Rita R. Colwell is a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland and at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Colwell’s research interests are focused on global infectious diseases, water and health. She is currently developing an international network to address emerging infectious diseases and water issues, including safe drinking water for both the developed and developing world. Colwell served as the 11th director of the National Science Foundation from 1998 to 2004. Read her full bio.

Interview with Rita R. Colwell from University of Maryland College Park and John Hopkins School of Public Health

Q: What research are you or your lab focusing on and why, and what problem(s) are you trying to solve?

A: The research that I am focusing on is understanding the microbiome of the human system and the environment, which means understanding the gut flora and its relationship to health and disease. However the work also includes understanding the microbiome of water and soil and the environment in general, as a system. We have done extensive work, in collaboration with Orange County, California Water District, analyzing reuse of water for human consumption and it has proved exciting and important in terms of public health. The problems we are trying to solve is just how the components of the microbial communities that comprise the natural flora of the intestine, skin, and lungs and the differences in their flora associated with cancer and infectious diseases, to understand the microbial communities comprising wellness and dysfunction.

Q: What makes your research unique? Can you share with us some recent findings?

A: The work we are doing is truly unique in that we have been able to develop the capacity, employing informatics, to determine species and strain identification of all bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites comprising the total microbial microbiome and its ecosystem. This is done rapidly and accurately, with output that actionable. Some of our recent findings have discerned differences between the normal gut flora and that of individuals suffering from celiac disease, work done in collaboration with Dr. Alessio Fasano at Harvard University and his team. We have also been able to determine the microbiome of drinking water in collaboration with Menu Leddy and her group at Orange County Water District in California. California has established an effective system of water re-use and we have been able to confirm its safety, using our NGS/bioinformatics system.

Q: What excites you about your work?

A: The work we are doing is at the cutting edge of microbial sciences. Having spent my entire career doing research on microbial systematics and evolution, with initial studies on marine bacteria, my current research is focused on bacterial agent of cholera, Vibrio cholerae. It is truly exciting to be able to determine relationships of microorganisms and their capacity to function in a versatile way as Vibrio cholerae does. For example, it is able to laterally transfer and share approximately 80% of its genes, which makes the organism a very important native inhabitant of the aquatic environment, but also a highly potentially lethal disease agent.

Q: When thinking about your research and the field you are working in, what are some recent breakthroughs that are propelling the field forward and how will they impact healthcare?

A: The most exciting developments, in my opinion, are those coming out of the combination of technology and creativity. The ability to sequence DNA extracted from samples of all varieties and types and detect, identify, and characterize all the species and strains of all the microorganisms – bacteria, viruses, fungus and parasites in a given sample or specimen is truly remarkable and exciting. Parallel discoveries being made concern the ability to excise and transfer genes, and, most importantly, their functional and metabolic interactions. All of which is to say that understanding the most exquisite details of microbial life is the most exciting part of bioscience discoveries in the 21st century.

Q: What are the short-term challenges that your scientific field is facing?

A: One of the difficult short term challenges is the slowness with which next generation sequencing coupled with informatics is being approved for treating human disease. It would be an important step to have FDA approval of the bioinformatic/metagenomic approach to diagnosis of disease and for diagnostics in general. This is a short term challenge because the field of microbiology is moving so fast that standardization of procedures and processes are in progress. When approval is granted, tremendous advances will be made in rapidly diagnosing and accurately treating infectious diseases quickly and effectively.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with the PMWC audience?

A: This is a time of tremendous discovery, advances in technology applications in the life sciences and specifically these are being made in microbiology. One of my ambitions has long been to help achieve a modernization of microbiology and I think we are now succeeding. Identification, which was such a tedious process, is almost instantaneous. Of course the next big step is to link function to what we are able to do in detection, identification, and characterization of microorganisms. Metabolites and metabolomics pose challenges that are being studied intensely. I believe they will provide another great leap forward for those of us working in the fields of microbial systematics and evolution.

Interview with Ken Bloom of Ambry Genetics

Q: Tell us more about your organization/company. What patient population are you serving and which services are you specializing in?

A: Ambry Genetics is a recognized leader in high quality complex genetic testing. We seek to find the genomic cause or contributors to rare diseases, abnormal phenotypes and hereditary disorders.

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Interview with Lee Pierce of Sirius Computer Solutions

Q: What is the state of big data and analytics in healthcare, and how to best use the reams of data available?

A: More than ever, Healthcare organizations are achieving measurable value through use of their data and analytics assets. There is more raw material available than ever to create value. This raw material is the data flowing from internal systems and applications and also from devices and systems external to healthcare organizations.

