After SLAS2018: The Next Generation of Scientists

SLAS_2018SLAS is one of those events that always leaves us reflective and inspired on our return trip home. This year, our chief scientist, Ben Tjoa, and I represented Astarte Biologics in San Diego. We met amazing scientists, had meaningful conversations, and heard from world leaders.

SLAS2018 set a new attendance record — over 6,600 attendees from more than 40 countries! Here are some highlights from the event.

Recapping SLAS2018

Advances in 3D Cell Cultures

We reported last year on the excitement around 3D cell systems. This year, we saw even more focus on 3D cell culture, an approach that is gaining traction and showcasing more automation. Unlike 2D cell cultures, 3D allows cells to grow in vitro more similarly to how they would in vivo.

There were several programs and courses touching on this topic, and we saw a few interesting poster presentations. Essen BioScience measured immune cell killing of 3D tumor spheroids. Who knew you could detect cell death in a clump of cells? Another interesting poster described a 3D blood-brain barrier model using endothelial cells, pericytes, and astrocytes to recreate the unique features of CNS vasculature.

Supporting the Next Generation of Scientists

I visited with an impressive high school student who is a member of Rogue Techs, an organization that involves middle and high school students in learning about robotics and engineering. SLAS provides support to Rogue Techs and students involved in FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). It was encouraging to see these young people involved in science and engineering and inspiring to see SLAS supporting their efforts.

Here is a video of one of the middle schoolers’ robotics projects.

2018 Award Winners

SLAS recognized the following individuals and companies for their innovations.

SLAS Innovation Award
Paul Ju Sung Hung, Ph.D., COMBiNATi Inc.
Microfluidic Siphoning Array (MSA) – A Novel Scalable Digital PCR Integrated Platform>

Student Poster Winners
#1170 John Hickey, Johns Hopkins University
High Throughput Enrichment and Identification of Rare Antigen-specific CD8+ T cells

#1360 Xiao Wang, BioMEMS Resource Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School
Squeeze & Chemotax: a High-throughput Microfluidic Assay for Probing the Effect of Deformation on Leukocyte Chemotaxis

#1225 Sri Teja Mallapudi, Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research
In vivo Screening to Identify Insulin-independent Modulators of Metabolism Identifies Novel Candidates

New Product Winners
FORMULATRIX®
For the CONSTELLATION® Digital PCR System

Labcyte
For the Echo 655T Acoustic Liquid Handler

iotaSciences
For isoCell

Closing Keynote: Marc Abrahams

This year’s closing keynote speaker was Marc Abrahams, founder of the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, an organization dedicated to making people laugh and think while promoting unusual and imaginative work in medicine, science, and technology.

As you can imagine, Marc’s presentation was entertaining and engaging! He recapped the 2017 Ig Nobel Prize winners, including the Physics prize for the study of whether cats could be considered both a solid and liquid, and the Cognition prize for describing the inability of identical twins to distinguish themselves from their twin.

While the talk was light-hearted, Dr. Abrahams gave a thoughtful answer when asked whether the research was reproducible. He noted that the Nobel Prizes have sometimes elevated research that was reprehensible in hindsight (like a 1949 Nobel Prize for the development of the frontal lobotomy) while excellent and important work often takes years to be recognized. Dr. Abrahams left us pondering the question of good versus bad work, which is not to be taken lightly.

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