2016 Speakers

Luis Diaz


Dr. Luis Diaz is a leading authority in oncology, having pioneered several genomic diagnostic and therapeutic approaches for cancer. He is an attending physician at the Johns Hopkins Hospital where he specializes in the treatment of advanced pancreatic and colorectal cancers.  He is a member of the Ludwig Center for Cancer Genetics and Therapeutics where he directs translational medicine and is the Director of the Swim Across America Lab. He is also founder of several entities that focus on genomic analyses of cancers including Inostics, PapGene and Personal Genome Diagnostics (PGDx).  Dr. Diaz has undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Michigan, and completed residency training at the Osler Medical Service at Johns Hopkins and medical oncology training at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins.Dr. Diaz is involved in near-patient translational studies with the goal of bringing diagnostic and therapeutic studies to patients.  His achievements include successfully translating an approach that targets anaerobic regions of solid tumors with spore-forming anaerobic bacteria.  Currently, Clostridium novyi-NT is in clinical trials in humans with treatment refractory solid tumors.  This approach has resulted in several spin-off technologies including an approach to directly image this bacterium in vivo was developed using a radiolabeled nucleoside analog, FIAU using standard PET scans.More recently, his work has involved the clinical development of tumor-derived DNA as a biomarker for cancer screening, early detection, monitoring and measurement of early residual disease.  The basis of this work is based on the well-accepted premise that cancer is defined by a discrete set of genetic alterations.  This approach combines a next-generation genomic sequencing with novel digital techniques to count tumor-derived DNA fragments in complex mixtures of DNA.  The mutations found in cancers are never found in normal cell populations and detection of these mutations therefore confers exquisite specificity to the assay.  Accordingly, he demonstrated that the level of mutations in the circulation, also known as circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA), tracked with fluctuations in tumor burden in patients undergoing resective surgery for colorectal cancer.  Most striking is the ability of ctDNA to accurately predict recurrence after surgery and monitor patients with undetectable CEA levels.  This novel biomarker is based on personalized genomics that in essence provides a ‘viral load’ equivalent for patients with solid tumors. The preliminary studies served as the basis for his most recent invention, the ‘molecular pap smear’, which is a promising approach for the early detection of ovarian and endometrial cancers.Over the past two years, Dr. Diaz has pivoted his research to include novel therapeutic approaches based on cancer genomics.  The first is investigating in human clinical trials, the role of somatic genomic alterations as neoantigens and predictive markers to immune checkpoint inhibitors.  He is also leading an effort in pancreatic cancer to develop rationale multiagent approaches to overcome resistance to and targeted and chemo-therapy.He is a member of the groups that received the 2013 AACR Team Cancer Award for Pancreatic Cancer Sequencing Team and the 2014 AACR Team Cancer Award for Malignant Brain Tumor Team. In addition, his work has been highlighted in several scientific and lay media outlets including the Diane Rehm Show, New York Times, NPR, CNN and the NBC nightly news.

Harold Varmus


Nobel Laureate, Meyer Cancer Center, Former Director of The National Institute of Health and the former Director of The National Cancer Institute.

Harold Varmus, M.D., co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for studies of the genetic basis of cancer, joined the Meyer Cancer Center of Weill Cornell Medical College as the Lewis Thomas University Professor of Medicine on April 1, 2015.  Prior to joining Meyer Cancer Center, Dr. Varmus was the Director of the National Cancer Institute for five years.  He was also the President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for 10 years and Director of the National Institutes of Health for six years.   A graduate of Amherst College and Harvard University in English literature and Columbia University in Medicine, he trained at Columbia University Medical Center, the National Institutes of Health, and the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), before becoming a member of the UCSF basic science faculty for over two decades. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine and is involved in several initiatives to promote science and health in developing countries.  The author of over 350 scientific papers and five books, including a recent memoir titled The Art and Politics of Science, he was a co-chair of President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a co-founder and Chairman of the Board of the Public Library of Science, and chair of the Scientific Board of the Gates Foundation Grand Challenges in Global Health.