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Interview with Anita Nelsen of PAREXEL

Q: There are various new, emerging technologies that bring us closer towards a cure for life-threatening disorders such as cancer, HIV, or Huntington’s disease. Prominent examples include the popular gene editing tool CRISPR or new and improved cell and gene therapies. By when can we expect these new technologies being part of routine clinical care?

A: Today’s emerging technologies are making the promise of individualized treatment a reality.

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Interview with Ilan Kirsch of Adaptive Biotechnologies

Q: The Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded recently to James Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their work on unleashing the body’s immune system to attack cancer, a breakthrough that has led to an entirely new class of drugs and brought lasting remissions to many patients who had run out of options. The Nobel committee hailed their accomplishments as establishing “an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.” What is your first-hand experience the impact that those new drugs had on patients?

A: For decades cancer was viewed as solely a cell-autonomous condition.

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BMS buys Celgene | Lilly buys Loxo Oncology – Does this Signal a Return to Strong Deal-Making Activities in 2019?

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s blockbuster $74B deal to buy Celgene creates an oncology powerhouse amid industrywide excitement about the rapidly evolving science and explosive growth of the sector. The agreement could signal a return to deal-making for the pharmaceutical industry in the $133B global oncology therapeutics market.

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Interview with Gini Deshpande of NuMedii

Q: What need is NuMedii addressing?

A: NuMedii, has been pioneering the use of Big Data, artificial intelligence (AI) and systems biology since 2010 to accelerate the discovery of precision therapies to address high unmet medical needs. Artificial Intelligence approaches are a natural fit to harness Big Data as they provide a framework to ‘train’ computers to recognize patterns and sift through vast amounts of new and existing genomic

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Interview with Minnie Sarwal of UCSF

Q: Genomic medicine is entering more hospitals and bringing with it non-invasive technology that can be used to better target and treat diseases. What are some key milestones that contributed to this trend?

A: Completion of complete sequence data from the human genome project, and the advances in proteomic, microRNA and epigenetic assays added a layer of pathway biology to the understanding of human diseases.

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Interview with Shidong Jia of Predicine

Q: Once sequencing has been validated as a clinical solution via trusted workflows, and coinciding with the technological developments driving costs lower, we can expect accelerated human genome profiling for clinical Dx. How soon, do you think, will we see accelerated growth and what can we expect?

A: We will see accelerated human genome profiling for clinical Dx in 2019 and the coming years as more biomarker-based cancer drugs are gaining approval.

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Interview with Iya Khalil of GNS Healthcare

Q: Artificial intelligence (AI) techniques have sent vast waves across healthcare, even fueling an active discussion of whether AI doctors will eventually replace human physicians in the future. Do you believe that human physicians will be replaced by machines in the foreseeable future? What are your thoughts?

A: I think that there’s a lot of speculation and uncertainty around AI, but I don’t foresee a time when we won’t need physicians.

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Interview with Ilya Michael Rachman of Immix Biopharma Inc.

Q: The Nobel Price in Medicine was awarded recently to James Allison and Tasuku for their work on unleashing the body’s immune system to attack cancer, a breakthrough that has led to an entirely new class of drugs and brought lasting remissions to many patients who had run out of options. The Nobel committee hailed their accomplishments as establishing “an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.” Besides CAR T-cell therapy what do you think next generation immunotherapies will look like to successfully combat cancer?

A: The next generation of immunotherapies will build on the insights discovered by immunologists like James Allison and Tasuku Honjo and extend them to modify the body’s response to tumors.

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Join me to Kick off PMWC Silicon Valley in the Santa Clara Convention Center, Focusing on Every Element of Precision Medicine

My team worked in collaboration with Bill Dalton, Kim Blackwell, Atul Butte / India Hook Barnard, Nancy Davidson and Sharon Terry to create a program that touches every component of precision medicine while bringing together all of its key stakeholders. Leading participating institutions including Stanford Health Care, UCSF, Duke Health, Duke University, John Hopkins University, University of Michigan and more will share their learnings and experiences and their successes and challenges, as they make precision medicine the new standard of care for all.

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Interview with Dominic Eisinger of Myriad RBM

Q: The Nobel Price in Medicine was awarded recently to James Allison and Tasuku for their work on unleashing the body’s immune system to attack cancer, a breakthrough that has led to an entirely new class of drugs and brought lasting remissions to many patients who had run out of options. The Nobel committee hailed their accomplishments as establishing “an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.” Besides CAR T-cell therapy what do you think next generation immunotherapies will look like to successfully combat cancer?

