Awards and Exhibit Hall Changes at ASHG 2017

Posted By: Carrie Morin, ASHG Exhibits, Sponsorship, and Meeting Marketing Manager; and Pauline Minhinnett, ASHG Director of Meetings

ASHG 2017 features several new initiatives and special features to help attendees connect with the latest human genetics science – and each other – in novel, productive ways.

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Watch our video on the latest changes and enhancements to the ASHG Annual Meeting.

CoLabs in the Exhibit Hall

CoLaboratories (CoLabs), are exciting new networking lounges and educational theaters in the Exhibit Hall. Organized by high-level themes – clinical, laboratory, and data – these short events are organized by ASHG, partner organizations, and exhibiting companies. They focus on a single, specific topic or tool, and are free to attend with no advance registration required.

Each CoLab is paired with a networking lounge to facilitate conversation after the session ends. These events are a great way to meet colleagues and potential collaborators who share your interests, and to learn the basics of new tools to help you reach your goals. Be sure to review the CoLab calendar as you start planning your ASHG 2017 schedule!

And don’t forget: the people who staff exhibit booths at ASHG are often your peers! Don’t be afraid to ask them what sessions they find interesting or what new technology has made their jobs easier. They will often share interesting information and remember – they are there for you! They want to talk to you and get your feedback.

Changes to Awards

We’ve also made some changes to the annual Society awards, presented in sessions throughout the meeting. Each award presentation will feature a short lecture by the recipient about his or her current work, past and present challenges, and notable accomplishments. Browse these talks on the schedule of events.

While ASHG’s awards program is over 50 years old, this year’s slate includes our first-ever Early-Career Award, which recognizes scientists in their first ten years as an independent investigator. Finally, we’ve revamped the ASHG/FASEB Mentored Travel Awards Program for Underrepresented Trainees, which now includes a substantial mentoring component. Congratulations to this year’s 13 awardees!

Check out our website for details on other new initiatives at ASHG 2017. See you in Orlando!

Carrie Morin, CEM, is Exhibits, Sponsorship, and Meeting Marketing Manager at ASHG, and Pauline Minhinnett, CMP, CEM, is Director of Meetings. For more information on ASHG 2017, visit the meeting website.

Explore Orlando: Neighborhoods to Discover

Posted By: Amanda Olsen, ASHG Meetings Assistant

Note: We have received a number of inquiries about any potential impact of Hurricane Irma on ASHG 2017 in Orlando. We are in regular touch with local authorities and convention center staff, who report all facilities should be ready to welcome ASHG attendees as planned, and we will continue to monitor the situation.

Starting to plan your travel to Orlando? Consider taking a day or afternoon to venture out of the city and check out some of these area neighborhoods (listed alphabetically). 

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Leu House Museum, Audubon Park (credit: Visit Orlando)

Audubon Park Garden District – 35-minute taxi ride from the OCCC

This is Orlando’s first “ecodistrict,” a sustainable shopping and dining community. Dine here and experience the rewarding taste of farm-to-table foods, locally sourced ingredients, and award-winning cuisine. Audubon Park offers a myriad of specialty food and drink options, most of them being locally-owned small businesses. In addition to its unique boutique stores and dining, this Orlando gem hosts endless foodie festivals. On the eastern edge of town, Leu Gardens never fails to awe visitors as a vast botanical paradise. Although Audubon Park is geographically small, the possibilities for enjoyment are boundless.

College Park – 30-minute taxi ride from the OCCC

Located in northern Orlando, this town takes its title from its Ivy-inspired street names—visitors will find themselves walking down W Harvard Street to cross Dartmouth Street. If you’re in the mood for a stroll, College Park boasts many paved pathways circling its multiple lakes. If you want to take part in some higher learning to reflect the streets along which you travel, visit the Orlando Science Center or the Orlando Shakespeare Theater. The area is also known for its inimitable shopping boutiques and retro dining locations. Follow a trip to the local thrift shop with a cup of coffee at Shaker’s American Café and sip as you look at their extensive collection of vintage salt and pepper shakers.

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Market Street, Celebration, FL (credit: Visit Orlando)

Celebration – 20-minute taxi ride from the OCCC

The “Traditional American Town of Celebration” is exactly as idyllic as you would expect a community developed by Walt Disney to be. The 1950s-inspired neighborhood is a must-see for Disney enthusiasts. Even if you’re not a Disney lover, the town offers many attractions, with most food and shopping located in its Town Center. The town may be uniform in appearance, but the food is diverse enough to serve all tastes. Visit Columbia Restaurant for Cuban and Spanish fare, Ari Sushi for hibachi, or the Town Tavern for a burger and fries.

