financial support from the European Federation of Immunological Socities (EFIS)–European Journal of Immunology (EJI) [1], we couldcover the costs of the accommodation and subsistence and, due to the additional help by IUIS, we could also finance most of the students’ travel. We had 55 participants from 9 countries: Albania (6), Austria (1, originally from -Sarajevo), Bosnia & Herzegovina (17), -Croatia (6), Macedonia (2), Serbia (14), Romania (3) and Bulgaria (5) and Ukraine (1), see Figure 1. Unfortunately, one -participant from Kosovo had to cancel her participation due to visa problems. The participants were extremely motivated and grateful for this opportunity to meet foreign speakers. As in the previous schools, it was once again comforting that the young immunologists coming from countries that had been at war only two decades before gladly discussed immunological problems and sang folklore songs in the evening together.

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Figure 1. Faculty and participants of the South East European Summer School of Immunology 2012.

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Lectures (Fig. 2 and 3) dealt with current concepts in immunology that are of special importance not only for basic, but also for clinical, immunology because many of the participants had a medical background. The faculty consisted of lecturers from -Austria (H. Stockinger, G. Stanek), Bulgaria (A. Tchorbanov), Croatia (B. Polic), Finland (S. Meri), France (M. Zouali), Germany (B. Fleischer, A. Gospos, H. J. Seitz, H. W. Mittrucker), and India (N. K. Mehra). Plenary lectures were held in the morning and -covered humoral (complement activation and regulation, immunology of tick-born infections) and cellular immune responses (function of MHC molecules, immunopathology, role of NKG2D receptors, antibacterial T-cell responses), and autoimmunity (roles of B cells, mouse models of SLE, therapeutic interventions in autoimmune diseases and diagnostics of autoantibodies).

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Figure 2. Getting ready for lectures.

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Figure 3. Students pay attention during one of the lectures.

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To provide a setting for optimal discussion, the participants formed small working groups in the afternoon according to their knowledge and interests, and were guided in their discussions by the faculty. In these groups, not only were methodological aspects and new concepts discussed but lectures on basic immunology were also held for the students less advanced in their immunological knowledge. Due to support by Euroimmun, Lübeck, Germany, microscopes were provided for a training session in practical immune diagnostics. In groups of two or three per microscope, the students were guided by Dr. Annette Gospos from Euroimmun in the use of the microscopes, enabling the students to study by themselves a large number of slides showing typical patterns of autoantibodies in various autoimmune diseases. This practical part of the school was especially appreciated by the participants. In addition, workshops with small groups were held on “Methods to measure T cell responses in vitro and in vivo”, “Interpretation of FACS data”, “T cell differentiation”, “T cell costimulation” and on the immunological diagnosis of microbial infections.

Presentation of their work by the young investigators was an important part of the school and this took place in the evening after dinner. Twenty two abstracts had been submitted and more than 20 posters were displayed and the students were asked to give a short oral presentation -describing the work presented in their posters. For some students, it was their first talk in front of people who they did not know but a bit of red wine helped -everyone to relax. In fact, lively discussions ensued, lasting late into the night and therefore was considered a great success.

A farewell dinner was held on the last evening in Sarajevo, with an opportunity for an hour of sightseeing in this beautiful town full of historical buildings. The evening ended with dancing and singing in a small restaurant in the old town. On the last morning, after a lecture on Listeria monocytogenes as a model system to study CD8+ T-cell responses, a final discussion with all the speakers and participants was held. Hannes Stockinger introduced EFIS to the participants and urged them to advocate for the foundation of national immunological societies in their home countries or, even better, for the formation of a regional society in order to reach a critical mass of support and active members. He also outlined some possibilities for young immunologists to obtain financial support for travel to meetings etc. In addition, Hans-Joachim Seitz gave as an example the possibility to get financial support from German agencies such as the DAAD and the Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation. After the school, we received many positive responses from the students (see below). As we still have contact to students of the last summer school [2] and those held in 2009 and 2010 as several of these students are now pursuing PhDs abroad or have obtained fellowships for working visits abroad, we hope that the students of this year's South East European Summer School are similarly inspired to continue with their immunological research.

The organisers were Bernhard Fleis-cher, chairman (Hamburg), Hannes Stockinger (Vienna), Moncef Zouali (Paris) and -Hans-Joachim Seitz (Hamburg) with the invaluable help of the local organisers Prof. Semra Cavaljuga and Dr. Lejla Alic-Sinanovic of the Medical Faculty of the University Sarajevo. The website of the school is accessible at www.bnitm.de/seeis2012.

Comments from participants

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  2. Comments from participants

Dr. Adina Stanciu, Institue of Oncology, Bucharest, Romania: “Thank you very much for the opportunity to participate at SEEIS 2012 in Sarajevo. The course was very useful for me and even gave me some ideas. I started working on B lymphocyte antigen CD20 in patients with thyroid cancer associated with autoimmune thyroid disease and the results are unexpected. Thank you very much! In fact, the course helped me to better understand certain mechanisms and also, I learned many new things. I also greatly appreciated the workshop on practical microscopy for diagnostic of autoimmune diseases, organized by Dr. Annette Gospos. Microscope images have been spectacular and it is incredible that I (without tangent with the fluorescence microscopy) was able to recognize certain patterns at the end of the workshop. When you decide to organize the SEEIS in Romania, please contact me. I will help you with the greatest pleasure.”

Tamara Lutsenko, PhD student, State Institute of Genetic and Regenerative Medicine, Kiew, Ukraine: “. . . . The most I like: correspondence with school organizing committee, venue place (mountains, not city), the obligation of short presentation for young scientist in evening, practical microscopy. Also it was so wisdom to make a tour to Sarajevo especial for people who came just for school dates. The community of the students was rather active and some of them have had already experience with international participation. The new one was: home atmosphere during conference, although abstract was not necessary, the better “role” was with poster and presentation for own experience.”

Milica Borovcanin, MD, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Kragujevac, Serbia: “. . . I was excited that I will meet new young researches from the region. The School was well prepared and organized, covered basic topics in immunology, discussed the clinical implications and give practical skills in the workshops. I have the opportunity to present our -research data and it was good rehearsal for my PhD defense few days after I have back from Bosnia! Official and unofficial talks give me some new perspective – there are differences in the brain of immunologists and psychiatrists and we must explore new -neuroimmunological networks!”