A: Next generation immunotherapies include CAR-Ts, TCRs, cancer vaccines, ADCs, bi-specific antibodies, and checkpoint inhibitors.

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2018 Year in Review Milestones: Stakeholder Partnerships Carving Precision Medicine’s Future

2018 has clearly been a year when significant opportunities intersected with strong partnerships to yield advancements. In particular, the clinical advancements that were realized are a testimony to stakeholders working together to deliver on promises affecting major aspects of precision medicine. 2018 has clearly been a year when significant opportunities intersected with strong partnerships to yield advancements.

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Interview with Lisa Alderson of Genome Medical

Q: Tell us a little bit about Genome Medical. What market need is Genome Medical addressing and how?

A: Genome Medical is a telegenomics company that is bridging the gap between available, genetic expertise and the clinical application of genomics.

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Interview with Nasir Bhanpuri of Virta Health

Q: What need is Virta Health addressing?

A: Virta Health delivers an evidence-based treatment to safely and sustainably reverse type 2 diabetes without the use of medications or surgery. In the U.S. alone, type 2 diabetes and prediabetes affects 115 million people, and the economic burden is well-over $300 billion and growing.

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Johns Hopkins
University Of Michigan

The Precision Medicine World Conference (PMWC), in its 17th installment, will take place in the Santa Clara Convention Center (Silicon Valley) on January 21-24, 2020. The program will traverse innovative technologies, thriving initiatives, and clinical case studies that enable the translation of precision medicine into direct improvements in health care. Conference attendees will have an opportunity to learn first-hand about the latest developments and advancements in precision medicine and cutting-edge new strategies and solutions that are changing how patients are treated.

See 2019 Agenda highlights:

  • Five tracks will showcase sessions on the latest advancements in precision medicine which include, but are not limited to:
    • AI & Data Science Showcase
    • Clinical & Research Tools Showcase
    • Clinical Dx Showcase
    • Creating Clinical Value with Liquid Biopsy ctDNA, etc.
    • Digital Health/Health and Wellness
    • Digital Phenotyping
    • Diversity in Precision Medicine
    • Drug Development (PPPs)
    • Early Days of Life Sequencing
    • Emerging Technologies in PM
    • Emerging Therapeutic Showcase
    • FDA Efforts to Accelerate PM
    • Gene Editing
    • Genomic Profiling Showcase
    • Immunotherapy Sessions & Showcase
    • Implementation into Health Care Delivery
    • Large Scale Bio-data Resources to Support Drug Development (PPPs)
    • Microbial Profiling Showcase
    • Microbiome
    • Neoantigens
    • Next-Gen. Workforce of PM
    • Non-Clinical Services Showcase
    • Pharmacogenomics
    • Point-of Care Dx Platform
    • Precision Public Health
    • Rare Disease Diagnosis
    • Resilience
    • Robust Clinical Decision Support Tools
    • Wellness and Aging Showcase

See 2019 Agenda highlights:

    • Five tracks will showcase sessions on the latest advancements in precision medicine which include, but are not limited to:
      • AI & Data Science Showcase
      • Clinical & Research Tools Showcase
      • Clinical Dx Showcase
      • Creating Clinical Value with Liquid Biopsy ctDNA, etc.
      • Digital Health/Health and Wellness
      • Digital Phenotyping
      • Diversity in Precision Medicine
      • Drug Development (PPPs)
      • Early Days of Life Sequencing
      • Emerging Technologies in PM
      • Emerging Therapeutic Showcase
      • FDA Efforts to Accelerate PM
      • Gene Editing / CRISPR
      • Genomic Profiling Showcase
      • Immunotherapy Sessions & Showcase
      • Implementation into Health Care Delivery
      • Large Scale Bio-data Resources to Support Drug Development (PPPs)
      • Microbial Profiling Showcase
      • Microbiome
      • Neoantigens
      • Next-Gen. Workforce of PM
      • Non-Clinical Services Showcase
      • Pharmacogenomics
      • Point-of Care Dx Platform
      • Precision Public Health
      • Rare Disease Diagnosis
      • Resilience
      • Robust Clinical Decision Support Tools
      • Wellness and Aging Showcase
  • Luminary and Pioneer Awards, honoring individuals who contributed, and continue to contribute, to the field of Precision Medicine
  • 2000+ multidisciplinary attendees, from across the entire spectrum of healthcare, representing different types of companies, technologies, and medical centers with leadership roles in precision medicine
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