SLAS 2019 Show Preview: A capital time for collaboration in the SLAS community

Washington, D.C., welcomes 2019’s annual meeting of the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening

Mel J. Yeates
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Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening
SLAS 2019 International Conference & Exhibition
Feb. 2-6, 2019
Walter E. Washington Convention Center
A capital time for collaboration in the SLAS community
Washington, D.C., welcomes 2019’s annual meeting of the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening
By Mel J. Yeates
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Innovation and Application is the theme of the SLAS 2019 International Conference and Exhibition, as the conference rolls in and visits Washington, D.C., this year. Held annually by the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS), this year’s meeting seems to hold collaboration and innovation in even higher regard than usual.
DDNews spoke to SLAS Scientific Director Dr. Mike Tarselli to find out what’s new for SLAS 2019. He says, “We’re growing a community of entrepreneurs and interdisciplinary scientists. For 2019, we’ve doubled down on innovation through our SLAS Ignite initiative. We’ll host the first Ignite Panel, stocked with experts who have walked the path of translating academic discoveries into start-ups and new products. We’re giving out the Ignite Award to the best new company in our Innovation AveNEW exhibition space. And we have a whole series of short courses, partnership opportunities and academic pitches to interest anyone to start a new venture. SLAS has invested in Ignite for a second year in direct response to our members’ feedback asking for increased academia-industry interactions at conference and year-round.”
The SLAS Ignite initiative covers a lot of ground, from helping new and emerging companies get a foot in the door and helping to foster partnership opportunities between researchers and professionals, to presenting the latest research from academic research institutions.
The new Ignite Panel is entitled “Closing the Academic-Industry Innovation Gap,” and will be held Monday, Feb. 4, at 2 p.m. in the SLAS Exhibition Theater. A panel of experts from the entrepreneurial and technical worlds will answer questions such as: How do great ideas become new companies? What types of scientific gaps do pharma, biotech and technology companies have? How can we tighten collaboration between these two tribes? This discussion is aimed at academics, students and early-stage entrepreneurs, but as SLAS’s website says, “anyone interested in innovation ‘war stories’ is invited to attend.”
The partnership opportunities Tarselli refers to would be the SLAS Ignite Partnership Program, which provides a platform for contract relations and partnering professionals to find and meet with prospective academic partners. Attendees will be able to connect with each other to generate discussions and meetings that could result in pioneering research or commercialization opportunities. Access to the Ignite Partnership Program is available through SLAS’s Event Scheduler and the conference app.
SLAS Ignite introduced Academic Collaboration Presentations and the Ignite Theater at SLAS 2018, and they return again in 2019. These competitive presentations, selected by a judging panel, enable academic research institutions to showcase their capabilities and latest research to a diverse audience of prospective collaboration partners. As well, industry professionals responsible for partnerships and contract relations can meet with prospective partners from academia.
SLAS has designed their Innovation AveNEW to give emerging start-up companies the opportunity to engage and participate in the event without paying exhibition fees. Innovation AveNEW companies can gain valuable exposure for their products and service concepts in a specially designated area on the Exhibition Floor.
Companies exhibiting in Innovation AveNEW will make brief presentations to a panel of judges who will bestow the new SLAS Ignite Award, honoring the best start-up or emerging company. Judges will look at a combination of key concepts, marketing plan, presence and potential; funding prospects; plan for growth; and the existence of balanced company leadership, among other qualities. The award will be presented alongside the New Product Award on Tuesday, Feb. 5, from 5 p.m. to 5:45 p.m., in the SLAS Exhibition Theater.
In addition to all of the other new programming, SLAS 2019 has also added a new Ignite Short Course, “Why it Matters: Value Propositions in Scientific Innovation,” which will be held Sunday, Feb. 3, from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The full-day, pre-conference course is designed to help project managers, entrepreneurs and other new product development stakeholders define a clear path to a successful go-to-market strategy.
As Tarselli notes of SLAS as a whole, “our ‘sweet spot’ is scientific topics at the intersection of preclinical discovery—screening, assays, chemistry, biology and technology, robotics, imaging, instrumentation, programming, devices. Chemists and biologists will love our Drug Target Strategies and Biologics Discovery tracks, and should be able to find just about any vendor or technology provider they’ve used walking our exhibits floor. Engineers will enjoy the live product demos on the floor, the Automation track, or the hands-on Short Course modules. The growing number of data scientists and informaticians will enjoy learning about the ‘lab of the future’—heck, everybody who attends might like this—using the ‘internet of things,’ artificial intelligence and new lab gear to solve problems. We also have over 15 scientific interest groups convening on our conference. From labware leachables to phenotypic discovery, you can meet others in your tribe or learn something totally new.”