Anne Wojcicki

CEO and Co-Founder, 23andMe

Anne co-founded 23andMe in 2006 after a decade spent in healthcare investing, focused primarily on biotechnology companies. Her hope was to empower consumers with access to their own genetic information and to create a way to generate more personalized information so that commercial and academic researchers could better understand and develop new drugs and diagnostics. Presently, 23andMe has built one of the world’s largest databases of individual genetic information. Its novel, web-based research approach allows for the rapid recruitment of participants to many genome-wide association studies at once, reducing the time and money needed to make new discoveries, and the company has created a proven and standardized resource for finding new genetic association and confirming genetic loci discovered by others. Under Anne’s leadership 23andMe has made significant advances in bringing personalized medicine directly to the public. Anne graduated from Yale University with a BS in Biology.

Pardis Sabeti


Harvard University, Harvard School of Public Health, The Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT

Dr. Pardis Sabeti is an Associate Professor at the Center for Systems Biology and Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and the Department of Immunology and Infectious Disease at the Harvard School of Public Health, and an Institute Member of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT.Dr. Sabeti is a computational geneticist with expertise developing algorithms to detect genetic signatures of adaption in humans and the microbial organisms that infect humans. Her lab’s key research areas include: (1) Developing analytical methods to detect and investigate evolution in the genomes of humans and other species (2) Examining host and viral genetic factors driving disease susceptibility to the devastating and deadly diseases in West Africa, Ebola Virus Disease and Lassa hemorrhagic fever.  (3) Investigating the genomes of microbes, including Lassa virus, Ebola virus, Plasmodium falciparum malaria, Vibrio cholera, and Mycobacterioum tuberculosis to help in the development of intervention strategies. (4) Determining the microbial cause of undiagnosed acute febrile illness.Dr. Sabeti completed her undergraduate degree at MIT, her graduate work at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and her medical degree summa cum laude from Harvard Medical School as a Soros Fellow. Dr. Sabeti is a World Economic Forum (WEF) Young Global Leader and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, and was named a TIME magazine ‘Person of the Year’ as one of the Ebola fighters. Her awards included the  Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for Natural Science, the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise, the NIH Innovator Award, the Packard Fellowship, and an Ellis Island Medal of Honor. She has served on the MIT Board of Trustees and the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Women in Science, Medicine, and Engineering.Dr. Sabeti is also the lead singer and co-song writer of the rock band Thousand Days.

Jay Flatley

President and CEO, Illumina

Jay was appointed President and CEO of Illumina in 1999, and has taken the company from $1.3 million in sales in 2000 to over $1.8 billion in 2014, representing a compound annual growth rate in excess of 90%.  He oversaw the company’s expansion into the whole genome sequencing area with the acquisition of Solexa in 2006, and more recently into diagnostics and consumer sequencing.  Under his leadership, Illumina has been named multiple times to the Deloitte & Touche Fast 50 and Fast 500 lists, as well as to the Forbes 25 Fastest-Growing Tech Companies (2007, 2009 and 2010), the Fortune 100 Fastest-Growing Companies (2010 and 2011) lists, and recognition by MIT Technology Review as the World’s Smartest Company in 2014.Previously, Jay served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Molecular Dynamics, later acquired by Amersham Pharmacia Biotech and now a part of GE Healthcare. As a co-founder and member of the board of directors for Molecular Dynamics he led the company to its initial public offering in 1993. While there, he also helped Molecular Dynamics develop and launch over 15 major instrumentation systems, including the first capillary-based DNA sequencer. Prior to joining Molecular Dynamics, Jay was Vice President of Engineering and Strategic Planning for Plexus Computers, Executive Vice President for Manning Technologies and held various positions at Spectra Physics. Currently, he is an Advisory Board member for UC San Diego’s Moore Cancer Center, and a member of the Board of Directors at Coherent, Denali, and Illumina, Inc.Jay received a B.A. in economics from Claremont McKenna College and a B.S. and M.S. (summa cum laude) in industrial engineering from Stanford University.

Debbie Nickerson

University of Washington

Debbie Nickerson, Associate Director of the Northwest Institute of Genetic Medicine (NWIGM), is focused on the application of genomic technologies.  Dr. Nickerson is a Professor of Genome Sciences at the University of Washington(UW), who, for two decades, has pioneered the development of new methods and tools that have been widely adopted for the identification and genotyping of human sequence variation, including single nucleotide variations (SNVs), insertion-deletions (indels) and copy number variations (CNVs). Her recent work focused on developing and applying robust methods for next-generation sequencing technology.