Lake Nona – 25-minute taxi ride from the OCCC

Lake Nona refers to itself as “a community of and for the future,” and a trip to the town will prove it’s a well-deserved tagline. The community is sprinkled with breath-taking art installations amongst its plentiful shopping and dining options. The Town Center includes brand-name shopping as well as boutique options, while also serving as great spot to sit outside and enjoy the Floridian fall weather. As a town devoted to health and wellness, Lake Nona’s bike share program and lengthy trails are hard to beat. For a unique dining experience, visitors should visit Canvas Restaurant and Market, an American-Latin fusion eatery with an attached market that sells food, drink, household goods, and local artisan crafts.

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Shopping in the city of Winter Park (credit: Visit Orlando)

Winter Park – 35-minute taxi ride from the OCCC

The northern Orlando city of Winter Park is an arts-filled area rich in culture and activity. Visit for the day and peruse the art in the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum, walk through the Mead Botanical Garden, or take a stroll in one of the more than 70 parks. If you’re in for a nautical adventure, there are numerous boat tours that take you through the Lakes of Winter Park. With wide-spanning activities from orchestral concerts to luxury shopping to outdoor music festivals, you can always count on finding something to entertain you.

 

Meet Genetics & Public Policy Fellow Nikki Meadows

Posted by: Staff

A warm welcome to Danielle (Nikki) Meadows, PhD, ASHG/NHGRI Genetics & Public Policy Fellow for 2017-18! Dr. Meadows began her first rotation at the National Human Genome Research Institute in August, and we sat down with her this week to find out more about her background and interest in science policy.

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Nikki Meadows, PhD, ASHG/NHGRI Genetics & Public Policy Fellow (courtesy Dr. Meadows)

ASHG: What made you interested in the ASHG/NHGRI Genetics & Public Policy Fellowship, and what are you hoping to get out of it?

Nikki: The endless possibilities and potential ethical pitfalls of genetics, genomics, and their related technologies has always been exciting and fascinating for me to think about. What are the possibilities? Can we actually cure millions of diseases in my lifetime (instead of just hoping we can)? If we do that, what will it cost us? How do we decide what constitutes a “disease”? I’m super short and hate to climb on counters to reach the top shelf – can I save my future children from that fate? But if the super wealthy are the only ones able to afford it, how is that fair? Questions like that were always in the back of my mind while I was pipetting at the lab bench or sitting in the lecture hall hearing about new, cool science.

Then, in my second or third year as a grad student at McGill, I ended up getting involved in student government, lured by the opportunity to represent human genetics students at the university level. My long days in the lab were soon being supplemented with (not quite as) long evenings in board rooms discussing issues that affected grad students and working on policies to help navigate them. Around the same time, my thesis project brought some policy-type discussions into our lab meetings about worldwide folic acid fortification levels. Somewhere in that confluence, I realized that this juncture between science and policy was where I wanted to be, because I could combine two things I was captivated by.

I started poking around online and came across the ASHG/NHGRI Genetics and Public Policy Fellowship, and it seemed an ideal segue from a PhD in Human Genetics to a career in genetics public policy. I’m hoping that this fellowship will allow me find my place in policy, where there are so many stakeholders and perspectives from which to approach it. It’s three-rotation setup is seemingly perfect for that.

ASHG: Tell us about your professional background.

Nikki: I got my bachelor’s degree from Rochester Institute of Technology, where I studied biotechnology with a side of theatre arts and sociology. From there I took a year off to decide what I wanted to do next; specifically whether I wanted to pursue an MD or an MD/PhD or a PhD. To help me decide, I joined John Gottsch’s lab at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins, and had the opportunity to work in the clinic setting and the lab setting as we were studying the genetic basis of Fuchs Corneal Dystrophy. The lab won out – at the end of the year, I accepted a position in Rima Rozen’s lab at McGill University. Under Rima’s supervision, I completed my PhD in Human Genetics, where I was studying how genes and nutrients affect the outcome of malaria.

As mentioned above, during this time I was also involved in student government at McGill, and in my final year, I was elected to serve as the Financial Affairs Officer at the McGill University Post-Graduate Student Society. Continuing my own trend, I took another year and a half “off” after graduation, and I spent that time teaching math and science back in my hometown.

ASHG: What are your main areas of interest in science policy?

Nikki: STEM/STEAM Education (A for “Arts” because STEM needs creativity), how we bring new genetic technologies to the public and ensure their safety and privacy, and how we keep genetic information from being used to discriminate.

ASHG: Describe yourself in 3 words.

Nikki: tenacious, resourceful, whimsical

Nikki Meadows, PhD, is ASHG’s newest Genetics & Public Policy Fellow. You can find her on Twitter at @dn_meadows. Interested in similar topics? Applications for the 2018-19 fellowship open in January 2018.