The SLAS 2019 Keynote Speakers are Dr. Teresa K. Woodruff and Dr. Eran Segal. Woodruff will present “Bench to Bedside to Babies.”
“I plan to share the new technologies our lab develops that lead to live offspring,” Woodruff said. According to the SLAS Electronic Laboratory Neighborhood (ELN) e-zine, these technologies include: Evatar, a menstrual cycle on-a-chip used to test drug toxicity; a bioprosthetic ovary which restores fertility in mice; and the discovery of the zinc spark, an inorganic signature of human egg activation.
“The opening keynote speaker, Teresa Woodruff, is a true trailblazer in the field of three-dimensional disease models for drug screening,” mentions Dr. Anton Simeonov of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the National Institutes of Health. “Specifically, with NCATS Tissue Chip for Drug Screening program support, she developed an organ-on-a-chip platform which recapitulates the female reproductive system (including the 28-day cycle) and has further built disease models affecting this key physiological process.”
Segal will present “Personalized Medicine Approaches Based on the Gut Microbiome.”
“What is the best diet for humans? After reading years of research, I wanted to know why there was not a definitive answer,” Segal said. He discovered that researchers were asking the wrong questions, “because it assumes that the best diet depends only on the food and not the person eating it.” As SLAS ELN points out, his presentation provides an overview of his lab’s many research projects that examine broad questions. “I plan to reveal some of the trials that we’re doing and speak about some new, unpublished data that we’ll have at that time,” he continued.
“Eran is a scientist of tremendous breadth, and will be covering a revolution, in which he’s been a leading figure, in our understanding of nutrition, human health and personalized medicine,” notes Dr. John Doench of the Broad Institute. “Basically, the question of ‘what should I eat?’ has been asked quite a bit over the years, but never in a terribly scientific way, which is why the answer always seems to keep changing—try this diet, try that diet. Eran changed all that by making empirical measurements across lots of people, and found that the right diet for different people is different. My blood glucose may spike if I eat pizza but not when I eat chocolate, but someone else might respond exactly the opposite.
“Some of this is governed by our genetics, and our microbiome also plays a big role. So a data-driven, personalized diet is within sight, and that will have a big impact. So this talk is going to hit a lot of topics: microbiome, glucose monitoring, mouse models, machine learning, human volunteers, app development—really, a soup-to-nuts of starting with a basic scientific question and bringing the results all the way through to clear impact on human health.”
SLAS 2019 will also feature more than 300 unique poster presentations. Posters will be displayed on Feb. 4-6 in the morning, with actual presentations taking place each day in one-hour sessions.
SLAS wanted to highlight a few sessions and tracks of particular interest to DDNews’ readers. There is a “Consider the Drug Target Strategies” session, where industry reps from GlaxoSmithKline, Genentech, Amgen and others will present their expanding toolbox of PROTACs (proteolysis targeting chimeras) against estrogen receptors, bromodomains and DNA-encoded libraries (DEL)-enabled degrader screening. Academic talks include biophysical approaches to lead identification, chemical genetics and allosteric modulators.
The organization also noted the updated Assay Development and Screening track, where organoids and other tissue models are applied to preclinical models in neuroscience, bone marrow and immune cells. You’ll be able to hear about the open-source ATOM consortium, or how induced pluripotent stem cells construct biosensors and drug safety platforms.
Or, go back to basics with multiple sessions in the Molecular Libraries track, uncovering novel high-throughput screening hits in DNA binders, natural products and microbial mixtures. In the Data Analysis and Informatics track, explore natural language processing, automated learning across large translational data sets or how sensors and wearables influence the “lab of the future.”
“We change and grow with our scientific community: three new scientific tracks premiered in 2018, and they’re back for 2019—Molecular Libraries, focused on DELs and new frontiers in chemical space; High-Definition Biotech, focused on quantitative biology and imaging to help advance personalized medicine; and a major focus on Biologics—mAbs, screening, chimeras, HLA, you name it,” says Tarselli. “If you can’t attend them all, that’s OK—we’re dramatically increasing the amount of talks we’ll port over to future webinars and learning modules. As previously noted, our Ignite program augments the already-entrepreneurial spirit of SLAS members, and our short courses can’t be beat—you can spend the day building out an automation platform, or learning how to program cloud services, edit genes or 3D print.”
Adds Tarselli, “If your readers come, please tell them to find me and introduce themselves—I’m still in listening mode, and I want to make this the best meeting for everyone interested in the interface of research and technology.”
