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Great minds think alike
SAN DIEGO—The six separate programs from six different professional societies that make up the Experimental Biology 2012 (EB 2012) meeting all have some connection to the world of drug discovery, drug development and diagnostics, though admittedly some have slimmer connections than others. As with many annual meetings in the life-sciences realm or associated with life sciences, there is a broad audience to satisfy and very little time in which to do that.
In the end, that probably works for the best for us here at ddn, since there's not enough room to talk about six different programs in detail in one issue. However, a few of the societies were kind enough to connect us with program planners and organizers who have an eye on discovery, development and diagnostics and could share what value the meeting might hold for researchers and others in those areas of expertise.
A 'PET' project
The American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) not only had its own program to plan in detail, but also drew the straw for overall show direction responsibilities for EB 2012 this year. According to Dr. Scott Waldman, ASPET's program chair, there is definitely a trend for more discovery and development content in his society's own programming.
"We've had a growing focus on trying to emphasize more and more the full spectrum of experimental therapeutics from initial discovery in the lab all the way through translation and development of novel paradigms for patient and population management," Waldman says. "What it really comes down to is an expansion of the focus on simple signal transduction, receptors, molecules and all that into a question of: 'How are we really going to translate discoveries into new patient paradigms for treatment?' We're working hard to make sure each of the major points along the developmental continuum are represented."
He points out that he works in experimental therapeutics and therefore spends a lot of his time dealing with issues in the translational medicine realms. He says that compared to recent years, the annual Experimental Bio meeting used to be less relevant to the things he does.
"But the meeting has really evolved to have a much wider character, including metabolic, neurological, psychological, cardiovascular, cancer—it really runs across a very broad swath of disciplines—communities of practice, as it were," Waldman says. "We're really trying to balance the whole molecules- to-man paradigm. Not only is that healthy for the discipline because of the growing emphasis on translational medicine and patient-based care, but at the end of the day, with all that great discovery work, we hope that it ultimately does translate into better patient management tools and algorithms for care."
Another organization of special note at EB 2012 is the American Physiological Society (APS), which celebrates a very big birthday at the meeting as well as having much to offer for those interested in drug discovery and development.
"This represents the 125th anniversary of the American Physiological Society, and physiology is the basis of medicine. As such, the science that is presented at the meeting is aligned with drug discovery and development, because it's about our understanding of physiological function, its implications in pathology and its ability to serve as a guide to inform us in the development of treatments and cures for disease," notes Dr. Martin Frank, the executive director of the APS. "As drugs are developed, invariably one has to see how they function in the living organism, and that's where physiology comes in."
He says this year 's APS conference will offer a tour of a multitude of physiological concepts and systems and ways to think about them, understand them and work with them. Because of the anniversary, he says, APS has encouraged organizers of the various symposia to provide a bit of historical precedent and perspective in their presentations. In addition, the history group within APS will be putting on a presentation at the meeting.
"We want to provide a little flavor of the history and the science and the sources of all the information they'll be receiving at the meeting and have learned over the years," Frank says.
"The purpose of this meeting for APS—as well as our sister societies that partner with us in the Experimental Bio meeting—is that it's an opportunity for our members and the communities they represent to present the latest sciences related to our disciplines for our members, but also realize that it's all tied together into a much larger tapestry," he says. "Each of us is what I would call a basic science society, and each of these basic sciences informs efforts toward drug development, so it's an important for us to continue to generate and advance and push the basic science knowledge to generate the fuel for drug development."
Frank notes that the meeting is also important because it reflects a responsibility toward helping future scientists grow and develop in their careers. For example, many graduate students and post-docs use this meeting, he says, as one of their first opportunities to discuss their work with other scientists but also attend workshops and sessions to prepare them to be independent scientists in their own right.
"For the established and active scientists, the extensive exhibit program is an important element because of the opportunity to talk to vendors about their research and their needs and—for those who consider themselves sufficiently creative—perhaps write the next great textbook or guide. For us, that is what for most people would be the dream of writing the great American novel," Frank says.
Bridging basic and clinical science
The third society to speak with ddn about EB 2012 was the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), which Dr. Peter K. Jackson and Dr. Randall W. King—both of them the drug discovery theme organizers for ASBMB's annual meeting at EB 2012—say is, for the first year, taking a strong drug discovery focus.
"Obviously, the people we have in ASBMB have a wide variety of tools and expertise, but many people haven't hooked that up with figuring out how to do drug discovery, so our forums and other offerings help with that," says Jackson, who is director of cell regulation at Genentech Inc.
"In terms of focus, we decided to concentrate on drug discovery in cancer just to give our part of the Experimental Bio conference a little more continuity than may have been the case in previous years," adds King, an associate professor at Harvard University Medical School. "We've organized around four themes. One is sort of an outlier—on parasitology—but everything else is dealing heavily with drug discovery in cancer. One theme is on cell death and how best to induce it, another is on really trying to understand heterogeneity in cancer and targeting individual tumors—that's popular right now in terms of personalized medicine, for example—and the last one is more forward-looking and tech-focused, looking at how the tools and technologies can be made more relevant to drug discovery."
