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Troubled That Genetics May Be Falling Behind, ASHG President Suggests a Bigger Tent

SAN DIEGO, Oct. 15 – “We have seen the future and it is not us,” Huntington Willard, president of the American Society of Human Genetics, said during his address to the group during its annual meeting here on Saturday. 

While calling genetics the “hottest field in the business,” he complained of slowing membership at the ASHG even as attendance at meetings for genomics-oriented organizations skyrocket. 

“We have done an ineffective job at attracting geneticists in the for-profit sector,” Willard admonished. “The challenge is to be inclusive to those outside our field and to welcome those to our tent.”

Those that Willard considered outside the tent include pharmaceutical, biotech, diagnostic, proteomic, and bioinformatic companies.

In fact, for-profit companies submitted just 30 percent of the total research being presented at the ASHG meeting this year, which ends on Tuesday, according to Willard. But “leaders of [these] companies … will drive the revolution in medicine,” he said.

“Genomics and genetics is now big science” and there is a “gulf to bridge between university and industry,” Willard added.

He put it to the ASHG attendees to build “a bigger tent and better articulate what human genetics is” while also pointing out that the primary mission of the university to teach is different from the mission of for-profit companies. Though the difference, Willard said, “can be bridged at the ASHG meeting.”

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