“I’m really looking forward to Luke Gilbert’s talk in Cellular Technologies on large scale combinatorial genetic screens,” mentions Doench. “The session on DNA encoded libraries, chaired by Christopher Kollmann, looks quite exciting, as does the session on data repurposing chaired by Amy Kallmerten.”
When asked what he finds most exciting about the 2019 programming, Simeonov adds, “The session on DNA-encoded libraries comes to mind. This is a highly enabling technology which has been through a very long incubation period since it was first presented by Richard Lerner and Sydney Brenner in 1992. It had been practiced by a relatively few companies and had remained largely inaccessible to small companies and the academic community, due to the very high start-up costs of constructing the libraries. Just two weeks ago, there was a press release announcing the broad availability of DEL, thanks to Lerner and Brenner’s leadership. This expanded availability in turn makes the SLAS 2019 session on DEL even more timely and important. The sessions on induced protein degradation and discovery of biologics are also very timely given the exciting developments in these areas.”
“Additionally, we at NCATS look forward to sharing our translational science initiatives with 2019 SLAS participants,” continues Simeonov. “These include, but are not limited to, an NCATS-led assay guidance manual course on Saturday and the Tuesday morning session on small business innovation research (SBIR) funding opportunities featuring NCATS and NCI technology transfer experts.”
In regards to upcoming plans for next year’s SLAS meeting, Tarselli points out, “Well, we can certainly commit to seeing you in San Diego [the site for the next two SLAS international conferences]! In all seriousness, we’ll be looking into the many synergies between our published content—journals, webinars, coursework—and our ever-evolving conference tracks and topics. Our governance model has actually just been restructured to take full advantage through a new council, KCDC [Knowledge Content and Delivery Council], a group of editors, conference leaders and bench scientists and technologists who will advise us on how best to make sure our members’ amazing results and talks end up enriching careers and lives across our domains.”
As for why he recommends attending the SLAS event in general, Tarselli has this to say: “I’m relatively new to SLAS—I joined in September—but I did so after a ‘listening tour’ of many friends and professional contacts. Most referred to SLAS as the place for vendors to unveil their new technology, and that you could catch some great talks in CRISPR, nanoscale engineering and data science while you were there. I can’t think of many communities so scientifically diverse that still share the common goal to advance science through better tools and devices. Throw in the setting: the nation’s capital, late night at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the giant Exhibition floor—why would you ever want to miss this?”
SLAS 2019 Exhibition
The SLAS 2019 Exhibition features hundreds of leading providers of life science discovery and technology products and services. Always a highly-rated aspect of the SLAS experience, the exhibit area facilitates friendly professional interaction among providers and product/technology users. This allows attendees to gather information and be better prepared to guide product decisions at their organizations.
Highlights of the SLAS 2019 Exhibition include:
  • A showcase of new life-sciences discovery and technology products and services from hundreds of leading product and service providers
  • The SLAS 2019 Poster Gallery, featuring hundreds of scientific posters and the opportunity to interact direct with poster authors
  • The SLAS New Product Award (NPA) Designation that recognizes up to three new and especially innovative products and services being showcased in the exhibition
  • Innovation AveNEW, a dedicated area of the exhibition that hosts a collection of emerging and start-up companies offering promising new laboratory technologies
  • The SLAS Booth, where you can meet other attendees, SLAS leaders and professional team members, representatives of SLAS technical journals, and take advantage of SLAS Career Connections
  • The SLAS Exhibition Theater that will serve as home to Spotlight Solutions Presentations, SLAS Ignite Presentations and other high-profile activities through the conference and exhibition
SLAS 2019 Short Course Program
Saturday, Feb. 2 - One-Day Courses
  • Assay Guidance Workshop for High-Throughput Screening and Lead Discovery
  • 3D Cell-Based Assays for Drug De-Risking
  • Lab-on-a-Chip: From Technology to Bioanalysis on Chip
  • Introduction to Laboratory Automation
  • Next-Generation Sequencing Technology Fundamentals and Applications
Sunday, Feb. 3 - One-Day Courses
  • 3D Printing for Scientific Applications (Live Demo)
  • Applications of Biophysical Methods in Small-Molecule Drug Discovery
  • Data Management in the Age of Big Data, Mobile and the Cloud
  • Establishing Cell-Based Assays for Screening
  • High-Content Screening: An Introduction to Instrumentation, Assay Development, Screening, Image and Data Analysis
  • Liquid Handling Essentials (Interactive Course)
  • Microcontrollers, the IoT and our Laboratories (Hands On, Laptop Required)
  • Pharmacology in Drug Discovery and Development: New Lives for Receptors as Drug Targets Through Allostery and Biased Signaling
  • Phenotypic Screening: Why, When and How
  • Sample Management: Best Practice, Trends and Challenges
Sunday, Feb. 3 - Half-Day Courses
  • Set-up and Validation of 3D Primary, Stem Cell and Immortalized Cultures for Downstream Microplate Reader and Imaging Applications
  • Gene Editing for Drug Discovery
  • Introduction to Flow Cytometry
  • Advanced Flow Cytometry
  • An Introduction to Mass Spectrometry and its Applications within Drug Discovery
  • Why it Matters: Value Propositions in Scientific Innovation (new this year)
Saturday, Feb. 2 & Sunday, Feb. 3. - Two-Day Course
  • Getting Started with Excel and Virtual Basic for Applications (VBA) in the Laboratory (Laptop Required)
SLAS 2019 Scientific Podium Program
Podium presentations at SLAS 2019 are organized into 10 educational tracks.