Jackson says that one reason to focus on cancer as the avenue for addressing discovery and development with ASBMB members and other interested parties this year is because of the wealth of good cancer models.
"I'd say in cancer, we're well ahead of most areas in the life sciences in terms of models compared to other diseases, such as cardiovascular," he notes. "There's a lot of heterogeneity in tumors but we also see a lot of promise in terms of current and upcoming breakthroughs, and there's a lot of enthusiasm. Some of the best work in biochemistry and molecular biology and some of the best applications right now have happened in the cancer arena and that's setting the life-sciences industry up for all kinds of models that might inspire and advance other therapeutic areas as well."
Also, according to King, a reason to focus on cancer is because in the last decade, researchers have really worked out how a lot of signaling pathways operate, and that's been thanks to the basic scientists.
"Now we want to look toward applying that knowledge therapeutically. We need to build more communication between basic and clinical scientists to move things even farther forward," he says.
Jackson notes that the three cancer-related programs in the ASBMB lineup at EB 2012 essentially represent different key parts of the overall process of cancer drug discovery.
"I think I'd emphasize the idea that we have an overall program that targets the full range of the drug discovery process, from finding compounds and targets to the latest in integrating biochem and clinical biology," King adds. "I think there is something for everyone in that sense, depending on what they want to hear about and learn about."
What to expect at Experimental Bio 2012
SAN DIEGO—Experimental Biology 2012, which will be held this year from April 21 to April 25 at the San Diego Convention Center, is a multidisciplinary scientific meeting featuring plenary and award lectures, pre-meeting workshops, oral and poster sessions, on-site career services and exhibits featuring an array of equipment, supplies and publications required for research labs and experimental study. Generally speaking, the offerings at the meeting cover the fields of anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, nutrition and pharmacology. For more information about the specific programs and the societies putting them on, visit www.experimentalbiology.org.
The meeting is open to all members of the sponsoring and guest societies and nonmembers with interest in research and life sciences, with the major difference between the two groups of attendees being that members enjoy discounts on the registration fees. The majority of scientists represent university and academic institutions as well as government agencies, nonprofit organizations and private corporations. The meeting is typically attended by some 14,000 scientists and exhibitors, most of who represent the six sponsoring societies and some 30 guest societies. Continuing medical education (CME) credits can only be earned this year for sessions of the American Society for Investigative Pathology. The poster sessions will be held in the San Diego Convention Center, but additional poster competitions will also be held at the San Diego Marriott Marquis and Marina and Hilton Bayfront Hotel.
Obscurins in breast tissue may predict and detect breast cancer
BETHESDA, Md.—The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) notes that new research in The FASEB Journal suggests that obscurins suppress breast cancer formation, and this finding may lead to a new tool to help physicians assess breast cancer risk as well as diagnose the disease. In the report, researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland explain how proteins called obscurins, once believed to only be in muscle cells, act as tumor suppressor genes in the breast. When their expression is lost, or their genes mutated in epithelial cells of the breast, cancer develops.
"Our studies on the role of obscurins in the development of breast cancer lay the framework for a series of in-depth investigations aiming to understand how these proteins act to prevent tumor formation," said Dr. Aikaterini Kontrogianni-Konstantopoulos, a researcher involved in the work from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. "It is our hope that our research will provide important new insights into breast tumor biology and ultimately yield new targets for the development of innovative therapeutic strategies."
FASEB releases new NIH state fact sheets
BETHESDA, Md.—The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) has released a new series of fact sheets describing the importance of National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding to each state. Available on FASEB's web site, each fact sheet includes NIH funding by congressional district, a summary of the institutional and commercial biomedical research profile for the state and an overview of the role of NIH support in advancing research accomplishments. In addition, the fact sheets feature talking points summarizing how investment in NIH research benefits local economies through job creation, improved health of citizens and the promotion of innovation.
"With increased scrutiny of all government spending and research and development activities facing unprecedented funding cuts, it is imperative that scientists and concerned citizens educate their elected officials about the impact of NIH funding on their communities," said FASEB's president, Dr. Joseph C. LaManna. "More than 80 percent of the NIH budget is distributed to researchers in nearly every congressional district in the United States. Cutting back on this investment will delay discoveries that can lead to new treatments and improved health. It will also discourage younger people who are interested in pursuing careers in science. The FASEB NIH state fact sheets are a tremendous resource to provide scientists with all they need to convey their messages effectively, whether they are new to biomedical science advocacy or longtime leaders in the field."
