Society Spotlight: The American Society of Human Genetics
Created by host on 11/7/2013 12:10:00 AM

By Allison Lea
This year, the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) celebrated its 65th anniversary and held its 63rd annual meeting in Boston on October 22-26. The meeting attracted a record number of attendees, including exhibit personnel. Despite sequestration and the three week government shutdown that had ended just four days earlier, nearly 8,500 participants – 35 percent of whom were international – attended the meeting, making it the largest gathering of human genetic professionals in the world. Although approximately 100 posters were missing from the display as a result of the shutdown, the meeting still featured more than 3,000 posters throughout the five-day meeting. 
ASHG sought to create an atmosphere that encouraged networking among meeting attendees. Participants were given ribbons to wear on their badges that identified their discipline, which helped to connect professionals in similar fields. “First-timers,” who made up one-third of the meeting participants, were also given special ribbons.   
To celebrate the anniversary, the Society also used meeting badges to play an ice-breaking game throughout the week by having participants wear a genetic milestone (like the discovery of the structure of DNA) or the name of the person who made the discovery. If either party found his or her “match” in the crowd, both attendees received an ASHG Anniversary cupcake and qualified to win one of five pairs of iPad Minis, which were given away during the business meeting later in the week. By the end of the opening reception, all 500 cupcakes were gone. These activities proved to be a big hit at the meeting and helped make connections among the participants that may not have otherwise occurred.

On the third day of the meeting, ASHG held an interactive session called “ASHG Next: The Future of Genetics and the Future of Your Society” to support the Society’s strategic-planning process, which will guide the Society during the next three to five years. Participants were encouraged to discuss ASHG’s role in the future of human genetics and genetic medicine and to provide their thoughts on the annual meeting, the American Journal of Human Genetics, and new services for Society members. One common theme that emerged out of the discussion was the need to invest additional efforts and resources in genetics education for students and the public, as well as healthcare professionals and policymakers.

Currently, ASHG promotes K-12 education by holding an annual DNA Day essay contest that challenges students to consider important questions and values in genetics and by hosting an all-day workshop for high school students in advance of the annual meeting to learn about human genetics. Higher education efforts include faculty and student workshops, outreach programs, and career guidance and toolkits. For the general public, ASHG provides resources on genetic testing, family health history, and careers in genetics.

ASHG is also a strong proponent of advocacy and has made policy statements on issues related to human genetics such as teaching evolution in public schools, direct to consumer genetic testing and implementation of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). ASHG joined the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) as its 12thmember society in 1999 and encourages its members to use FASEB’s resources to engage policymakers in discussion of these issues and to urge Congress to fund basic research. Edward R.B. McCabe, MD, PhD, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of the March of Dimes Foundation, represents ASHG on the FASEB Board of Directors and serves as a member of the Federation’s Science Policy Committee.

The 2014 ASHG Annual Meeting will be held in San Diego on October 18-22. To learn more about the annual meetings or the Society's additional activities and history, visit the ASHGwebsite.

ASHG handed out 500 anniversary cupcakes at its 2013 meeting. Photo credit: ASHG