By Diana Toledo, Student Professional Development Support Fund Recipient
I attended and presented my research at the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) Annual Meeting held in sunny San Diego, CA on October 16th – 20th, 2018. There were over 9,000 attendees this year, which broke their previous attendance record. This conference brings many clinical and research geneticists, genetic counselors, graduate students, and industry members together in one space for four days of science. They had many sessions on cutting-edge single cell RNA-sequencing, ATAC-sequencing, the translational use of CRISPR, and the clinical interpretation of whole exome/whole genome sequencing results.
I was fortunate enough to present my current research as a poster titled: “Molecular Analysis of a Skin Equivalent Tissue Culture Model System of Systemic Sclerosis using RNA Sequencing, Epigenetic Assays, Histology, and Immunoassays” (Abstract #180122618). To summarize, I have worked to characterize and integrate a 3D skin equivalent tissue culture model system into our lab, which have proven to be a reliable in-vitro system of systemic sclerosis, using multi-omic techniques. This abstract scored in the top 10% of abstracts and received a Reviewers’ Choice Award. The poster session was very helpful to me as I received a lot of good feedback and ideas to forward this project along. I received suggestions on possible drugs and compounds that may be good candidates to test pre-clinically in our 3D skin equivalent model. Another researcher also discussed the clever idea of differentiating patient stem cells into iPSC-derived fibroblasts and creating our 3D skin equivalent tissues using this approach. This would potentially answer the question of whether this disease is more based in genetic predisposition or environmental. Patients who are diagnosed with systemic sclerosis do not have many therapy options and little is known about why they developed it and who else in their family may be at risk. That is why it is so important to utilize new model systems and genomic techniques to better identify possible therapeutics and understand the basis of this disease.
In addition, I was able to reconnect with many of my former mentors, colleagues, and friends at this conference that are still working and contributing to the field of human genetics. Through them, and my own networking, I met many new contacts that wanted to talk about potential collaborations and/or future post-doctoral opportunities. I also participated in the Conference to Career program through the Jackson Lab (in collaboration with ASHG), which further enhanced my ability to network with professionals in the field.
I am grateful to the Graduate Student Council for providing me with a Student Support Fund to help defray the cost of attending ASHG this year. Their funding supported my registration fees for the conference. Thank you Dartmouth’s Graduate Student Council!