Advances in Genomic Medicine 'Unstoppable'

Damian McNamara

February 26, 2016

LA JOLLA, California — Gene editing, liquid biopsies for cancer, and the latest moves by industry leaders driving the democratization of genomic information will be among the highlights of the Future of Genomic Medicine (FOGM) IX conference.

And each day of the 2-day event will start with a patient story. "The patient stories are compelling and they really set the stage for this program and what genomic medicine is all about," said course director Eric Topol, MD, from the Scripps Translational Research Institute in La Jolla, California, who is editor-in-chief of Medscape.

A mother will share the story of her teenage son who died suddenly, and explain what she learned from the molecular autopsy performed by researchers at Scripps. The discovery revealed what could be behind the generations of sudden deaths that run in her family.

Another patient who will tell her story at the conference is Elisa Long, PhD, from the University of California, Los Angeles, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33. She had no family history or other major risk factors, but turned out to carry the BRCA mutation.

The irony, Dr Topol explained, is that she is an assistant professor of decisions, operations, and technology management, and her research is focused on the way people make medical decisions when faced with uncertainty.

"Genomics, gradually, is getting into medicine in a big way, but there are still major hurdles to overcome. We'll get into those from the patient perspective," said Dr Topol.

"There are many other exciting parts to the program. It's my favorite 2 days of the year in terms of education, knowledge, and exchanging ideas," Dr Topol told Medscape Medical News.

Cancer MoonShot

An update on the newly formed Cancer MoonShot 2020 initiative will be presented by Patrick Soon-Shiong, MD, chief executive officer of NantHealth. Accelerating the collaboration among researchers working to activate the immune system in the fight against cancer is central to the mission of the initiative, as reported by Medscape Medical News.

Cancer genomics will be looked at from many different perspectives, particularly the liquid biopsy, "which is the hottest topic of all in cancer," Dr Topol reported. The advantages of assessing tumor DNA circulating in the blood include the potential for an earlier diagnosis, more precisely targeted treatments, and easy-to-perform and more accurate surveillance for cancer survivors, he explained. The state of the art in the detection and management of cancer will be addressed by Helmy Eltoukhy, founder and chief executive officer of Guardant Health.

Future of Genomic Medicine

Predictions on where genomic medicine is heading in the near future will be shared by Andy Conrad, PhD, chief executive officer of Verily, formerly Google Life Sciences, and George Church, PhD, director of the Personal Genome Project at Harvard University in Boston.

Infectious disease experts will explain the promise of genomic precision in our battle against existing and emerging threats. Advances in immediate pathogen sequencing will be discussed by Charles Chiu, MD, PhD, from the University of California, San Francisco, and Kristian Andersen, PhD, from Scripps.

Updates on the progress of efforts to democratize genetic information will be provided by Elizabeth Holmes, chief executive officer of Theranos, Anne Wojcicki, cofounder and chief executive officer of 23andMe, and Jessica Richman, cofounder of uBiome.

"That will be a great session," Dr Topol said.

In addition, Richman, whose firm amasses microbiome samples from a large number of individuals, will report progress in this area.

"It's a remarkable time to understand the gut microbiome. There's been a torrent of incredible papers about how your nutrition, antibiotics — essentially everything — affects your microbiome," Dr Topol pointed out.

"I'm sure we'll talk on the panel about where people stand in terms of getting their microbiome assessed," he added.

Some Levity From a Physician Rapper

A special performance by the "number one doctor rapper in the world," known as ZDoggMD, will wrap up the conference, Dr Topol said. The Stanford University–trained hospitalist — otherwise known as Zubin Damania, MD, chief executive officer and founder of Turntable Health — raps, does stand-up comedy, and describes himself as "slightly funnier than placebo."

ZDoggMD has planned a special act for the genomic medicine crowd, said Dr Topol, who spoke to Dr Damania last year in a Medscape One-on-One interview.

The 600 or so expected attendees will receive a comprehensive update on the state of genomic medicine. But for physicians who will not be attending the conference, Dr Topol has a message: The impact of genomics on medicine "is getting bigger and bigger. This is an unstoppable force."

"Be receptive and embrace this era. It's already changing medicine, and it's going to continue to do that on a much greater scale and magnitude," he explained.

Detailed information of individual presentations and sessions can be found in the conference program.

Dr Topol is editor-in-chief of Medscape and host of Medscape One-on-One, in which he converses with the most interesting people influencing medicine.

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