Sean Eddy

Harvard University

Sean Eddy is a computational biologist at Harvard University.  He is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and the Ellmore C. Patterson Professor of Molecular & Cellular Biology and of Applied Mathematics. Before his recent move to Harvard in 2015, he was a group leader at HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus near Washington DC. He is interested in deciphering the evolutionary history of life by comparison of genomic DNA sequences. His expertise is in the development of computational algorithms and software tools for biological sequence analysis. He is the author of the HMMER and Infernal software tools for sequence homology analysis, and is a coauthor of the book Biological Sequence Analysis (Cambridge University Press, 1998). He serves as an advisor to several foundations and agencies in the US and UK, often on matters of large scale computation and data analysis in the biological sciences.

Samuel Aparicio

British Columbia Cancer Research Centre

Dr. Samuel Aparicio (BM, BCh, PhD, FRCPath) is the Nan & Lorraine Robertson Chair in Breast Cancer Research, and the recipient of the 2014 Aubrey J Tingle Prize. He is also Head of the BCCA’s Department of Breast and Molecular Oncology, and a Professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at UBC. Dr. Aparicio’s research program encompasses the fields of cancer genomics, mouse genetic models, high throughput screens, small molecule chemical probes and translational breast cancer research. His most recent work on the molecular taxonomy of breast cancer led to identification of new genes that could change the way breast cancer is diagnosed, and form the basis of next-generation treatments. This discovery was preceded by another breakthrough in decoding the genetic makeup of the most-deadly form of breast cancer, known as triple negative subtype. Dr. Aparicio is also working to develop quantitative measures of clonal fitness in patients, including methods for single cell genome sequencing and PDX models of human cancer. He collaborates widely with other groups, with current projects including the genomic and biochemical analysis of lymphoma, ovarian cancer, and several rare pediatric cancers. He was a co-founder of Paradigm Therapeutics (now, Takeda Cambridge) and currently Contextual Genomics Ltd. His contributions to academic research have been widely published in scientific and clinical journals such as Nature, Science, Cell and the New England Journal of Medicine. He is the recipient of numerous awards from academic as well as industrial institutions.

Susan Rosenberg

Baylor College of Medicine

Dr. Rosenberg is an expert in Molecular mechanisms of genome instability in evolution, antibiotic resistance, and cancer.  She has been honored with numerous awards including the NIH Director’s pioneer Award.  She is the Ben F. Love Chair in Cancer Research and Professor of Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine.  She is also Leader of the Cancer  Evolvability Program at the Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center.  Dr. Rosenberg received her Ph.D. from the University of Oregon and did her Post Doctoral Fellowship at University of Paris VII, University of Utah School of Medicine, and the National Cancer Institute.

Edward M. ”Eddy” Rubin

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Director DOE Joint Genome Institute

Edward M. ”Eddy” Rubin is an internationally-known geneticist and medical researcher at the Lawrence
Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, where he became head of the Genomic Sciences
Division in 1998. In 2002 he assumed the directorship of the DOE Joint Genome Institute (JGI) to lead
the JGI ’s involvement in the Human Genome Project (HGP). Under his leadership, the JGI completed the
sequencing and analysis of human chromosomes 5, 16 and 19 (~13% of the human genome). After
completion of the HGP, Dr Rubin led the reorientation of the JGI as a next-generation genome science
center, applying genomics to studies related to bioenergy and the environment, sequencing and
analyzing the genetic code of thousands of plants, fungi and microbes.Dr. Rubin’s research has involved the development and application of computational and biological
approaches for studying genomes. His early work focused on decoding the human genome. He then
championed its functional exploration, harnessing sequence comparisons between species for the
discovery of genes and non-coding sequences of pivotal evolutionary and biomedical importance. Other
related work included sequencing and analysis of regions of the genomes of extinct cave bears and
Neanderthals. More recently, he has expanded the frontiers of the new science of metagenomics,
deriving important insights from his investigations of microbial communities inhabiting environments
ranging from gutless ocean-dwelling worms to cow rumen.He has organized and chaired major genomics meetings, sits on the scientific advisory boards of several
technology companies and public research organizations, and is a member of the Jackson Laboratory
Board of Trustees.

