The SRHSB wishes you all a very happy Christmas and New Year.

Here are some personal 2023 reflections and seasonal messages from members of the SRHSB Executive Committee:


John Pickard: SRHSB Reflection Autumn 2023

International conferences – for debate.

It has been a real pleasure during 2023 to return to face-to-face international meetings. Webinars via Zoom & Teams saved us during the pandemic and remain an invaluable resource for education, straightforward business and listening in to keynote lectures delivered in faraway places. Faced by increasing globalisation of science, webinars are a very cost- and time-effective way of bringing the world together, rich and poor, whilst minimising our carbon footprint. London-centric organisations realised, not before time, that they had to implement meaningful outreach programmes to the whole of the UK. All credit to Ian Pople and Andy Wynd for orchestrating the DOHA and Stirling hybrid meetings so effectively.

Personally, however, I find that webinars are not a substitute for the total immersion learning experience, sans distraction, afforded by face-to-face meetings in the lecture theatres, poster sessions, corridors, social programmes and cultural travel. Moments to catch up with old friends and their science, make new ones and for mutual psychotherapy in a challenging world. The best meetings are celebrations of great science. International meetings provide invaluable opportunities for younger colleagues to see that there is a wider world outwith their local cluster, to gain constructive feedback and to look out for new directions and even pastures new. New concepts are exposed to rigorous scrutiny. Face-to-face builds the trust that catalyses the creation and sustaining of global alliances and networks. The memorable 2023 Stirling meeting was a reminder of what we had temporarily lost.

Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy & Entrepreneurship at the London Business School (Forbes.com Oct 25th, 2021) has argued that “when complex interactions are desired or required, it seems intuitively obvious that face-to-face is better than Zoom. We have all experienced the spark of creativity, the spontaneous meeting-of-minds or the heated disagreement that emerges in a physical setting and how much more rarely these things happen over Zoom. But that still begs the question, why is face-to-face better? The answer lies in the amount of non-verbal information available to those participating in the activity. A big part of this is body language – the way individuals sit or stand, how they use their hands or move their heads, all the things that provide visual cues to those around them. And of course, it’s not just the body language of the person talking that matters; we can also read a lot into the facial expressions and sitting positions of those listening. The other non-verbal source of information is emotions – the feelings, physiological changes and expressive behaviours of individuals. It goes without saying that the amount of non-verbal information available in a face-to-face meeting is greater than in a Zoom meeting, which in turn is greater than in an audio-only conference call”.

We think that we understand all this (blogs.lse.ac.uk: H Collins, W Mason-Wilkes; March 13th 2023). But what is the evidence base? How do we embrace the plausible arguments of those who rightly question the ecological cost of international meetings and who caricature them as academic tourism? There are too many overlapping conferences. They are often much too expensive and exclude those from disadvantaged backgrounds or who have major social and family responsibilities at home. There are the science stars and inflated opinion formers, some of whom rock from one conference to the next.

A quick Google search reveals an emerging scientific and sociological literature, rich on surveyed opinion about the pros and cons but a little short on randomised trials. A meta-analysis and systematic review of RCTs in higher education concluded that webinars were slightly more effective than offline face-to-face classroom instruction, but the differences were trivial.  Student satisfaction was higher with face-to-face. (Genenfurtner & Ebner.  Educational Research Review 2019; 28:100293. Front. in Education 2019; 4:92).

Our Urological colleagues have published a helpful survey amongst their members of hybrid versus face-to-face meetings – their ‘heat map’ neatly encapsulates the key issues, many but not all of which are included in the conventional CME feedback questionnaires (Hameed BMZ, Tanidir Y et al. Urology 2021;156:52-57):

hybrid versus face-to-face meetings

Hybrid international meetings are here to stay but we need to work tirelessly to render them more inclusive and affordable, both ecologically and financially, whilst documenting their impact on global science, health, capacity building and innovation. One interesting proposal is to publish the number of flights made by members of a university (Jurgen Gerhards. Greetings from Berlin, Tokyo, Beijing. Blogs.lse.ac.uk. February 25th, 2019) – see attached example below.

Declaration of my 2023 carbon footprint: during 2023, I attended and gave talks to the SRHSB 2023 meeting in Stirling (116 miles in PHEV) and Hydrocephalus 2023 in Hamburg (58 miles in PHEV; return flight via Cologne – air traffic chaos over Europe), and gave webinar presentations from home to the EANS, Brain Water Symposium (Copenhagen) and the UK Prolonged Disorders of Consciousness Special Interest Group. Total tCO2e 0.66 (www.clear.eco).


With very best wishes for a peaceful, face-to-face festive season,

John Pickard (Immediate Past President).


