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San Diego Genomic Medicine Conference Kicks Off Thursday

Scientists and doctors will gather in La Jolla this week for a conference about advances in genomics and how they could change medicine.

Scientists and doctors will gather in La Jolla this week for a conference about how medicine could change — and in some cases, how it's already starting to change —thanks to advances in genomics.

The 10th annual Future of Genomic Medicine conference — organized by the Scripps Translational Science Institute and held at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography — is being held at a time when genomic breakthroughs have increasingly become the subject of high-profile intellectual property disputes, ethical debates and major industry investments.

Photo credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

The Robert Paine Scripps Forum for Science, Society and the Environment — the location for the Future of Genomic Medicine conference — is seen in this undated photo.

One panel focussed on the gene editing tool CRISPR will feature MIT scientist Feng Zhang, who recently came out ahead of UC Berkeley scientists in a patent battle over who deserves credit for developing a tool that could be used to fight cancer, malaria and a host of other genetic diseases.

"I think it can't really be overstated how big of a revolution CRISPR is in terms of manipulating the genome," said Scripps Translational Science Institute researcher Ali Torkamani, who will moderate the CRISPR panel.

"It's exciting to the public and it is really exciting to scientists as well," he said.

Other panels will cover the federal Precision Medicine Initiative, which is still in nascent stages, and attempts to develop blood-based screening tests meant to catch cancer in early stages. Grail, a spinoff company of San Diego-based Illumina, announced on Wednesday that it has raised $900 million to develop such "liquid biopsies."

Razelle Kurzrock of the UCSD School of Medicine will give a presentation about fighting cancer by better understanding a patient's unique DNA and the unique DNA of their tumor.

"By understanding genomics and each patient's cancer, we are learning how to customize precision treatments for patients," Kurzrock wrote in an email to KPBS. "The immune system, once reactivated by our new drugs, differentiates between tumor and normal cells by the mutations that tumor cells harbor."

More than 600 people are scheduled to attend the conference, which begins Thursday morning and wraps on Friday afternoon.

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