ISSCR 2020: A Virtual Reality
Exceptional scientific programming, world-renowned speakers, networking, and access to the latest tools and technologies in the stem cell and regenerative medicine field – these core elements are the hallmark of ISSCR’s annual meeting. Scientists, clinicians, business leaders, ethicists, educators, and stem cell professionals from across the globe gathered to discuss the latest in stem cell science discovery and application. But instead of roaming the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, Boston, USA, as planned, close to 4,000 members of the global stem cell community gathered around their computers, tablets, or mobile screens to share their discoveries, participate in workshops, network with colleagues, and advance their careers. In less than three months, the ISSCR transformed nearly the entire meeting from an in-person event to a virtual meeting for the first time in our history. The community came together and attendees from 59 countries gave 318 presentations and nearly 900 posters and engaged in thousands of discussions during five days of virtual content. Moreover, as the world continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and tremendous uncertainty persists, the success of ISSCR 2020 Virtual demonstrates that pivoting to deliver to digital programming can be highly effective and bring new opportunities to our community. Benefits of the digital format include competitive registration fees, on-demand access, and the ability to chat and ask questions of presenters you might not be willing to approach in person – all while skipping a long flight and wearing your favorite slippers.
Attendees agreed that while nothing substitutes meeting in-person, there are advantages to the digital format. Shruti Venkat from Johns Hopkins, U.S. shared the following on LinkedIn: “My first international stem cell conference! One of my attitudes in life is to always look for a silver lining, and after cribbing about losing bench-time in the lab, the #ISSCR2020 conference might just be it during this pandemic. Thank you to the International Society for Stem Cell Research for making this annual meeting virtual - which allowed people like me to attend, who originally couldn't have made it to Boston.”
The meeting started with what became the most highly attended session of the program, the Workshop on Clinical Translation, and closed with the Keynote Address from Sekar Kathiresan of Verve Therapeutics that discussed in detail the company’s genome editing approach to mimic mutations protective against heart attack. The release of data from Verve made headlines in major news outlets including The New York Times and ABC’s Good Morning America, raising positive awareness for advances in the stem cell field. Talks like the one from Verve continued the growing trend where companies are sharing their latest science and results at the ISSCR annual meeting.
In addition to the staples of an ISSCR annual meeting, this year also highlighted several emerging areas. A new plenary session at the annual meeting was “Machine Learning and Computational Approaches,” which included a presentation by the ISSCR Dr. Susan Lim Outstanding Young Investigator Allon Klein. There was also a session dedicated to the latest science around COVID-19, which featured presentations from Anthony Fauci, Jennifer Doudna, Jayaraj Rajagopal, and Benjamin tenOever. The annual meeting program also included enduring topics such as reprogramming and regeneration, which featured R. Alta Charo, who delivered the Anne McLaren Memorial Lecture and Fred Gage, recipient of the ISSCR Achievement Award. Other notable presentations included Margaret Goodell who delivered the ISSCR Tobias Award Lecture and Mitinori Saitou who received the ISSCR Momentum Award. Attendees also heard from patient advocate and scientist Matthew Might in one of the highlights of the meeting where he spoke about his experience as a parent of a child with an extremely rare disease.
The annual meeting is far more than just science. The Business of Discovery Workshop, a new session this year, was designed for scientists, entrepreneurs, investors, and business leaders who are interested in commercializing a discovery. There was an absolutely fantastic Women in Science Panel Discussion that brought together diverse viewpoints and insights for female AND male scientists, as well as broader issues that clearly resonated with attendees in the current climate of social justice and the Black Lives Matters movement. No annual meeting would be complete without career development activities, which included a great program on “Finding Your Fit: Defining Goals and Taking Action to Achieve Long-term Success.” Hosted by the ISSCR Junior Investigator Committee, the in-depth panel discussion explored how individual definitions for success and failure can help scientists identify their goals, adjust to setbacks, determine when it’s time to make a change, and what steps to take now to achieve long-term goals. This session is a “must-watch” for anyone thinking about that next career step, and like all ISSCR Virtual 2020 content is available on demand through the end of July.
The virtual meeting was a collaborative effort among many groups and people. We are grateful to our co-sponsor, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute for supporting the transition to the virtual meeting and the Program Committee, led by chair Kevin Eggan and now past ISSCR President Deepak Srivastava, who had a vision for the meeting that they were able to transition into a successful virtual meeting. A very special thank you goes to the speakers and attendees who stayed up late or woke up early to give or attend a presentation. The meeting would not have been a success without this support. All presentations from ISSCR 2020 Virtual are available on-demand through 31 July for meeting attendees. There is still time to register for the meeting and gain access to all of the content until the 31.
We are optimistic that we will be able to meet in person at the ISSCR Annual Meeting in 2021 in Hamburg, Germany on 23-26 June. Save the dates now and plan on more great science, networking, and career enhancement opportunities and more in 2021.