APRIL 21-23, 2020


The Official Blog of the Annual Translational Microbiome Conference

The official blog of the Annual Translational Microbiome Conference provides readers with information, insight and analysis regarding the microbiome.

The Medium is the Message

I write this, the inaugural blog post for Arrowhead’s 3rd Annual Translational Microbiome Conference, as I listen to election result returns and find cheer in the gains that my current home state of Arizona has made in voting in a minimum wage increase and in voting out an antiquated (literally and figuratively) sheriff. But this election has far greater implications for us all in the scientific community.

It is clear that science is having a hard time gaining a foothold these days. The good news is that the Pew Research Center found that 79% of 2,000 people polled think science has “made life easier for most people” and 71% believe that investment in science pays off. The bad news is that as soon as a scientific question becomes politicized, it seems no amount of evidence can sway people’s minds. For example, over 50% of the people surveyed believe that GMO foods are generally unsafe whereas 88% of scientists polled think they are generally safe.1 My very unscientific personal poll in asking friends and colleagues about GMO foods quickly reveals that the question of GMO food is almost universally confused with the issue of Monsanto and GM wheat. The fact that we believe in the value of science does not necessarily reflect an understanding of its nuances.

How and why certain scientific issues – GMO foods, vaccines, climate change among others – become politicized is beyond the limits of this post but is driven in some large part by how the media reports on scientific research.2 And I think we in the microbiome community need to be aware of the potential dangers of microbiome-based research becoming tainted by a whiff of spoiled milk.

Spoiled milk, what am I on about?

Earlier this year health officials at the CDC announced they had discovered a pathogenic connection between raw milk from a Pennsylvania dairy and two illnesses in 2014 — one in California and the other in Florida. If you are not aware, the raw milk community is a vociferous and outspoken one, and the backlash was quick. When the CDC stated that the samples were “closely related genetically” and that the raw milk was the “likely source” of the illnesses, opponents were fast to pounce and ask why the CDC could not say they were 100% certain. 100% certainty is an unattainable goal in science, as we know, but that does not mean the general public will understand that.

So when that same public goes from demanding 100% certainty that a specific bacteria in raw milk caused some illness, how are they likely going to react to the idea of “poop in a pill” or fecal microbiome transplants? Again, my utterly unscientific poll of my Facebook cohort, and their reactions to my posts on this subject, suggest “not very well” is the answer. And how the media ultimately portrays this research will have a substantial impact on how it is received, and where it brushes up against hot button topics – like access to raw milk – it is likely to become a hot button issue itself.

The role of the media, and how they report on the microbiome and their role in the messages the public receives, will be explored by moderator Colleen Cutcliffe, co-founder and CEO of Whole Biome, in her panel “The Media and the Microbiome” at Arrowhead’s 3rd Annual Translational Microbiome Conference, being held April 12-13, 2017 in Boston, MA USA.

We invite you to join us and help guide the conversation.

1 http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/01/29/public-and-scientists-views-on-science-and-society/

2 Although I will recommend the very compelling albeit slanted read, Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left by Alex B. Berezow, a microbiologist, and Hank Campbell.

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This activity has been planned and implemented in accordance with the accreditation requirements and policies of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) through the joint providership of the Office of Continuing Medical Education of the University of Virginia School of Medicine and Arrowhead Publishers. The Office of Continuing Medical Education of the University of Virginia School of Medicine is accredited by the ACCME to provide continuing medical education for physicians

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The University of Virginia School of Medicine, as accredited provider, awards 8 hours of participation (consistent with the designated number of AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)TM ) to a participant who successfully completes this educational activity. The University of Virginia School of Medicine maintains a record of participation for six (6) years.

Shahram Lavasani, Ph.D.

Founder, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Scientific Officer
Immune Biotech

Profile coming soon.

Scott Jackson, Ph.D.

Group Leader, Complex Microbial Systems
NIST (National Institute of Standards & Technology

Profile coming soon.

