Gene Summit in the Year of the Helix
In mid-September more than 450 top scientists from genetics and biotechnology as well as representatives of biotech companies attended the two-day international Gene Forum 2003 held in the Vanemuine Conference Hall in Tartu. All participants assured that the constant improvement of the knowledge about the genetic background of humans enables to fight diseases more effectively.
“We have to understand genetics to fight human diseases.” This appeal was the quintessence of the 4th International Congress “Gene Forum 2003” which was held from September 12-13 in the Estonian city of Tartu. “At least one fifth of the participants were from abroad”, said Prof. Andres Metspalu, head of the Scientific Programme Committee of the Forum.
This year's event was subtitled “50 Years of Double Helix” in commemoration of the elucidation of DNA's molecular structure by Francis Crick and James Watson 50 years ago. Additionally, Watson's “The Double Helix” translation into Estonian was published and presented at the forum. Sort of late, one may sarcastically add, since the original version was published back in 1968, but given that Estonia is driving it's well known Genome Project forward with high-speed (see also page 20) the baltic scientists assured, they have understood the genetic topics very well.
Organized by the Estonian Genome Foundation some 25 speakers discussed the new possibilities of genetics and biotechnology that have been developed during the past 50 years. As keynote speaker Prof. Rolf Zinkernagel, Institute of Experimental Immunology, University of Zurich, and 1996 Nobel Laureate in Medicine for discoveries concerning the specificity of the cell-mediated immune defence, introduced the mechanisms of immunological memory and the possibilities of working out new vaccines.
A special session on biobanks included the lectures of the representatives of the Estonian Genome Project Foundation, Iceland's Gene Bank as well as the UK Biobank Project. Dr John Newton, Chief Executive Officer of the UK Biobank Project, recognized the success of the Estonian project and emphasized that today there is a common understanding in the world about the need to establish biobanks.
In a session dedicated to pharmacogenetics Prof. Hannu Raunio, University of Kuopio, Finland, and Prof. Magnus Ingelman-Sundberg, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm - amongst others - gave an overview on the expectations of pharmaceutical industry related to the development of genetics. According to estimates, only some 30% of patients respond adequately to drug treatment and about 10% may experience adverse side effects. Representing the German biotechnology company febit AG, Markus Beier, Director of Application Development, introduced the microarray plattform “geniom one”. Febit claims that the system helps to manage the large amounts of data hand-in-hand with the sequence analysis in genome projects.
As the winner of the second Biotechnology Award, established last year by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Estonian Genome Foundation, Quattromed Ltd., was awarded with Euro3.500. The spin-off company of the University of Tartu submitted a project that dealt with recombinant viruses and cell lines.