Who's who among the societies
Sponsoring Societies at Experimental Bio 2012
Guest societies participating in Experimental Bio 2012
American Association of Anatomists
American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
American Physiological Society
American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
American Society for Investigative Pathology
American Society for Nutrition
Future meeting dates
April 20-24, 2013
April 26-30, 2014
March 28-April 1, 2015
Boston April 2-6, 2016 San Diego
Overseeing it all
Of the six sponsoring societies for the Experimental Biology annual meetings, each one rotates in terms of the program chair and overall coordination duties for the show. This year, that duty fell to the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET). But acting as a kind of umbrella, or perhaps more accurately a policy and advocacy touchpoint, for ASPET and the other five sponsoring societies—as well as 20 other societies involved with experimental biology—is the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB).
Located in Bethesda, Md., FASEB was originally created by three independent scientific organizations to provide a forum in which to hold educational meetings, develop publications and disseminate biological research results. As FASEB notes on its web site, "What started as a small group of dedicated scientists has grown to be the nation's largest coalition of biomedical researchers, representing 26 scientific societies and over 100,000 researchers from around the world. FASEB is now recognized as the policy voice of biological and biomedical researchers."
The mission of FASEB is to advance health and welfare by promoting progress and education in biological and biomedical sciences through service to its member societies and collaborative advocacy. The organization celebrated its 100th anniversary this year and counts among its duties the providing of society management services; management of many scientific meetings, conferences and exhibit halls each year; publication of The FASEB Journal; and providing career resources through job and resume postings, networking and educational seminars.
Public policy programs
A pair of public policy programs is scheduled to take place at Experimental Biology 2012, as follows:
Career advancement at EB 2012
The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Career Resources and Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program office will offer seminars in the Career Resources Center at the Experimental Biology 2012 annual meeting. EB 2012 registration is required to participate in the seminars.
Among the many offerings are sessions on the following: using LinkedIn in the Ph.D. job search, the nuances of the industrial hiring process, preparing for a career transition in the life sciences, Ph.D. negotiation skills, professional development for Ph.D.s, managing the postdoctoral experience, leadership principles, job hunting in the biotechnology industry and compensation negotiation for scientists transitioning to industry.
FASEB Career Resources Center opportunities will also include a virtual career fair before, during and after the meeting; computer-assisted registration, "search-and-referral" services, interview scheduling and message services; on-site interview facilities; a "position available" posting area (unlimited postings included with employer registration); cover letter and resume critique workshops; and a message center for applicants and employers.
The FASEB MARC Program is sponsoring EB 2012 travel awards to help support the participation of faculty, mentors, postdoctoral fellows and students from minority institutions and historically black colleges and universities. The travel awards are funded for travel-related expenses and meeting registration. Travel awards are provided as reimbursements after the meeting.
Career Development Sessions
Famous places to go when you're not at the show
San Diego Zoo
One of the premier zoos in the United States, this facility is a sanctuary for thousands of animals and rare plants. Exhibits include a 7.5- acre multispecies habitat featuring elephants, California condors, jaguars and more that helps teach visitors about the zoo's conservation efforts. Animal enclosures are designed to be as realistic as possible to promote the natural behavior of the animals, so that guests can get a better sense of how the animals live in the wild, whether they are polar bears in the Arctic tundra, okapis in the Ituri Forest or bonobos in the jungles of the Congo.
The zoo offers a guided bus tour of the grounds, as well as the Skyfari aerial tram that provides visitors a bird's-eye view of the 100-acre facility. At the Wegeforth Bowl and Hunte Amphitheatre, guests can watch animals such as sea lions and wolves that can't be seen anywhere else in the zoo show off some of their natural behaviors. The zoo also features restaurants ranging from the gourmet to the casual.
Wild Animal Park
If you didn't get enough animals at the San Diego Zoo itself, or weren't satisfied that the enclosures were realistic enough, try a visit to the zoo's 213-acre Wild Animal Park, a separate location featuring huge open enclosures that allow herds of African and Asian animals to roam and interact with each other.
Visitors can get up close to these wild and endangered animals thanks to the Journey into Africa tour, which emulates safari tours in Africa but with vehicles that run on biodiesel for a more eco-friendly vibe. The experience brings visitors to eye level with animals such as white rhinoceroses, giraffes, Cape buffalo, Roosevelt's gazelles, African crowned cranes and more. Other animal exhibits can be found at the park as well, in a more zoo-like fashion, allowing guests to see a cheetah, alligator, owl or boa constrictor, and the park features two different animal shows daily.
Certainly, Shamu the killer whale is the most famous denizen of this aquatic animal park, but there is also the Shark Encounter, which allows visitors to walk through a submerged tube while sharks swim around them; the Wild Arctic and Penguin Encounter exhibits; a California tide pool exhibit; a freshwater aquarium and the World of the Sea aquarium; Wonders of the River; and the Sesame Street Bay of Play.