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A New Chapter for the Consumer Genetics Conference

By Kevin Davies  

July 27, 2012 | Asked what prompted her to launch The Consumer Genetics Conference (CGC) three years ago together with her friend John Boyce – despite neither of them having a scrap of conference organizing or meeting planning experience -- Meredith Salisbury ponders for just a moment.   

“Insanity,” she offers. “And John had a raging fever, so it's possible he thought he was agreeing to something totally different.”  

The duo have now come to their senses, electing to partner with Cambridge Healthtech Institute (CHI) to produce the 2012 conference, which will be held October 3-5 at the Seaport Hotel in Boston.  

 Meredith Salisbury 
Meredith Salisbury 


Some four years ago, Salisbury, the former editor-in-chief of Genome Technology, and Boyce, former head of business development at Helicos and currently CEO of GnuBio, had been watching genomic information “getting closer to the mainstream than had ever been possible before,” notably with the launch of companies such as 23andMe and Navigenics.    


 As exciting as that was, Salisbury says there were also signs of trouble, such as lawsuits against doctors failing to perform genetic testing. “The science was so far ahead of what society understood was possible, which meant that there were any number of implications that needed to be carefully considered and addressed.”   

And so Boyce and Salisbury created The Consumer Genetics conference, which debuted in the summer of 2009, aimed at bringing a broad constituency together to discuss the opportunities and risks of consumer genetics. “Our goal was to represent as many voices and opinions as possible so we could foster a great dialogue on consumer genetics,” she says.  

For three years, Boyce and Salisbury somehow managed to organize and co-host the increasingly popular event in their spare time, calling in favors to recruit top-line speakers and numerous volunteers, with no particular prospect (or desire) of turning a profit. “John and I are very proud of what we managed to accomplish with CGC despite having few resources and little time,” says Salisbury. And it was a highly newsworthy event too, with leading scientists and biotech luminaries such as Illumina CEO Jay Flatley and Life Technologies CEO Greg Lucier using the forum to announce new products and services.  

For 2012, with their professional careers taking new turns, Boyce and Salisbury decided to partner with CHI, (the parent company of Bio-IT World) to provide some professional management for the conference and as Salisbury puts it, “give it a growth path that simply didn't exist before.”   

While there is no shortage of personalized medicine conferences in the calendar, Salisbury says CGC is somewhat unique in bringing together speakers and attendees from a very broad range of organizations – “from academic to commercial, legal to regulatory, startup to large consumer company. At CGC, attendees see the best of the research world, how that research is being translated to the clinic as well as to regular consumer products, and how patients are dealing with that information.”  

The 2012 CGC is remaining in Boston but will now be held on October 3-5 at the Seaport Hotel (also the host hotel for the annual Bio-IT World Conference.)   

This year’s attendees are in for “a real treat,” says Salisbury. The opening session kicks off with Princeton geneticist and best-selling author of Remaking Eden, Lee Silver, who was “thinking about the implications of consumer genetics long before the rest of us,” says Salisbury.   

“The physicians' panel and genome interpretation session should be enlightening, and the empowered patient session will surely get people talking.” Boyce and Salisbury also expect that the invited CEO presentations from Illumina’s Jay Flatley and Life Technologies will be standout events as well.  

Other highlights of the 2012 CGC include:  

  • 23andMe founding scientist Brian Naughton on what the consumer genetics firm’s experiences in exome sequencing  
  • Diana Bianchi (Tufts Medical Center) on advances in non-invasive fetal genetic diagnosis and the debate over ‘designer babies’  
  • Mass General Hospital assistant professor Daniel MacArthur, and co-founder of the Genomes Unzipped blog, on predictive genomic medicine for the healthy majority  
  • Rosalyn Gill (Boston Heart Diagnostics) reflects on her experiences building Sciona, one of the first consumer genetics companies  
  • Gholson Lyon (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory) on consumer empowerment in health care and personal genomics  
  • Heidi Rehm (Partners Healthcare Center for Personalized Genetic Medicine) on building a clinical informatics pipeline  
  • Joseph Thakuria (Personal Genome Project/Clinical Future) on the impact of genomic sequencing on public health  
  • John Quackenbush (Dana Farber Cancer Institute/GenomeSPace) on building an information ecosystem for genomic medicine  
  • Michael Cariaso (KeyGene/SNPedia) on DIY genome interpretation  
  • Chris Dwan (BioTeam) on building a compute infrastructure for genomics research and medicine  

Ed. Note: Full details of the program and registration can be found here:   

 The registration discount ends September 7, 2012.   

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