SLAS2018 Show Preview: Where the life sciences community converges

San Diego plays host to this year’s International Conference and Exhibition of the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening. Read more to find out what's happening so you know what to expect when you're there, or why you should consider attending this or future SLAS conferences.

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Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening
SLAS2018 International Conference and Exhibition
February 3-7, 2018
San Diego Convention Center
Where the life sciences community converges
San Diego plays host to this year’s International Conference and Exhibition of the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening
SAN DIEGO—Annual meetings of professional societies are always very interactive affairs, with networking, reuniting and socializing high among the goals in addition to educational sessions. The annual meeting of the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS)—this year’s SLAS2018 International Conference and Exhibition—hits that theme of connection and togetherness doubly, though, with not only a show tagline of “Where discovery meets technology” but also a message at the top of the SLAS2018 website home page that reads: “Be where the life sciences community converges—Be in San Diego for SLAS2018.”
It’s also a theme that carries into a brand new program launching at SLAS2018, called SLAS Ignite, which aims to connect industry and academic researchers on collaborative projects. As the society notes on its annual meeting website of SLAS Ignite, “Life sciences research today is an increasingly collaborative endeavor, with individuals and organizations realizing tremendous benefit by tapping into the experience, insights and capabilities of peers and complementary organizations to develop the medicines and innovations that improve the human condition.
“SLAS is proud to have served as a venue for collaboration since the society’s founding.  Bringing together a diverse community of engineers, researchers, scientists, business leaders and pioneering academic experts has enabled SLAS members to advance scientific research by using the latest technologies and insights provided by fellow members of the SLAS community.”
At SLAS2018, the following presentations have been selected to partake in the inaugural SLAS Ignite Academic Theater (all presentations will take place in the Exhibition Theater on the SLAS2018 Exhibition show floor):
  • Microreactor Based Online Reaction Monitoring Using Mass Spectrometry for Structural and Elemental Measurements, Heidi Fleischer, University of Rostock (Monday)
  • Label-free Raman Spectroscopy for Rapid Identification of Biologics, Santosh Paidi, Johns Hopkins University (Monday)
  • Introduction to Disulfide Trapping, a site-directed fragment screening technology, Michelle Arkin, University of California, San Francisco (Monday)
  • Identifying New Drug Targets by Illuminating the Druggable Genome, Aaron Pawlyk, National Institutes of Health (Tuesday)
  • Combinatorial Drug Discovery in Nanoliter Droplets, Paul Blainey, The Broad Institute (Tuesday)
  • A large-scale microfluidic technology for high-content screening of C. elegans using commercial imaging platforms, Sudip Mondal, University of Texas, Austin (Tuesday)
Also new for SLAS2018 is a program for exhibitors: Solutions Spotlight presentations. These 20-minute presentations are for highlighting a new product or customer case study enabled by way of a company’s technology, and they will take place in the SLAS2018 Exhibition Theater, which is also making its debut at SLAS2018 in San Diego.
On the educational side of the meeting, there are also several new tracks added: Biologics Discovery, Chemical Biology and High-Definition Biotechnology.
SLAS describes the Biologics Discovery track thus: The success of biologic therapeutics in the clinic has put greater emphasis on earlier stage efforts to increase efficiency, productivity and innovation. This track will emphasize innovative solutions to increase the breadth, depth and impact of early stage efforts to fuel the biologics pipeline. 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 biorepositories. Planned sessions include:
  • Assays and Screening for Biologics
  • Next-Generation Biologics Discovery
  • Biobanking: At the Intersection of Biospecimens and Discovery
The following SLAS2018 Short Courses are recommended for those interested in biologics discovery:
  • 3D Cell-Based Assays for Drug De-Risking
  • Sample Management: Best Practice, Trends and Challenges
The Chemical Biology track will focus on the challenges of addressing targets with small molecules, including validation of targets using tool molecules and proof of target engagement through appropriate biomarker identification. Additionally, this track will cover advances in library design, keeping libraries current and a session will be dedicated to DNA-encoded libraries. Planned sessions include:
  • A Chemistry Focus on Small Molecule Libraries
  • Affinity-Based Lead Discovery using DNA Encoded Chemistry
  • Target Selection and Validation
