Consumer Genetics Conference chair and cofounder Meredith Salisbury

Consumer Genetics Conference chair and cofounder Meredith Salisbury

Genomics industry professionals could spend half their careers attending conferences, there are so many to choose from. But among the plethora of event offerings, there wasn’t one that addressed the increasingly real societal implications of genome sequencing technology. At least that’s what industry insiders Meredith Salisbury and John Boyce noticed four years ago.

“If you talk to friends who are not in the industry they have a lot of questions about it,” says Salisbury, a consultant at the life science communications firm Bioscribe. Especially interested in the emerging ethical and legal concerns surrounding genetics, Salisbury and Boyce, the founder of GnuBIO, decided to create their own event.

Their Consumer Genetics Conference is now in its fourth year. CGC 2012, taking place this week at the Seaport Hotel in Boston, aims to be a forum for genomics stakeholders of all stripes. Scientists, genetics counselors, physicians, and entrepreneurs alike are spending three days sharing their expertise and discussing the issues facing genetic medicine.

Presenters at the meeting have introduced new applications such as a test for newborns that can screen and diagnose hundreds of conditions from a single sample, and tests that can determine a person’s need for vitamin therapy or inform a nutrition- and weight-management plan. A recurring theme is how the public will react to and make use of genomics and genetics  technologies. In an opening day keynote address, Harvard genomics pioneer and founder of the Personal Genome Project George Church said of progress in the field: “We have not yet stagnated on the incredible exponential curve we are on.” He presented an overview of the most competitive next generation sequencing technologies in development, and emphasized his belief in the necessity of whole genome sequencing for all.

Salisbury predicts that in the future most people will have their genome sequenced and will be able to use smartphone apps to analyze their genes and assess their health risks. “There’s a really good chance that tech-savvy, interested consumers are going to be driving this a lot more than the medical institution as a whole,” Salisbury says.

In light of these possibilities, the prescient Consumer Genetics Conference provides a venue for crucial conversations. “The radical changes that I’ve seen just from being in the field a little more than 10 years are phenomenal in our understanding of how organisms work,” Salisbury says.

The Consumer Genetics Conference ends Friday, October 5th. For more information visit http://www.consumergeneticsconference.com/.