Eske Willerslev

Centre for GeoGenetics University of Copenhagen

Eske Willerslev (EW) is director of Centre of Excellence in GeoGenetics and the National CryoBank and Sequencing Facility, situated at the National History Museum and the Biological Institute, University of Copenhagen. The centre currently facilitates 60 people. During his PhD, EW established the first ancient DNA facility in Denmark, which, despite its small size, rapidly became internationally recognized for, among other things, establishing the fields of ancient sedimentary and ice core genetics, which have since become world-wide scientific disciplines. After finishing his PhD studentship EW obtained a prestigious Wellcome Trust Fellowship to join the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford, UK – a world-leading institution in many fields of research, including ancient DNA.Recently, at the age of 33, EW was called back to University of Copenhagen to commence the position of Full Professor, first at the Niels Bohr Institute and later at the National History Museum and Biological Institute. In addition, he has been awarded the prestigious position of Visiting Professor by Oxford University.EW is an internationally recognised researcher in the fields of ancient DNA, DNA degradation, and evolutionary biology. He has 38 publications in Science and Nature, and 160 publications in other high profile peer review journals such as The Lancet;Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS); Current BiologyAmerican Journal of Human GeneticsSystematic BiologyMolecular Biology and EvolutionTRENDS in Ecology and EvolutionTRENDS in MicrobiologyPloS BiologyGeneticsGenome ResearchGeology; Nucleic Acid Research; and Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B.His research interests include: palaeoecology, palaeontology, archaeology, domestication, climatology, ancient microbial biology, DNA degradation and repair, exobiology, phylogenetics, molecular evolution, barcoding, and genomics. EW has served as a reviewer for various grant agencies and journals including the NSF (US), NatureScience; and PNAS. EW is an invited member of the International Mars Cryoscout drilling team (NASA), and scientific organizer for the 3rd and 4th Mars Polar Conferences (NASA). He has been a keynote or invited speaker at 73 international conferences and meetings, has successfully applied for and been awarded 50 large research grants and academic prizes in Denmark, UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and the EU, and has supervised more than 50 MSc students, PhD students, and post doctoral associates.EW has strong collaborations with world leading scientists in Europe, US, Canada, and Russia, and participated in 12 international polar expeditions, 5 of which he led. He has communicated his work to the public through documentary films, books, popular articles, museum exhibitions and numerous national and international TV, newspaper, and magazine interviews.

David Haussler


David Haussler’s research lies at the interface of mathematics, computer science, and molecular biology. He develops new statistical and algorithmic methods to explore the molecular function and evolution of the human genome, integrating cross-species comparative and high-throughput genomics data to study gene structure, function, and regulation. He is credited with pioneering the use of hidden Markov models (HMMs), stochastic context-free grammars, and the discriminative kernel method for analyzing DNA, RNA, and protein sequences. He was the first to apply the latter methods to the genome-wide search for gene expression biomarkers in cancer, now a major effort of his laboratory.As a collaborator on the international Human Genome Project, his team posted the first publicly available computational assembly of the human genome sequence on the Internet on July 7, 2000. Following this, his team developed the UCSC Genome Browser, a web-based tool that is used extensively in biomedical research and serves as the platform for several large-scale genomics projects, including NHGRI’s ENCODE project to use omics methods to explore the function of every base in the human genome, NIH’s Mammalian Gene Collection, NHGRI’s 1000 genomes project to explore human genetic variation, and NCI’s Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) project to explore the genomic changes in cancer.His group’s informatics work on cancer genomics, including the UCSC Cancer Genomics Browser, provides a complete analysis pipeline from raw DNA reads through the detection and interpretation of mutations and altered gene expression in tumor samples. His group collaborates with researchers at medical centers nationally, including members of the Stand Up To Cancer “Dream Teams” and the Cancer Genome Atlas, to discover molecular causes of cancer and pioneer a new personalized, genomics-based approach to cancer treatment.The UCSC Cancer Genomics Hub (CGHub), a product of the Haussler lab, is a secure repository for storing, cataloging, and accessing cancer genome sequences, alignments, and mutation information for 25 cancer types from TCGA, the Therapeutically Applicable Research to Generate Effective Treatments (TARGET) project, and other related projects. The current planned capacity of this data center is five petabytes. The CGHub will serve as a platform to aggregate other large-scale cancer genomics information, growing to provide the statistical power to attack the complexity of cancer.He co-founded the Genome 10K Project to assemble a genomic zoo—a collection of DNA sequences representing the genomes of 10,000 vertebrate species—to capture genetic diversity as a resource for the life sciences and for worldwide conservation efforts.Haussler co-founded and co-chairs the Data Working Group of the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health, through which research, health care, and disease advocacy organizations that have taken the first steps to standardize and enable secure sharing of genomic and clinical data.Haussler received his PhD in computer science from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a fellow of AAAS and AAAI. He has won a number of awards, including the 2015 Dan David Prize, the 2011 Weldon Memorial Prize from University of Oxford, the 2009 ASHG Curt Stern Award in Human Genetics, the 2008 Senior Scientist Accomplishment Award from the International Society for Computational Biology, the 2005 Dickson Prize for Science from Carnegie Mellon University, and the 2003 ACM/AAAI Allen Newell Award in Artificial Intelligence.