Advances in Bioanalytics and Biomarkers Track
This track will highlight important developments in bioanalytical technologies, including advances in label-free technologies, applications of target and mechanism deconvolution techniques and approaches to biomarker analysis within in-vitro and in-vivo models. Planned sessions include:
  • Label-Free Bioanalytical Techniques
  • Biomarker Discovery in Disease Relevant In-vitro and Related In-vivo Models
  • Target and Mechanism Identification After Phenotypic Screens
Assay Development and Screening
This track will focus on recent innovations across the field, including the application of new instrumentation, engineered cells and novel assay technologies for compound and genomic screening. The emphasis will be on actual recent case studies where the technology has been developed and implemented in screening campaigns with subsequent triage process to confirm and characterize hits. Planned sessions include:
  • Advanced Imaging-Based Assays and Phenotypic Profiling
  • Biochemical, Biophysical and Label-Free Technologies
  • Advanced In-vitro Culture Systems Including Stem Cell-Based Screening Technologies
  • Higher Dimension 4D, 3D and Complex Multicellular Cell-to-Cell Formats
  • Utilizing the Power of NGS and Functional Genomics in Modern Screening
  • Enhanced Lead Finding Prioritization and Hit Optimization
Automation and High-Throughput Technologies
This track focuses on the innovative use of biological or chemistry applications, tools, technologies and techniques as they pertain to automated high-throughput screening, the advancement of laboratory processes or improvement of the quality and impact of experimental laboratory data. The track places emphasis on advancements in chemically and biologically relevant technologies using engineering, analytical, informatics and application to cutting-edge automation-assisted research. Planned sessions include:
  • Automating Screens Using Physiologically Relevant Models
  • Advanced Imaging Technologies to Bridge the Gap between High-Content and High-Throughput
  • Automating Target-Based and Complex Phenotypic Drug Discovery
  • Screening Automation: Modular vs. Highly Integrated Systems
  • Emerging Strategies and Technologies for High-Throughput Automation
  • In-house and Open Source Automation: Noncommercial Products, Devices and Software Used to Support Laboratory Automation
Biologics Discovery
This track will emphasize innovative solutions to increase the breadth, depth and impact of early-stage efforts to fuel the biologics pipeline—in particular, how automation and screening can play a key role in the progression of new therapeutics as well as the impact of novel assays, microfluidics and high content screening campaigns for biologics discovery. Planned sessions include:
  • Specialized Approaches to Develop Biologic Therapeutics for Complex Targets
  • Next-Generation Technologies: High-Throughput Miniaturized Screening Platforms for Rapid Discovery and Development of Lead Biologics
  • Phenotypic Selections and Novel Assays to Enable Biologics Discovery
Cellular Technologies
This track will focus on emergent cellular technologies, including the development of genome-editing tools, application of these tools to create accurate cellular models and functional screens used to make sense of the genetic complexity underlying disease and development. Planned sessions include:
  • Advances in Genome-Editing Technologies
  • Genetic Screens for Target Discovery and Validation
  • Development of Cellular Models for Phenotypic Screening
Data Analysis and Informatics
This track will focus on the rapidly evolving role of digital technology and scientific information management, including the strategy and culture as well as the hardware and software of the modern digital research lab. Emphasis will be placed on turning data into knowledge and knowledge into insight with additional consideration for translational science, decision-support and the meaning of automation in the digital age. Planned sessions include:
  • The Lab of the Future: Automation in the Digital Age
  • The Data Repurposing Challenge: Research Data Sharing and Reuse Strategies
  • Creating and Maintaining a Data Culture Across Laboratories and Disciplines
Drug Target Strategies
This track will provide assay and screening scientists with cutting-edge information on technologies and methodologies, enabling them to advance chemical matter for clinically relevant pharmacologies. Planned sessions include:
  • Inducing Protein Degradation
  • Multidimensional Approaches to Determining Mechanism-of-Action (MOA)
  • Applying Genomic and Proteomic Technologies to Drug Target Validation
High-Definition Biotechnology