Hurricane Irma and Impact on ASHG 2017 in Orlando

Posted by: Mona Miller, ASHG Executive Director

ASHG’s thoughts and concern go out to all those affected by Hurricane Irma, as well as those recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

As ASHG 2017 will take place in Orlando, Florida, we have received several queries about any impact on the meeting. We are in regular touch with local authorities and convention center staff, who report all facilities should be ready to welcome ASHG attendees as planned, and we will continue to monitor the situation. We encourage our members to consider contributions to the respected aid organizations of their choice to help all those affected throughout the two regions.

See you in Orlando!

Inside AJHG: A Chat with Wouter de Laat

Posted by: Sarah Ratzel, PhD, Science Editor, AJHG

Each month, the editors of The American Journal of Human Genetics interview an author of a recently published paper. This month, we check in with Wouter de Laat, PhD, to discuss his paper, “Sensitive Monogenic Noninvasive Prenatal Diagnosis by Targeted Haplotyping.”

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Carlo Vermeulen, MSc, first author of the paper (left); and Wouter de Laat, PhD (right) (courtesy Dr. de Laat)

AJHG: How did you begin working on this project? 

Wouter: The realization that our TLA technology is powerful for targeted haplotyping of any genomic locus of interest triggered us to think about clinically relevant applications. Our background in thalassemia research and our close collaborations with the University Medical Centre Utrecht soon made us excited to explore whether TLA haplotyping would enable non-invasive prenatal diagnosis for monogenic diseases.

AJHG: What about this paper most excites you? 

Wouter: Two things. To me, the fact that our knowledge acquired through basic research on the structure and function of our genome led us to develop a novel prenatal diagnostic test emphasizes once more the societal relevance to support fundamental research. I find this important to mention, coming from a country where national policy makers propagate almost exclusively the virtues of translational research. The other very rewarding aspect of this project was our interaction with Dutch, Greek, and Iranian clinicians who work daily with cystic fibrosis and thalassemia families: they made us truly appreciate the clinical impact of this work.

AJHG: Thinking about the bigger picture, what implications do you see from this work for the larger human genetics community?

Wouter: I expect that, now that pre-conception screening programs for severe Mendelian disorders are being implemented in our health care system, non-invasive prenatal diagnosis (NIPD) methods will be very welcome alternatives to the more burdensome invasive tests for giving desired comfort during pregnancy. A genetic test based on a simple blood draw may in the future also provide risk couples opting for embryo selection with an easy means to confirm that the familial disease was not transmitted to the child. And variants of the NIPD method presented here may offer an attractive way to confirm parenthood, for example following in vitro fertilization.

AJHG: What advice do you have for trainees/young scientists?

Wouter: Always, even if you are considering pursuing a tenure track academic position, ask yourself at the end of your PhD and certainly as an early postdoc: am I, and is my CV, in the top among my peers and am I truly passionate about science? If not, realize that there is a world of careers outside of academia that may be equally inspiring and rewarding to you and that this is the moment to start exploring these opportunities.

AJHG: And for fun, tell us something about your life outside of the lab.

Wouter: Scientists are sometimes not very different from other human beings. To recharge the batteries, I love doing sports (soccer, cycling) and love traveling with my wife and three daughters: we just returned from an amazing trip to Sri Lanka.

Wouter de Laat, PhD, is a Professor of Biomedical Genomics at the University Medical Center Utrecht, Professor at Utrecht University, and Founder of Cergentis.

Filling Gaps in Genomics Education for Providers: We Need Your Ideas

Posted by: Mike Dougherty, PhD, ASHG Director of Education

For the past three years, ASHG has been developing education for non-genetics health professionals. Programs now exist to help pediatricians, OB/GYNs, oncologists, and others to integrate genomics into their clinical practice. We’re now hoping for your feedback to help develop new programs.

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Karen Hanson, Health Professional Education Programs Manager, presents a poster on ASHG’s efforts in genomics education for health professionals.

To ensure that our education is clinically useful, we work closely with medical specialists from the relevant disciplines, sometimes establishing formal collaborations with those organizations. For example, the program we released last month on cfDNA screening was produced in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic. These types of collaborations insure that our educational programs are relevant, practical, and reach their target audience. They also give our partners greater exposure within the genetics community.

If you are a member of a professional society that might be interested in working with ASHG to develop clinical genomics education for that society’s members, please complete this brief survey. Thanks for your help!

Michael Dougherty, PhD, is Director of Education at ASHG. Learn more about ASHG programs for K-12 students, trainees, health professionals, and the public.

Presenting: Your 2018 ASHG Board of Directors

Posted by: Staff

We are pleased to announce the results of this year’s American Society of Human Genetics Board of Directors elections. Thank you to all who voted! Members elected a new president-elect, three directors, one early-career director, and one trainee director.

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For details on the new Board members’ background, experience, and research interests, see the Election Bios. The new Board members will assume office on January 1, 2018, and will serve three-year terms.

A warm welcome to our new leaders!