Festival of Genomics: Not Your Typical Scientific Conference

27849820-May-6-FOG-LOGOAs a global life sciences company, Promega participates in scientific conferences and trade shows around the world, all year long. ISHI, ASHG, SLAS, ISBER, PAG, SOT, ESHG—the alphabet of conference names may be hard to keep straight, yet preparation for each involves a strong collaboration between Promega R&D scientists, product managers and the marketing services team. A new conference on the calendar caught our attention recently, as it’s billed as a “Festival.” That’s right, the name Festival of Genomics hints at its unique nature, and true to its title, it offers a novel approach in its organization, focus and objectives.

Created and organized by a London-based media company, Front Line Genomics, the Festival is described as a “three day celebration of genomics across the spectrum from the lab to the clinic, taking in new research, technology and advances in medicine.” The young event is intended to provide an environment for scientists to gather, connect and share with their peers. The hope is that new ideas will flourish and ultimately lead to more progress in the field of genomics research.

Also somewhat novel, a different “flavor” of festival is offered in three different cities worldwide. The Boston Festival will be held June 27-29, the California (San Diego) Festival September 19-21, and the London Festival January 30–February 1, 2017. By offering it three times a year in various locations, more members of the genomics community have the opportunity to participate. And the festivals are open not only to research scientists, but to anyone who considers themselves part of that community, including academia, industry, healthcare organizations, patient organizations, and investment firms.

“Promega is excited to exhibit this year at the Boston Festival,” says Shaun Peterson, Global Commercialization Marketing Manager of Genomics at Promega. “We’ll be providing a scientific presentation regarding molecular oncology research within the Cancer Genomics Stream. We’ll have R&D, sales/marketing and senior leadership in the booth as well as scheduling meetings with customers and collaborators during the event.”

In true festival spirit, each day features several high profile keynote speakers (“headliners”), “stage acts,” and a range of other more informal activities. The goal is to break down the barriers that sometimes exist at more conventional conferences allowing attendees of all backgrounds and levels of understanding to strike up a conversation, ask questions and get the answers they are seeking. This opportunity may be particularly important for one component of the genomics community encouraged to attend: patients who suffer from genetic diseases and their families. They may be the ones most invested in understanding how the field of genomics is progressing and what the future may hold.

Richard Lumb is the founder and CEO of Front Line Genomics, and his interest in including patients and their families is motivated in part by his personal experiences. “I lost my father to a genetically related illness a few years ago. Many of the technologies being discussed at the festivals could have helped people like my father,” explains Lumb. The critical connection between genetics and cancer is something the festivals aim to explore and share with families experiencing it firsthand. “Cancer patients and their families often have little understanding that cancer is fundamentally a genetic disease. And they understand very little about genomics. Understandably, they are often extremely hungry for exactly that kind of information.”

As the Festival of Genomics moves through its second year, organizers continue to develop educational experiences and resources designed specifically for patients and their families. Lumb and his team are taking the time to listen and find out how they can help while partnering with organizations focused on genomics education, healthcare providers and patient groups. Ultimately they can incorporate the most beneficial information into the festivals. Yet, he points out that they don’t want to wait to include patients and their families to the festival. “They are at the very center of the genomics community, so we warmly welcome anyone who wants to attend to find out more or to meet people who might be able to help.”

The presence of patients and their families serves to inspire the wider genomics community including researchers, clinicians, drug developers and investors. By participating and sharing their experiences they may better influence progress in the field. “The presence of patients at the festivals is an important reminder to the rest of the genomics community of why we do what we do,” says Lumb. “It’s truly inspiring.”

Another unconventional element of the festivals is the registration cost. There is none. Lumb explains that the engagement thus far from the research community has given them the confidence to make all of their festivals free to attend. “The festivals feel much more like a ‘movement’ than an event, an upswell of positive energy and participation,” he says. “Access to genomic information is crucial. Researchers are buying-in to the role our festivals can play to support that, and access to events like this should be free.”

The response to this growing event should prove to be insightful to all who consider themselves part of the genomics community. Lumb has already learned a lot about what scientists and researchers think about his novel concept. “When we launched the festivals, we didn’t anticipate such a strong emotional and practical response from the genomics community. We were blessed by people’s willingness to engage, get involved and provide support. Their readiness to be generous with their time and ideas is very much dictating how we take the festivals forwards.”

To learn more about the Boston Festival of Genomics, visit this website: http://www.festivalofgenomicsboston.com/

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Nicole Sandler

Senior Writer, Content Lead
Nicole enjoys being a member of the Promega Connections blog team. A former molecular biologist, she earned her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania but realized that writing about science was a more fulfilling way to apply her knowledge and passion for the field. She's excited that her longtime writing career has now landed her at Promega, a company she once relied on for restriction enzymes and buffers as a research scientist.

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