I just finished a three-day conference in San Francisco as a poster presenter and student fellow at the Molecular MedTriCon. The conference focuses on, you guessed it, developments and applications of molecular medicine. It was far different than any conference I have attended before. In the past, I have been fortunate enough to attend the annual conferences for the ACS, APS, and AAAS. These conferences tend to be full of students and the focus is highly academic. In contrast, the MedTriCon seemed to be be more heavily attended by physicians, entrepreneurs, and industrial researchers, with many of the presentations focusing on development of devices and biomarkers.
The Good: Really inspirational talks.
The two plenary speakers spoke about how advances in precision and molecular medicine were poised to revolutionize the way in which healthcare is approached. The first speaker, Stephen F. Kingsmore, reported on how his hospital, as a neonatal/pediatric intensive care unit, had significantly improved the outcomes of babies born with abnormalities from genetic diseases. In these settings, it is critical to determine what the child's inherited illness in as soon as possible to determine if there are treatment options possible. His team, working with a few key players in industry, was able to create a pipeline that went from child-mother-father blood draw to diagnosis in 26 hours via next generation sequencing.
The second speaker, Jorge Soto, CTO of a fairly new company called Miroculus, described how their device was revolutionizing the way we diagnose cancer and infectious disease. Miroculus makes use of microRNA - small, non-coding RNA molecules that are associated with gene regulation. Miroculus's major addition to this field was in creating a capture and amplification method which, in the course of an hour or so, could indicate the presence of a certain miRNA by fluorescence. Different combinations of distinct miRNAs are indicative of different cancers, infections, or even (as Jorge showed after his first Crossfit workout) muscle damage. He didn't say but I'm guessing the other function arm of Miroculus will work on the identification of miRNA biomarkers to create more expansive tests.
Other notable sessions included: a rapid, PCR-based Ebola test, several sessions I attended about the Oxford Nanopore (they are approaching 99.6% accuracy in sequencing), and on how microbiome studies have aided in studies of diseases related to the "leaky gut".
The Bad: Not set up for graduate students.
The conference seemed to be most engaging for researchers in industry. Many of the sessions I went to were sponsored by biotech companies and presented by either their own researchers or those who consult for them. This led to a recurring sense of "let me sell my product to the physicians or young P.I.'s with money". Furthermore, while the Cambridge Health Institute provided student fellowships so that people like me could afford registration, they didn't have any time set aside for student's to meet with one another or for career development. I hope in the future CHI can take a note from other larger conferences and modify their schedule to include sessions such as these.