Ahead of SLAS Europe May 24-27, 2022, in Dublin, Jill Hronek, SLAS Director, Marketing & Communications, shares how the SLAS community responded to the unprecedented need for laboratory automation internationally, and reflects on the conference theme, ‘Where Imagination Inspires Innovation’.
Welcome back to the SLAS Europe Conference and Exhibition; it seems like a very long time since SLAS convened in Barcelona in June 2019. So much has transpired within SLAS and across the life sciences and laboratory automation community during these last two years. With that transformation came an extraordinary level of collaboration across continents, across labs, and among those who could and would make a difference.
The theme of this year’s conference is ‘Where Imagination Inspires Innovation’ and this reflects the extraordinary effort, creativity and innovation that has come out of the pandemic response. The world saw an unprecedented need for laboratory automation and the SLAS community responded and supported the globe with their collective know-how. The sold-out exhibition space is testament to the critical nature of laboratory automation and technology over the past two years and its expanding applications in life sciences research.
SLAS’s three keynote speakers – Steve Rees, Ph.D., (AstraZeneca), Jeremy Simpson, Ph.D., (University College Dublin), and Dagmar Monett, Ph.D., (Berlin School of Economics and Law) – will bring a wide range of perspectives on relevant topics such as pandemic response, the use of nanoparticles as drug delivery systems, and the use of AI as it relates to digital ethics, software engineering and the digital transformation.
“We wanted the conference to highlight the European life science ecosystem in general to discuss challenges and opportunities in innovation, collaboration and growth in the wake of the pandemic,” says conference co-chair Brinton Seashore-Ludlow, Ph.D., of the Karolinska Institutet (Sweden).
The conference features an exciting list of speakers and panels addressing entrepreneurship, diversity and partnerships across borders, including CEOs and COOs of start-up companies, academic technology transfer and big pharma. SLAS will address success stories as well as lessons learned from less-than-perfect partnerships and what it takes from both an individual development and workplace team perspective to succeed.
SLAS is recognised as a truly global society serving the needs of researchers by providing an interface for basic and applied scientists. Europe, with its strong track record in both basic and applied research, is a key geographical area for the society. Seashore-Ludlow and conference co-chair Amaury Fernández-Montalván, Ph.D., of Boehringer Ingelheim, aligned the scientific education with SLAS’s two journals SLAS Discovery and SLAS Technology. “This is the backbone of the scientific program, and we wanted to highlight new approaches in these areas. In the Emerging Technologies track specifically, we are focusing on new automation and data analysis possibilities brought about by AI, including smart labs. We wanted to touch on precision medicine, and this is addressed with a session on recent developments in diagnostics, where we will hear about functional precision medicine techniques, as well as new methods for disease detection and classification,” she said. Speakers from InSphero, GSK, Harvard, the Broad Institute, Exscientia (UK), DeepMatter.io, Novartis and others, will share their technological wins and inspire new ways of thinking about technology and data sciences.
The Emerging Biology track dives into the new discoveries and trends in biology that impact the way screening and diagnostics laboratories work. Established and emerging scientific leaders will discuss innovative ways to tackle long-lasting challenges in biology, new therapeutic modalities and strategies to understand drugs’ mode of action. With speakers from the Francis Crick Institute (UK), University of Frankfurt (Germany), University of Dundee (UK), University of Zurich (Switzerland), React4Life (Italy), Arctoris (UK), AstraZeneca, i3S (Portugal), Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research (Cyprus) and Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Barcelona, the Emerging Biology program will bring a diverse and deep examination of current work in biological research.
During the pandemic, international travel for society members was curtailed so SLAS relied on its two Europe Ambassadors – Julio Martin, Ph.D. (Sciengement Lab Consulting) and Christian Parker, Ph.D. (Novartis) – whose understanding of Europe’s scientific community as a composite of unique local and national characters was critical to keeping the SLAS European community united, engaged and informed about SLAS activities. “We sought to support local networking events virtually or in person where possible, to keep SLAS front and center,” noted Martin. The two also promoted the successful SLAS Innovation AveNEWprogram for start-up companies by representing SLAS with like-minded scientific organisations in Spain, the UK, and elsewhere. “We know these start-up companies can and will contribute both innovation and expertise to the SLAS community, while getting the global attention they need to succeed,” he said.
“We’ve also reached out to students and early-career professionals and increased their engagement with SLAS; the new generation of scientists and technologists and entrepreneurs have so much to offer both in terms of imagination and innovation,” says Parker.
“For the European community, the 2022 conference and exhibition will be the first with an in-real-life component,” Seashore-Ludlow said. “I think this opportunity for networking within Europe after the past two years is exciting!”
That said, SLAS recognises the challenges that some companies, countries and especially the student population face with travel this year. With testing, vaccination and quarantining restrictions changing by the day, SLAS is providing a hybrid format for the Europe conference, allowing for a broader global audience to take part in the SLAS conference education either online or in person.
SLAS CEO Vicki Loise says it’s more important to be inclusive, to share the science, and to give access to the research and technologies presented at SLAS Europe 2022 than it is to get everyone in the same place. Hybrid conferences are a lot of work to put together but they are here to stay for a while longer as we make our way out of the current pandemic environment. “As a professional team, we’ve used our imagination and stretched our boundaries to be innovative in presenting safe conferences and opportunities for collaboration over the past two years,” Loise said. “We’re ready to do it again in Dublin!”
Volume 23, Issue 2 – Spring 2022 – SLAS Supplement
About the author:
Jill Hronek has served as the Director, Marketing and Communications for the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening since 2018. She and her team are responsible for getting people in seats, eyes on screens, and words and images on pages to engage and inform the SLAS life sciences community and transform research.