By Brendan Lee, MD, PhD
I’ve been a member of ASHG for over 30 years. And I suspect, like many of you, my first interaction with the Society was as a trainee presenting posters at the annual meeting. Throughout the years, I participated in a number of activities first as a mentee and then as a mentor, I served on various ASHG committees, worked toward strong public and private partnership between industry and academia, and supported the inclusion of early career professionals and members who identify as underrepresented minorities in ASHG activities.
What makes this society strong is our membership and engagement at all levels: from students to senior scientists from one side of the globe to the other. I’ve been honored to serve as the president of ASHG this past year, continuing the path I started and taking on new challenges.
One important part of our collective work as human genetics and genomics researchers is to make strides in the integration of equity, diversity, and inclusion into the values, programs, and voice of ASHG. Earlier this year, we released a report “Facing Our History – Building an Equitable Future,” documenting our profession’s history of past harms inflicted on members of minoritized groups. As a path forward, the Society and field have begun to take more consistent, meaningful steps toward equity, as well as the inclusion of new voices and perspectives. Progress on these fronts will take sustained leadership from countless individuals and organizations in the future, and collectively we can create meaningful change if we work together. Science as an enterprise is only stronger when it includes the perspectives of all.
At the same time, the Society will continue to monitor emerging areas in our field. It is exciting to see work that has the potential to answer questions about some of the biggest health challenges facing humankind today. For example, there is greater research on nullomers and cancer detection. Some of this work was presented at the ASHG 2023 Annual Meeting. It is our responsibility to convene critical conversations about these areas of study and to ensure broad participation in the dialogue of how and why human genetics and genomics contributes to improving human health.
An area that is also causing considerable excitement is technology and how innovations are driving the field and the impacts they are having on diagnosis. For example, genome editing via CRISPR-Cas9 has great implications for treatment and correction of genetic diseases and gene therapies for Mendelian disorders of blood and the immune system. The use of these techniques in providing care will have widespread impacts in the future for people dealing with a number of devastating conditions. Technologies are forming mechanisms for therapy and leading to profound changes now and in the years to come.
There are also many issues we face as scientists that aren’t going away any time soon and ASHG is working to advocate on behalf of geneticists. From communicating about the need to fund NIH in order to support research science and refuting anti science rhetoric to protecting the genetic privacy of immigrant families providing material and data, the Society continues to work with policymakers to raise global support for investment in basic research and scientific discovery.
It is important that ASHG continues to advocate for scientists of all backgrounds and their critical work within our community. As part of this work, the Society continues to expand our engagement with the public in order to foster transparency and trust in the process of how science leads to therapies, and work towards equity and inclusion, and affordability of proven treatments. There is a tremendous opportunity for ASHG to make a significant impact in these areas over the next year and beyond.
ASHG will thrive and continue to adapt even in uncertain times like these as long as its diverse members continue to step up to offer their time and creativity. As I did all those years ago, I encourage you to get involved, attend the annual meeting, become a volunteer, and join one of ASHG’s committees. Joining your society as an engaged and active member provides an abundance of opportunity for personal and professional development. The only thing holding you back from being part of this upward momentum for the future is you!