Reflections on the 2019 Festival of Genomics conference in London


For the third year in a row, I attended the Festival of Genomics conference in London. This year saw the conference change venue, moving from the ExCel Arena to the Business Design Centre in Islington.

The new venue was notably smaller leading to many sessions being heavily overcrowded. There were also fewer 'fun' activities compared to previous years. No graffiti wall and no recharging stations (massage stands and power points for phones).

The opening keynote was given by Professor Mark Caulfield (Chief Scientist at Genomics England

From 100K to 500K

Reflecting on the completion of the 100,000 Genomes Project, Professor Caulfield revealed that the 100,000th genome was completed at 2:40 am on the 2nd December.

He also shared details that at the peak, the project was completing 6,000 genomes a month and it has now reached 103,311 genomes.

The next phase will see 500,000 genomes completed within the NHS over the next five years, with an 'ambition' to go on to sequence five million genomes.

Looking at the global picture of human genome sequencing, Professor Caulfield projected that there will be 60 million completed genomes by 2023.

I wrote more about the conference in a blog post for The Institute of Cancer Research:

Fun at the Festival: a mini-report of the 2018 Festival of Genomics in London

Graffiti wall at the Festival of Genomics

Graffiti wall at the Festival of Genomics

Last week I once again attended the excellent Festival of Genomics conference in London. As before, I was attending in order to produce some coverage for The Institute of Cancer Research (where I work).

I really enjoy the mixture of talks at this conference which always has a strong leaning towards medicine in general and the rapid integration of genomics in the NHS in particular. This was a topic I explored in more detail in a blog post last year for the ICR.

I like how the conference organisers, Front Line Genomics, make an effort to ensure the conference is fun and engaging. It is easy to dismiss things like a 'grafitti walls' and 'recharge stations' (where you can power up your mobile phone and get a massage) as gimmicks, but I think they add to a feeling that this is a modern and vibrant conference.

NHS meets NGS

Opening the conference was a presentation from Sir Malcolm Grant, the Chairman of NHS England. He presented an update on Genomics England's 100,000 Genomes Project.

Sir Malcolm noted that consent is such an important part of this project as participants are consenting to provide information that may affect others, e.g. their children and heirs. He stressed the importance of ensuring public trust and support as the project moves forwards.

Although initial progress towards achieving those 100,000 genomes may have been slower than some would have liked, work has been accelerating. The project has taken almost five years to reach the halfway point but is now on course to reach the 100K milestone within the next 12 months.

The following day saw Genomics England's Chairman, Sir John Chisholm, take to the stage for a chat with Carl Smith (Managing Editor of Front Line Genomics). He stressed that people should think of the 100,000 genomes project as a "pilot for the main game", i.e. the routine sequencing of patients within the NHS.

Rigged for silent running

The conference has four 'stages' but as the whole area at the ExCel Area is just one big open space, they make use of wireless headphones to have conference areas which are effectively silent to people walking past.

In addition to headphones being left on each seat, there are also many additional headsets that can be given out to people who are just standing by the sides of the 'stages' to more casually listen in to each session.

When genomics meets radiotherapy

This year the ICR was honoured with our own conference session in which four early-career researchers talked about how they used genomics data in their own areas of cancer research.

I have writen a Science Talk blog post for the ICR that focuses on a presentation at the conference by Dr James Campbell, who is a Lead Bioinformatican at the ICR. He is using genome data from almost 2,000 patients that have undergone radiotherapy treatment for prostate cancer, in order to develop a model which predicts how well a new patient — given their particular set of genotypes and clinical factors — will respond to radiotherapy.

You can read the blog post here:

What did I learn at the Festival of Genomics conference?

Last week I attended the excellent Festival of Genomics conference in London, organised by Front Line Genomics. This was the first time I had been to a conference as a communications person rather than as a scientist…something that felt quite strange.

In addition to live-tweeting many talks for The Institute of Cancer Research where I work, I also recorded some videos of ICR scientists on the conference floor. All were asked to respond to the same simple question: Why is genomics important for cancer research?. You can see the video responses on the ICR's YouTube channel.

I also made a very short video to highlight one unusual aspect of the conference…the talks were pretty much silent. Wireless headphones worn by all audience members meant that there was no need to amplify the speakers…and therefore no need for the four different 'lecture theatres' to actually have any walls!


My first ICR blog post!

My final task was to write a blog post about some aspect of the conference. Before the conference started, I thought I might write something that was more focused on genomics technologies. However, I was surprised by how much of the conference covered genomics as part of healthcare.

In particular, I was left with the sense that genomics is finally delivering on some of the promises made back in 2003 when the human genome sequence was published. One of the target areas that was mentioned in this 2003 NIH press release was 'New methods for the early detection of disease'.

This is something that is now possible with whole genome sequencing being deployed as part of the 100,000 genomes project (undertaken by Genomics England). The ability to screen a patient for all known genetic diseases leads to many concerns and challenges — you should see Gattaca if you haven't already done so — but it was heartening to see how much groundwork has been put in to stay on top of some of these issues.

This is my first proper blog post for the ICR, and if you are interested in finding out more, please read my post on the ICR's Science Talk blog:

Concerning the gender ratio of speakers at the 2015 Genome Science Meeting

The Genome Science 2015 meeting has announced their speaker line-up. At the time of writing, not all of the speaker positions are finalized, but currently the published agenda reveals:

  • 13 men
  • 9 women

So currently 41% of the speakers are women which is excellent. Hoping that the remaining 15 slots keep this conference free from notable gender bias.