Nicholas (Nick) Loman

Nick works as an Independent Research Fellow in the Institute for Microbiology and Infection at the University of Birmingham, sponsored by an MRC Fellowship in Biomedical Informatics. His research explores the use of cutting-edge genomics and metagenomics approaches to the diagnosis, treatment and surveillance of infectious disease. Nick has so far used high-throughput sequencing to investigate outbreaks of important pathogens such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa,Acinetobacter baumannii and Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli. His current work focuses on the application of novel sequencing technologies such as the Oxford Nanopore for genome diagnosis and epidemiology of important pathogens, including most recently real-time surveillance of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  A more general aim is to develop bioinformatics tools to aid the interpretation of genome and metagenome-scale data in routine clinical practice in collaboration.

Felicity Jones

Friedrich Miescher Laboratory of the Max Planck Society

What is the molecular basis of adaptive trait variation? How do new species evolve? The threespine stickleback fish is an excellent organism in which to address such questions in vertebrates: diverse naturally occuring populations with rapidly evolving adaptive phenotypes, over 250 sequenced genomes, plus a suite of powerful genetic and transgenic tools. We exploit natural evolutionary replicates to functionally dissect the molecular mechanisms and evolutionary processes underlying adaptive traits and the evolution of new species.Whole genome analysis of parallel divergent stickleback ecotypes has resulted in one of the highest resolution maps of adaptive loci in vertebrates (Jones et al Nature, 2012). The majority of adaptive loci are intergenic (non-coding) and in regions of low recombination, suggesting that mutations in regulatory sequence and the recombination landscape are important in adaptive evolution. These results show that, adaptation to new freshwater environments often involves the use of pre-existing ‘standing’ genetic variation that is present at low frequencies in the marine population. One of the projects available will use bioinformatic analyses of whole genomes sampled from marine and freshwater populations to i) characterize molecular signatures of selection across the genome, ii) model and quantify mechanisms that promote and constrain the availability of adaptive standing genetic variation and iii) build and empirically test population genetic models of selective sweeps from standing genetic variation.

Matthew B. Sullivan

The Ohio State University, Departments of Microbiology & Civil, Environmental, and Geodetic Engineering, and co-founder of the UA Ecosystem Genomics Institute

Sullivan’s research aims to quantitatively explore the roles of microbial viruses in global ocean biogeochemical cycling, thawing permafrosts and humans.  As a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Investigator, he has helped lay the foundation for modern, quantitative viral ecology. Specifically, he has helped develop a quantitative viral metagenomic sample-to-sequence pipeline and community-available informatics platforms to analyze such data, significantly expanded our understanding of the global virosphere through illuminating ‘viral dark matter’, and pioneered numerous experimental and informatic approaches to link and explore virus-host interactions. He is a Kavli Frontiers in Science Fellow, and a Fulbright Fellow, and is a Beckman Foundation undergraduate and post-doctoral mentor.

Charles Chiu


Charles Chiu is an Assistant Professor in Laboratory Medicine and Infectious Diseases at the University of California, San Francisco. He is also the Director of UCSF-Abbott Viral Diagnostics and Discovery Center (VDDC) at China Basin and Associate Director of the UCSF Clinical Microbiology Laboratory. Dr. Chiu is an expert in the emerging field of viral metagenomics and his research is focused on the development of microarray and deep sequencing technologies for viral pathogen discovery and clinical diagnostics.