Rachel Clemens, Ph.D.

Commerical Innovation Manager, Life Science Lead
ISS US National Lab, Center for Advancement in Science in Space

Profile coming soon.

Lynne Elmore, Ph.D.

Director, Translational Cancer Research Program
American Cancer Society

Lynne Elmore, PhD, is the director of the Translational Cancer Research program in the Extramural Grants department of the American Cancer Society (ACS). She manages a research portfolio focused on cell biology, infectious disease, the microbiome, molecular genetics, and cancer drug discovery.

Garth Ehrlich, Ph.D.

Professor of Microbiology & Immunology, Professor of Otolayngology - Head & Neck Surgery
Drexel University College of Medicine

Dr Ehrlich is Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, and Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Drexel University College of Medicine (DUCOM) in Philadelphia, PA, USA. Dr. Ehrlich is also the founder and director of three Research Centers of Excellence in the Institute for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease: the Center for Genomic Sciences (CGS); the Center for Advanced Microbial Processing (CAMP); and the Center for Surgical Infections and Biofilms.

He also directs Drexel University’s Core Genomics Facility and the Meta-Omics Shared Resource for the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – an NCI-designated Cancer Center.

Momo Vuyisich, Ph.D.

Chief Scientific Officer

Momo Vuyisich is a co-founder and Chief Science Officer at Viome, a data-driven personalized nutrition company. Momo provides scientific leadership at Viome and his vision is to revolutionize healthcare from "symptoms management" to a true preventative medicine. He leads product development, clinical test implementation, and comprehensive clinical research portfolio.

Momo is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of New Mexico and New Mexico Tech. Before co-founding Viome in 2016, Momo spent 12 years at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he led the Applied Genomics team, which developed the core technology used by Viome today.

Nancy Caralla

Founding President, Executive Director
C Diff Foundation

Nancy C Caralla is a three-time Clostridioides difficile infection (CDI) survivor. She has accumulated over 25 years of experience in the nursing profession blended with over 30 years in international construction management. Over the past several years, Nancy, in partnership with C Diff Foundation members, has focused on raising C. difficile awareness through education and advocating for Clostridium difficile infection prevention, treatments, clinical trials, AMR, and environmental safety worldwide. The C Diff Foundation is a non-profit organization that takes great pride in its volunteers, chairpersons, and committees.

Rachel Teitelbaum, Ph.D.

Chief Executive Officer

Profile coming soon.

Sonia Timerlake, Ph.D.

Vice President of Research
Finch Therapeutics

Dr. Sonia Timberlake is the VP of Research at Finch Therapeutics, a microbiome therapeutics company. Sonia is an expert at designing NGS-based algorithms for applications in microbial genomics, immunogenomics, and evolution. Prior to joining Finch, she built and managed AbVitro's computational algorithms and infrastructure, supporting high throughput single-cell immune phenotyping and repertoire sequencing technology. This technology platform was acquired by Juno Therapeutics, where Sonia led a multidisciplinary team to harness native adaptive immune responses for developing engineered cell therapies in oncology.

Dae-Wook Kang, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering
University of Toledo

Profile coming soon.

Sameer Sonkusale, Ph.D.

Prof. of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Prof. of Biomedical Engineering (adjunct), Director/Principal Investigator, Nano Lab
Tufts University

Profile coming soon.

Amy Feehan, Ph.D.

Research Scientist
Ochsner Health System

Dr. Feehan is an early stage investigator who received her BS and PhD in Neuroscience from The Brain Institute at Tulane University in New Orleans. She has conducted research in humans and rodents covering topics ranging from drug development of novel endomorphin analogs for pain, to sleep and circadian rhythms research and most recently the gut-brain axis and infectious disease. Her doctoral work led to two patents for a compound that reverses both acute and chronic pain with no observable risk of addiction. She currently works as a research scientist in the Infectious Disease department at Ochsner in New Orleans designing and executing investigator-initiated clinical trials.