In the build up to the Festival of Genomics California, we’re going to be running through the various sessions on offer and picking out the talks and presentations we’re most excited about, as we start to plan our own trip out to the Golden State. We want to know what you think – so add in your picks in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter with #GenomicsFest!


Day 1 Tuesday 3rd November, 2015 –  Workshops

09:00 – 12:00

Carl (Managing Editor): This is a tough section to start with as it’s quite a diverse set of options. The Cypher Genomics workshop on clinical implementation of genomic interpretation technology is pretty appealing. The recent Vanderbilt survey of clinician’s opinions on genomic testing highlighted one of the big problems in clinical integration right now; the theory is fine, but dealing with the data and putting it to use is causing some problems. One of the key takeaways promised from this workshop ‘How to incorporate algorithmic predictions of pathogenicity and drug response for physicians’ is particularly exciting. It’s one thing to show a solution to a problem, but will it be user-friendly and something that people can understand easily and get excited about? Should be a very useful session, and one I’d definitely have as my morning choice…

…If it weren’t for Peter Miller and Keith Batchelder’s session on ‘Business Strategies for Bringing Diagnostics to Market‘. I like to think of diagnostics as one of the big genomic enablers. Without the diagnostic, there’s no way to apply all of that knowledge to improve patient treatment. I’m a bit of a strategy junky, so I can’t wait to hear what these guys have to say. As if that wasn’t enough, this was one of the most popular workshops at the Boston Festival. I missed it on that day, so want to avoid making the same mistake again! Given how much work is going into developing new diagnostics, this is probably going to be packed out again. There’s some great stuff out there, so I’m sure there are a lot of people who’d be very curious to see just how big a commercial opportunity they might be sitting on.

Liz (Content Manager): The Single-Cell Sequencing session looks great as well. One of the common problems facing any genomics researcher is how to make the most of the enormous quantities of data generated by sequencing. While I doubt that Gingko is a tool that I would use in my day job, I would be fascinated to learn about the different approaches that scientists are opting for when working with these new datasets.

Inova’s workshop – ‘Managing the Brave New World of Genomics‘ – on trouble shooting common clinical genomic scenarios and working through real-life cases also looks like a lot of fun. I particularly like that the workshop leaders are actively encouraging participants to being their own confusing or challenging questions to the session. Certainly if I were a clinician I’d want to compare and contrast experiences with my peers, and from my own perspective as a writer it would be great to get a range of clinician experiences actually using the technologies that I write about every day! 


13:00 – 16:00

Carl:Data Driven Discovery: From Personalized Genomics to Clinical Impact‘ – that’s a pretty good title for a conference, let alone a workshop! It’s being led by speakers from Sloan Kettering, Mount Sinai, MD Anderson, and University of Utah. One thing’s for sure – you’re going to be hearing about real clinical impact here. The section on ‘the use of big data to interpret genomes for diagnosis, therapeutics and precision medicine’ should be particularly interesting here as it effectively captures what translational genomics is all about right now – how do we take all of this data and do something useful with it? The open discussion panel at the end should be good, as I’m sure there are bound to be plenty of questions by the end, and quite possibly a few disagreements. I’m hoping there will be a few vendor companies in the audience for this one to add to the discussions.

An intriguing anomaly on the agenda next with the Patent Attorney led session ‘A Case Study Based Guide to Freedom to Operate – Navigating the CRISPR-Cas Patent Landscape‘. If you’re reading this, you’re probably well aware of the mentioned IP battle. It makes for a fascinating case study to learn from. My pick for the morning session was on business strategies. If you’ve got a serious interest in that workshop, it’s a safe bet you’ll want to be in this one as well. Apart from an interesting story, there’s going to be a lot of practical advice here for anyone looking to file for a patent. This should be one of the busier sessions in this slot, and one I’ll be looking to attend.

Clinical implementation or patents? Too close to call at the moment, I have a feeling this will be a decision I make on the day!

