Monday, March 11, 2013

ABRF 2013 Recap - A flow cytometrist's take.

On the ABRF about page, it states, "The Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities is an international society dedicated to advancing core and research biotechnology laboratories through research, communication, and education."  But, if you know anything about ABRF, you're likely involved in a molecular biology-based core facility, namely a genomics, proteomics, or related facility.  I guess I always knew about ABRF, their meetings, and what they were about, but somehow it never really interested me much.  I mean, anything with the word "biomolecular" in it gives me not-so-pleasant flashbacks to biochemistry classes.  So you can see why a guy who spends all his time working with whole cells might not take a second look at marketing materials from ABRF.  However, it seems as if the tide has shifted.

What piqued my interest this year was some interesting movement in two of the ABRF research groups that had formed in recent years.  You see, unlike other societies which may only focus on annual meetings, ABRF has interest groups that form with the intent of doing research projects.  A core group of ABRF members with common interests (e.g. flow cytometry) may come together and propose research projects to work on.  ABRF supports these efforts by providing the necessary sponsorship. A newly formed Flow Cytometry Research Group (FCRG), and a recently revived Antibody Technology Research Group (ARG) were working on some projects that seemed really interesting and very pertinent to what I do.  Seeing as I now share my time between our antibody production and flow cytometry cores you can probably guess why I'm excited by these two research groups.  Combining this with the general core facility management stuff that's always happened at ABRF pretty much made up my mind about attending this year...and I'm glad I did!

Sure there were some interesting talks about exome sequencing and insanely parallel westerns, and even the need to foster convergent technologies in order to make inroads into cancer research, but the real highlights came at the FCRG and ARG meetings.  The ARG group had been working on a modified immunization strategy to both increase the initial immune response as well as prolong that response in order to trick the immune system into making antigen specific, antibody secreting B cells.  One might not think of cutting edge technology when talking about novel monoclonal antibody production, but they had some interesting ideas.  For example, using CpG's in combination with a standard adjuvant (e.g. Freunds) when an antigen doesn't seem to be eliciting a good response.  This would be hugely important information for our Antibody facility.  The FCRG also had some interesting data surrounding the ill effects on cell function after cell sorting.  Everyone has their anecdotes about sorting at high pressure vs. low pressure, or on a jet-in-air sorter vs. cuvette sorter, but there's not much data out there in a well-controlled experiment.  Again, hugely important information.  
2013 ABRF President, David Friedman presenting Lee & Len Herzenberg with the ABRF Award

Another interesting draw for me was the fact that Drs. Lee and Len Herzenberg were being honored with the ABRF Award, and anyone hanging around with any involvement with flow cytometry got to get in a group picture with the Herzenbergs.  I have to admit being a little star-struck around them.  I really wanted to ask them for an autograph, but I didn't.  We were treated to some behind-the-scenes photos of the early days of flow cytometry.  And, it was also interesting to note how this development coincided with the development of the first personal computers.  In fact, Lee spoke about some of the first computer programs built by Wayne Moore and Dave Parks.  Probably the best part were the pictures of the 1970s versions of Wayne Moore and Dave Parks... Yeah, they look pretty much the same.
Member of the Flow Cytometry Research Group posing with the Herzenberg's following their tandem ABRF lecture

I have to say, I was quite impressed with the meeting in general.  The company that assists ABRF in putting on this show does a stellar job, and since I'm sort of involved in putting on shows on a much smaller scale, I definitely pick up on those things.  It definitely had the grandeur of a CYTO meeting, but you didn't feel completely lost in the crowd.  The biggest let down for me was the exhibitor area.  Not that it was poorly set up or anything like that, it's just none of my people were there.  One measly flow cytometry exhibitor was there, and only because they're brand new in flow cytometry and also do some stuff in the molecular biology area.  Thanks Bio-Rad. Other than that very minor demerit, it was a great conference, even for a flow guy.  I'll predict that the next time CYTO is in Europe, the US cytometry contingent will flock to the ABRF meeting.  You heard it here first, folks!  Actually, I heard it first from someone else at the meeting and am just shamelessly taking credit for the idea.

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