The following SLAS2018 Short Courses are recommended by the society for those interested in chemical biology:
  • Next Generation Sequencing Technology Fundamentals and Applications
  • Phenotypic Screening: Why, When and How
  • Sample Management: Best Practice, Trends and Challenges
As for the High-Definition Biotechnology track, SLAS says: This track focuses on the application of microfluidic, optical and molecular tools in disease biology, diagnostics, screening and translational medicine. The session 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, and cutting-edge application and disease areas including immuno-oncology. Planned sessions include:
  • High-Definition Technology Platforms for Single Cell Analysis
  • Novel Approaches to Identify Targets for Specialized Medicine
  • Genomic and Proteomic Assays and Devices for Diagnostics and Translatable Biomarker Approaches
The following SLAS2018 Short Courses are recommended for those interested in high-definition biotechnology:
  • Next-Generation Sequencing Technology Fundamentals and Applications
  • Introduction to Flow Cytometry
  • Advanced Flow Cytometry
In terms of some of the big issues on tap this year that really stand out among the podium presentations and other educational programming, SLAS Director of Education Steve Hamilton says, “Continued growth of cellular assays, including  single-cell technology. Also, machine learning continues to evolve, riding on the coattails of the broad technology market push in artificial intelligence.”
Looking at some specific podium presentations that Hamilton thought might be particularly interesting to DDNews readers, he started with the presentation titled “Automating gene editing for deciphering cancer pathways using microfluidics” and noting that the use of microfluidics to automate CRISPR workflow represents an interesting combination of technologies. 
Hamilton also told DDNews, “The development of antibody drugs is a very hot field. But the automated discovery platforms for this work have lagged behind that of small molecules because biologics are more challenging to work with.” However, one example of automation development overcoming some of those challenges can be found in the presentation “Accelerating Discovery: Development of a High-throughput Mammalian Expression Platform as Part of a Fully Integrated Biologics Workflow.”
Also, he notes, machine learning (artificial intelligence) is beginning to make its way into our daily lives in many ways, and that is true in the field of drug discovery, too. The presentation  titled “Preparing Early Drug Discovery for the Machine Learning Revolution,” he says, “describes custom software written at Merck that uses machine learning to assist scientists in their decision-making. It’s early in this evolution, but this presentation shows how things are getting started.”
Advances in fast and inexpensive DNA sequencing have allowed this tool to be used in ways never imagined before, Hamilton also noted, pointing to the podium presentation titled “High-throughput Binder Confirmation: A New Non-combinatorial Synthesis Platform Created to Enhance and Accelerate Hit ID,” saying: “In this case, DNA is used to label and identify synthesized compounds that are screened in large pooled libraries to evaluate their drug-like efficacy.”
Then there is the presentation “Evaluation of DESI-MS as a Novel Platform for Label-Free Ultrahigh-Throughput Screening” of which Hamilton comments, “Mass spectrometry (MS) is one of the fastest growing techniques for high-throughput screening detection. This paper describes a version of MS, desorption electrospray ionization MS, used for high-throughput screening platform.”
Also of interest: “New approaches for single cell genome sequencing and mutation analysis,” of which Hamilton notes, “The study of mutations in cells is key to understanding mutation-driven diseases, like cancer. Looking at the DNA sequences in individual cells is the ultimate way to follow mutation pathways. This paper explains a new approach for doing that type of analysis that requires far less specialized equipment than in the past.”
Finally, Hamilton highlighted “Inflammation-on-a-Chip—High-Throughput Microscale Arrays for Human Neutrophil Swarming,” a presentation that stands out for him because: “Developing disease models that reside on a microfluidic chip is a recently emerging technology. This paper describes developing such a model to study the very complex disease mechanisms of inflammation.”
But as to why you should be attending SLAS annual meetings, or at least strongly considering doing so, SLAS Director of Marketing Communications Tom Manning says, “Ultimately, it’s the unique combination of access to new technology, relevant, peer-selected education and abundant networking opportunities. What’s especially unique about SLAS and this annual conference in particular is the unprecedented mix of attendees diverse in professional discipline (researchers, scientists, engineers, tech developers) and organization type (industry, academia, government, tech developers/providers) brought together under the unique SLAS culture of friendly collaboration.”