Liz: I’m also torn for this session. On the one hand there is further discussion on how to speed up data handling with Computomics, or getting stuck into a discussion about science and practice in pharmacogenomics. 

Microbiomes are pretty trendy right now, and is  topic that features pretty prominently in the agenda for California. Computomics are running a session to help speed up your metagenomic analysis. BLAST is a trusted tool and staple of several gene-jockeys so leading with the statement “We showcase our analysis service that is an unprecedented 22 thousand times faster than BLAST” is bold. While I left the lab bench behind me a few years ago, I’d certainly be interested to see how Computomics can take the headache out of handling big data. 

Grace Kuo’s session ‘Bridging the Gap between Pharmacogenomics Science and Practice‘ may well have some overlap with Inova’s morning workshop, but what is catching my attention is the additional focus on the murky, practical waters of insurance coverage. Integrating genomic technology into healthcare isn’t just about clinicians; you also have to get a good legal framework in place, and make sure that there are clear routes to reimbursement. As a workshop, I think this will work well with its focus on covering all the major challenges to clinical implementation (education, informatics, ethics, insurance) and proactive approach to making sure attendees find ways to participate and maintain collaborative opportunities with each other.


16:00 – 19:00

Carl: And on to the evening session. With no break between sessions now, this is going to test my ability to survive without snacks. Here’s hoping for a filling lunch!

I love that we’ve got a session on Galaxy here. People love it because it works and it’s open source. If you’re finding that your research is increasingly data intensive, you really owe it to yourself to come along to this one. By the end of the 3 hour session, you’ll know all about Galaxy, how to use it and how to contribute to the growing community around the platform. I have it on good authority that bioinformaticians are particularly adept at having a good night out, so this is also a good bet if you’re hoping one of the workshops breaks out into a fun evening.

I’ll be looking to head to Jeanette McCarthy’s session ‘Working With Next-Gen Sequencing Gene Panels – From Panel Design to Variant Interpretation‘. We get to ‘look under the hood of existing commercially available gene panels’, work through ACMG guidelines for variant interpretation, have a guided tour of ClinVar, and even some hand-on interpretation of variants. I’m a big fan of workshops that give participants practical experience. It makes for a much more effective learning experience. Jeanette McCarthy is also one of the great genomic educators out there (in fact, give her a follow on @genomeducator), and is editor-in-chief of Genome magazine. Definitely someone I’m looking forward to meeting!

Liz: I’ve already planned for a significant lunch!

Continuing my fascination with just how we make the most of all that data, I’d be interested in getting down to the nuts and bolts of Galaxy. Although three data-heavy sessions in one day might be too much even for me!

Genome editing is one of the big themes for the California Festival, so a ‘How To‘ session on CRISPR/Cas9 is a no-brainer here. If you’re already using the technology, this session is a great place to trade recipes. If you’re just looking to get started, what better way to get introduced to the technology, how to apply it, and making some useful contacts to troubleshoot with once you get back home?

The previous issue of Front Line Genomics had some great CRISPR features in it, so why not check that out on the way to the workshop!

Carl: Nothing beats a shameless plug for our own magazine!


We also asked the Festival Directors which workshops we should look out for. If you followed our coverage of the Boston Festival you’ll remember that one of them, James Bell, had the magic touch for correctly identifying which presentations were going to deliver the big ‘wow’ moments. So your insider picks for workshops to sign up to are:

Laura Rae: ‘Working With Next-Gen Sequencing Gene Panels – From Panel Design to Variant Interpretation’ & ’Managing the Brave New World of Genomics’

James Bell: ‘Data Driven Discovery: From Personalized Genomics to Clinical Impact’ & ‘Galaxy for the Analysis of Very Large Biomedical Data’


Festival of Genomics California takes place at the San Mateo Event Centre, CA from 3-5 November 2015. Register for your place now!