Ian Pople

Whilst sitting outside on my balcony in the warm winter sunshine here in Doha I find it hard to imagine the awful suffering going on in other parts of the Middle East, where people find it increasingly difficult to live peacefully together due to religious or political differences. I’ve been out here in the Middle East for five years now working in an amazing hospital with staff from over 90 different countries with many different religious backgrounds and I find it so very gratifying that when there is a common purpose of helping a sick child get better all our different backgrounds and views on life are forgotten, at least for a while. Caring for one another and respecting each other’s views without violent hatred, or dogmatic fanaticism is the frustratingly simple but true key to unlocking long term peace in this region, so let’s hope more people and leaders in this area and all around the world start to reject hatred and calmly adopt these more positive behaviours in 2024. Wishing you all peaceful and Happy Holidays from Doha, Qatar!


Dawn view of the Arabian Gulf from my balcony in Doha. 

Ian Pople December 2023


Pat McAllister

The holidays always remind me of my blessings and create lots of nostalgia, one of which is the special bond I feel for the people and the mission of the SRHSB.  For nearly 40 years, I have been inspired and encouraged by all the special members of our Society, as well as our uniqueness in being the only research group that combines spina bifida and hydrocephalus.  May each and every one of you enjoy the blessings of these holidays and reminisce over the gifts of the SRHSB.

Pat McAllister

Past President, 2015-2018


Andy Wynd

Season Greetings from Scotland!

We were delighted to welcome SRHSB to Scotland again for their annual conference this year. Feedback has been very positive, and we are delighted that so many of our members we able to meet in person for the first time for a number of years. Although I have now stepped down as CEO of SBH Scotland recently, I will continue my interest in both the folic acid debate and wider issues of reproductive health in Scotland and am happy to continue to collaborate with the members of the society going forward.

With very best wishes at this Christmas time, Andy Wynd MBE MIoD


Carolyn Harris

Season’s greetings from all of us at the SRHSB! As we reflect on the past year, we are grateful for the incredible strength and resilience within our community. The Board extends heartfelt wishes for joy, health, and unity during this festive season, and we look forward to continuing our collaborative efforts to support those affected by hydrocephalus and spina bifida in the coming year. Our independent research collectively continues to have an impact on patients through innovative and thoughtful innovation and hypothesis driven discovery. Indeed, my group is exploring strategies to combat hydrocephalus shunt failure, working collaboratively on improving in vitro models, in vivo examination of new design strategies, and continuing our translational work in patients.


Hannah Botfield

For most of the year I have been in mum mode, off on maternity leave spending time with my two little ones (although I did get to moonlight in writing grants to keep my brain in science gear).

However, since returning in September I have thoroughly enjoyed being back in the lab again, conducting experiments and analysing data. I am very much looking forward to all the science I have planned for 2024!


Jo Glazier 

There has been one major event to reflect on this year for me, and that was the great joy of attending the SRHSB conference in Stirling in July and our sincere thanks go out to Andy Wynd and his team for making this happen and for organising such a successful meeting. It felt extra special as it was the first time that we had been able to meet in person, face-to-face since the Covid pandemic and the restrictions imposed by it, although through the wonderful efforts of Ian Pople and his organising Committee in Doha we have still managed to conduct our annual SRHSB meetings by webinar during this period, and we again extend our considerable thanks to him in facilitating this and keeping us all ‘connected’.

One of the great attributes of the SRHSB conference meetings is that you feel so welcomed and that you are very much amongst ‘friends’ who are all striving, whether clinically or scientifically, to understand the aetiology of neural tube defects and to be able to offer the best treatments to those affected. There is still a lot we don’t understand about the underlying molecular mechanisms, but by coming together, exchanging ideas, learning from each other great things can be achieved, and I’m proud to serve as Honorary Secretary for SRHSB so that such interactions can be facilitated.

So, I do hope you will consider contributing to our next SRHSB annual conference, June 26-29 2024, hosted in Liverpool, UK and organised jointly between Liverpool and Manchester. Arrangements and the programme are currently being planned and will be announced on the SRHSB website (https://srhsb.com) as soon as they are confirmed.

Wishing you all a joyous festive season, peace and well-being and all the very best for 2024!!

With very best wishes to you all, Jo Glazier

Stirling 2023

Albert Isaacs

This year has been a remarkable journey for us at SRHSB, filled with groundbreaking research, meaningful connections, and unwavering dedication to our cause. As we celebrate this festive season, we cherish the progress we’ve made in understanding and addressing hydrocephalus and spina bifida. Our collective efforts have not only advanced scientific knowledge but also brought hope and support to countless individuals and families affected by these conditions. Looking ahead, I am filled with optimism for the future. Wishing everyone a joyous holiday season and a new year brimming with health, happiness, and continued success.

On behalf of all the SRHSB Executive Committee have a very happy festive season and all the very best to you all for 2024.