Looking forward to SLAS2019
Obviously, much remains to be done after SLAS2018 to put together the next meeting, but the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening did share with DDNews some high-level generalities for next year’s meeting.
  • SLAS2019 will be held February 2-6 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.
  • The opening keynote will be Dr. Teresa K. Woodruff, the dean and associate provost for graduate education in The Graduate School at Northwestern University. She is also the Thomas J. Watkins Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology, the vice chair for research and the chief of the Division of Reproductive Science in Medicine in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Feinberg School of Medicine. 
  • The closing keynote and other program details will be determined by end of summer 2018.
  • The call for abstracts will open in April.
The conference site for next year’s event ( was currently under development as of the writing of this article, but was expected to be live by end of January.

SLAS2018 keynote speakers
Monday, Feb. 5
Dr. Benjamin F. Cravatt will deliver the SLAS2018 opening keynote address. Cravatt is a professor and co-chair of the Department of Molecular Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute. His research group is interested in understanding the roles that enzymes play in physiological and pathological processes, especially as pertains to the nervous system and cancer.
Wednesday, Feb. 7
Marc Abrahams will deliver the SLAS2018 closing keynote. Abrahams writes about research that makes people laugh, then think. He founded Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony in 1991, and serves as its master of ceremonies. He co-founded and edits the magazine Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), hosts the Improbable Research weekly podcast (distributed by CBS), and wrote This is Improbable, The Ig Nobel Prizes and other books. He edits and writes much of the website and blog and the monthly newsletter mini-AIR.

Meet the 2018 SLAS Innovation Award finalists
Ten podium presenters will vie for the $10,000 SLAS Innovation Award cash prize at SLAS2018. Hailing from academia, industry and government and selected by a panel of judges based on the potential impact of the innovation, originality/creativity and quality of science represented in their work are:
  • Santiago Costantino, Ph.D. (University of Montreal, Quebec)
  • Dennis Eastburn, Ph.D. (Mission Bio Inc., South San Francisco)
  • Olivier Frey, Ph.D. (InSphero AG, Basel, Switzerland)
  • Rajarshi Guha, Ph.D. (National Institutes of Health, Rockville, Md.)
  • Shane Horman, Ph.D. (Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, San Diego)
  • Paul Ju Sung Hung, Ph.D. (COMBiNATi Inc., Palo Alto, Calif.)
  • Transon V. Nguyen (Notable Labs, San Francisco)
  • Amy Rowat, Ph.D. (University of California, Los Angeles)
  • Kevin Tsia, Ph.D. (The University of Hong Kong)
  • Julea Vlassakis (University of California, Berkeley)
Details on each finalist, including their presentation abstracts and titles, can be viewed on the SLAS2018 Event Scheduler. The final judging takes place at SLAS2018.

2018 SLAS FUNd Run
On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!
Pack your running shoes. Start your Tuesday morning with a brisk run or walk along the San Diego waterfront with your fellow SLAS2018 attendees. This non-competitive event benefits the SLAS Educational Fund.
Date:   Tuesday, Feb. 6
Start Time:      6:30 a.m.
Location:         Roy’s Restaurant at Marriott Marquis (Outdoors; Seaside Boardwalk)

Assay Guidance Workshop for High-Throughput Screening and Lead Discovery
Saturday, Feb. 3
8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Registration: This workshop is available to SLAS2018 registrants only and requires an additional registration fee of $399.
Summary: This full-day workshop will cover a broad range of critical concepts underlying assay development for high-throughput screening (HTS) and lead discovery projects. Many of the methodologies successfully implemented in such projects have been “tribal knowledge” within the pharmaceutical industry and not readily found in a classroom or the literature. This tribal knowledge has been developed for decades into detailed chapters within the AGM [Assay Guidance Manual] to facilitate reproducible assays that can identify the most promising compounds for development of molecular probes or clinical candidates for drug discovery and development. An increasing number of researchers are actively developing well validated assays for drug discovery that include phenotypic and biochemical assays for lead optimization. This workshop is designed to disseminate critical information about the implementation of robust assay methods and intended to benefit the entire drug discovery community. Many of the workshop instructors have 20 to 30 years of experience in the field of drug discovery.
Who Should Attend? The target audience is individuals involved in bioassay development for drug discovery and development. The AGM and this workshop will be a valuable resource for academic, industrial and government laboratory scientists who are planning or beginning to develop test methods for high or low throughput screening that are amenable to automation using appropriate statistical and operational concepts. The workshop will also be useful for early career researchers and experienced investigators who wish to learn about the latest assay concepts for HTS and lead optimization.
Benefits: The workshop will provide participants with a broad, practical perspective on assay development so that they can: (1) improve research projects involving drug discovery, and know where to find further information; (2) identify reagents, methods and instrumentation that are well suited to robust assays; and (3) be able to develop robust assays and counter assays for new targets. Additionally, participants will have the opportunity to seek practical advice about individual research challenges.
Workshop Objectives:
  • Overview of the Assay Guidance Manual eBook as an important resource for detailed information about robust assay methods and best practices in quantitative biology.
  • Practical approaches for developing robust assays for biochemical, cell-based, and high content screening as well as the selection and development of optimal assay reagents.
  • Overview on sources of assay artifacts and strategies to identify artifacts through the development and implementation of counter assays.
  • Discussion of important statistical and data analysis concepts with an emphasis on using these concepts to collect the best possible data and make go/no go decisions based on experimental results.
  • Open discussions to share experiences and seek practical advice about individual research concerns.

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