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CSHL Eyes Meetings, More Asia Collaborations as Conference Center Opens in China

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory says its newly-opened conference center, located some 60 miles west of Shanghai, should help the research institute satisfy demand for conferences in genomics and other topics now oversubscribed at the lab's main campus, as well as developing more collaborations with partners in China and elsewhere in Asia.

The new Suzhou Dushu Lake Conference Center, within the Suzhou Industrial Park, held its inaugural conference last week, the first James Watson Cancer Symposium, and is now holding a second, the first Francis Crick Symposium on Neuroscience. The symposia are among about 10 events anticipated to be held this year at the 600,000-square-foot facility, along with smaller meetings and a summer school program focused on computational and cognitive neuroscience.

Topics for future conferences will include membrane proteins, epigenetics, RNA biology, and human genetics and genomics. Suzhou Dushu Lake is designed to complement CSHL's existing conference activity at its main campus and in the UK, where it has joined with Wellcome Trust to organize and sponsor conferences near Cambridge, David Stewart, executive director of CSHL's meetings and courses program, told GenomeWeb Daily News on Tuesday.

"We anticipate running a number of genomics meetings in Asia that will kind of reflect the strength of our programming in New York, and what we have jointly with the Wellcome Trust," Stewart said.

Stewart said the symposia and summer school program are expected to draw about half the 8,000 people now attending conferences at CSHL's main campus. "My guess is that we're probably looking at 3,000 if things go well in the first year."

Most attendees of the China conferences are expected to be from Asia, the Pacific Rim, and Australia, just as most attendees of conferences in suburban New York and the UK come from the US and Europe, respectively.

CSHL is not opening any research labs in connection with Suzhou Dushu Lake, as France's Institut Pasteur and the Chinese Academy of Sciences did in Shanghai five years ago. Over time, Stewart said, the laboratory hopes the conference center will help it generate additional research, namely new collaborations between its researchers and their peers in China and elsewhere in Asia.

While there is no physical research presence by CSHL, several of its faculty members have carried out collaborations with Chinese scientists.

For example, Yi Zhong, who holds faculty positions at Tsinghua University as well as CSHL, headed a team of Chinese researchers that last month published research finding that blocking the cellular signaling activity of a protein prevented memory loss in fruit flies caused by brain plaques similar to those believed to cause Alzheimer's disease in humans.

Suzhou Dushu Lake Conference Center cost about $80 million to build and was developed by SIP, a Chinese-Singaporean partnership. SIP operates the conference center, though the content of the center's symposia and summer school is solely controlled by CSHL through its wholly-owned subsidiary, CSH Asia.

The conference center has an auditorium that can hold more than 500 people, landscaped grounds with a waterfront reminiscent of CSHL's main campus, as well as space for posters and social interaction. First-year attendance is projected to range per meeting from 200 to 400 people. "Once our program grows, we'll have meetings of between 300 and as many as 600 people," Stewart said.

"We are committed to building a program here over a number of years that we anticipate will grow in time to 20 or more meetings annually," as well as several summer school programs, said Stewart, who is also CSH Asia's president. But CSHL won't do so without raising more money and ensuring that expansion programs retain the quality of the institute's conferences in the US and UK. "We want to ramp up relatively slowly," he said.

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