This track will emphasize state-of-the-art, quantitative, high-throughput and high-resolution approaches in both simple cellular systems and complex tissues. These approaches enable multiparametric studies that reveal the interplay of genetics, disease and therapeutic opportunities and move personalized medicine ahead. Topics include the latest specialized engineering and assay technologies, including single-cell and sequencing-based approaches, new imaging modalities and cutting-edge application, and disease areas including oncology and neurology. Planned sessions include:
  • Emerging Technology Platforms for Single-Cell Analysis
  • Systemic Approaches for Precision Medicine
  • High-Definition Tools to Overcome Disease Complexity
Micro- and Nanotechnologies
This track broadly encompasses new and emerging technologies including microfluidics, microarrays, microreactors, nanodevices, nanotechnologies and organ-chips, with emphasis on methods and materials applicable to high-throughput analysis, high-content screening, point-of-care diagnostics, systems biology and clinical analysis. Planned sessions include:
  • Commercialization of Micro and Nanofluidic Technologies
  • Organs-on-a-Chip
  • Micro- and Nano-Technologies for Digital, High-Throughput and Single-Cell Assays
Molecular Libraries
This track will cover strategies for library utility, covering traditional small-molecule libraries, DNA-encoded libraries and fragment collections. It will explore the outer fringes of the small molecule world, including looking at the use of macromolecules, natural products and macrocycles. The focus will be on how to build and use libraries to deliver leads for programs. Planned sessions include:
  • Small-Molecule Libraries
  • DNA-Encoded Libraries
  • Specialty Libraries & Innovations in High-Throughput Screening
SLAS Ignite Award
The inaugural SLAS Ignite Award will be given to the best start-up or emerging company from those exhibiting within the specially designated Innovation AveNEW. The companies are judged by an SLAS panel on a combination of key concepts, including their marketing plan, market presence and potential; funding prospects; plan for growth; and the existence of a balanced company leadership, among other qualities.
Ignite Award Finalists
  • Ectica Technologies (Switzerland)
  • Ferrologix Inc (U.S.)
  • Forcyte Biotechnologies (U.S.)
  • Optofluidic Bioassay (U.S.)
  • Phenomic AI (Canada)
  • Revolution Biosciences (U.S.)
  • SEED Biosciences (Switzerland)
  • Tango Biosciences, Inc. (U.S.)
SLAS Ignite Collaboration Presentations
Integration of Biotherapeutics in Combination Screening with Small-Molecule Libraries
Matthew Hall, Ph.D., National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS)
Quantitative and Scalable Cell Separation using Magnetic Ratcheting Cytometry
Coleman Murray, MS, University of California, Los Angeles
A Novel Label-Free Dip Sensor to Facilitate Drug Discovery Screening and Development Effort
Natalie Luo, BS, New York University
Rapid Point of Care Diagnostic Platforms Using Raman Spectroscopy
Soumik Siddhanta, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University
An Additive Biomanufacturing Platform to Automate and Accelerate the Discovery Process for 3D Cell Culture Models
Sebastian Eggert, Ph.D. Cand., Queensland University of Technology
Configurable Micro-Physiological Systems
Pulak Nath, DEng, Los Alamos National Labs
SLAS 2019 Awards
Every year, SLAS hosts and recognizes several award winners who represent the best of the Society’s programs and mission.
Tony B. Academic Travel Award
Students, graduate students, post-doctoral associates and junior faculty (less than four years in first academic appointment) may apply for this travel award. The applicant must be the primary author of a submitted abstract, and must present their research in either a poster or podium presentation at the conference. Those selected receive complimentary travel, lodging and registration to participate in SLAS2019.
2019 SLAS Innovation Award
The SLAS Innovation Award is a $10,000 cash prize recognizing one exceptional podium presenter from SLAS2019. This award recognizes exceedingly innovative science or research, and the potential for contributing to the advancement of life sciences technology and/or discovery.
SLAS New Product Award
All SLAS2019 exhibitors who will be presenting new products at the event are encouraged to participate in this competition. The product entry must be less than one year old in its current form (since the previous SLAS annual conference) to be considered.
Student Poster Competition
The SLAS Academic Poster Award recognizes the innovative research by students, graduate students, post-doctoral associates and junior faculty (less than four years in first academic appointment) who are chosen to present a poster during SLAS2019.

Mel J. Yeates

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