Executive Update: Mona Miller, Executive Director
70 years ago, ASHG founders launched the Society recognizing the value of fostering a multidisciplinary community to advance research into human genetic structure and function, investigate their relationship to disease, and translate this knowledge to improve medicine and health. Today, that community is thriving and ASHG’s mission remains as central as ever. As genetics and genomics knowledge moves rapidly into translation and practice, each new piece of knowledge reveals still more to discover and apply.
In service to that mission, the Society’s new Strategic Plan establishes as one of several goals increasing awareness and appreciation of genetics and genomics research among the public and policymakers. Indeed, the plan’s core vision seeks a world where people everywhere realize the benefits of genetics and genomics research – highlighting the field’s role in translating science into beneficial application and communicating with the public and policymakers about the value and responsible use of genetic and genomic knowledge.
Building Toward an Inspiring Vision
ASHG has a strong foundation on which to build. The Society is already highly respected for its work facilitating and sharing promising scientific knowledge and supporting the field as it develops novel applications. It is also a valued voice for science and research in policy corridors, undertakes award-winning public education activities, and is committed to advancing responsible application of new technologies. Yet ASHG’s strongest asset in public engagement is you – because of you, ASHG is the largest and broadest professional genetics and genomics membership society, reflecting dozens of fields and specialties and working with many other allied organizations as well. In addition to your research, ASHG’s community is on the front lines of educating and engaging the public, policymakers, and students each day.
The Society will be exploring how it can best support you and the field to engage more easily and effectively in public education, awareness, and advocacy. To start, the Society is organizing itself to better tap and focus the energies of members to drive these outcomes in local communities and nationally. New, broader, and more clearly charged committees will benefit from and help strengthen existing programs and develop new ones. Setting course will happen over the coming year, but the Society has also already started several important foundational projects that we encourage you to learn about, use, and join. These include:
- New Congressional Engagement – In the U.S., ASHG is driving greater awareness in Congress about the benefits of genetics and genomics research. Recently, ASHG submitted testimony to key House and Senate committees urging strong support for NIH appropriations and highlighting new exciting field research. We have also produced an easy-to-use resource about recent progress in genetics and genomics research and we look forward to co-sponsoring a congressional briefing later this summer in partnership with the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics.
- Expanding Member Advocacy – Advocacy needs effective national action but local contact can be most impactful. Last year, ASHG launched the ASHG Advocates program, which provides monthly updates on advocacy issues and asks members to take quick action with their legislators on key issues. Seeking inspiration to get involved in advocacy? Check out ASHG Past President Mary-Claire King’s Advocacy Award acceptance remarks last year in San Diego, then sign up to be an ASHG Advocate.
- Expanding Visibility on Key Issues – ASHG knows a collective voice can be influential. As just one example, when word broke in late 2018 about the use of heritable gene editing in human embryos and resulting births, ASHG was swift and clear in sharing its views that it was inappropriate use of this powerful technology, while communicating the importance of continued long-term research into its potential benefits for health and disease. The Society is actively supporting international efforts by the U.S. National Academies to evaluate regulatory frameworks and policies that would guide any future use and was pleased to work with a network of international bodies to produce the foundational 2017 statement on germline genome editing.
- Building Public Education & Engagement Resources for Members – ASHG recently relaunched a key member community dedicated to public awareness and engagement. The Genetics ENgagement and Education (GENE) Network links members to quality educational resources and opportunities for local community involvement. Look for more from this group in months to come. Also, did you know that “six things everyone should know about genetics” is ASHG’s most visited web page after the Annual Meeting and homepage? When talking with public audiences, let them know it’s a great resource for human genetics basics and we know there is potential for an ever better curated set of resources for public audiences.
As I write, the Society is also mobilizing to oppose a resurgent legislative effort here in the U.S. that would permit gene patenting, overturning clear Supreme Court decisions rejecting such practices. This is something ASHG has long opposed and, in active coordination with the Association for Molecular Pathology, the Society will oppose any such legislation. As an organization, we have already joined a widely circulated sign-on letter, will tap our network of human genetics and genomics leaders, and will mobilize U.S. members to contact legislators as the bill progresses. Stay tuned.
This community knows better than anyone that human genetics and genomics is transforming every facet of research, medicine, and health. ASHG is dedicated to supporting and enhancing public awareness of your work, in collaboration with you and other organizations. We never forget that you make this possible through your membership – thank you for being a member and for your active engagement!