By ASHG President Charles Rotimi, PhD
As the year comes to a close, it is humbling to reflect on the exceptional genetics and genomics achievements in the field during this time and the many contributions of our Society. We can also celebrate the curiosity, ingenuity, and persistence of our members that has yielded significant advances in research and great strides in the fight to combat common and rare diseases.
The great potential of human genetics becomes more and more evident with each year. This year’s findings noted improved ability to use genetic approaches to diagnose and treat blood cancers, spinal muscular atrophy, hemophilia, and sickle-cell disease, and we continue to work toward a scientific vision of precision medicine in which a fuller understanding of genetics, along with environment and life experience, converge to deliver the right treatment to the right patient at the right time.
ASHG’s vision that we will one day “realize the benefits of human genetics and genomics research for people everywhere” is not just a catchphrase. ASHG puts its full weight and focus behind achieving this vision and the Society has put programs and activities in place that aim to make meaningful progress. This is beneficial to people not only around the world, but also to the scientists who are participating in this process by encouraging diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field.
One of the things that has been meaningful about being ASHG president this year and a member of the Board is that it provides a window into the process of how the Society functions and how decisions are made on behalf of members to achieve many of the programs and activities that members experience throughout the year. I have had a wonderful opportunity to see how the staff works collaboratively and with insight from dedicated volunteers to make our goals a reality and how ASHG tries to be impactful for communities in the U.S. and globally.
I was privileged to preside over the Society this last year as we continued to innovate while navigating a third year of a global pandemic. Creating member value and facilitating connections was paramount and we worked to design opportunities to connect globally through investments in digital programming.
I will be handing off the baton to my fellow Board member, Brendan Lee, who becomes president of ASHG on January 1. As part of our governance, there will be both continuity of returning members and new members who refresh and inform our work and shape what is next as we come out of the pandemic. There are still unknowns. While our ship is strong and sturdy, and it has weathered these years very strongly, we sail into waters that will be changed by these years. Many are for the better – ASHG’s dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion has transformed how we think about many programs and services and diversified the composition of our governance bodies, and our goal to enhance ASHG year-round programming has seen major advances by both strategy and necessity. Other changes will take time to understand as they unfold – given the success of ASHG 2022 will we see the continued vibrancy of in-person events? How will open access policies shape our traditional AJHG publishing model? How will we leverage new digital capacity to enhance our professional education opportunities? How can we ensure our community continues to enhance its capacity to integrate ethical and societal factors into their research agendas? And how will the growing interconnection of academic and industry research continue to shape our community and achievements? All of these and other topics are at the forefront of ASHG’s board discussion.
There are also big opportunities: celebrating our 75th anniversary, helping to shape the scientific agenda for the next 25 years, and honing our public engagement and advocacy agendas. As we look forward to an equitable future, we also must acknowledge and reckon with troubling facets of human genetics history. Our Facing Our History/Building an Equitable Future initiative is one of many ways the Society is embracing a deep commitment to equity and incorporating it as a scientific and community imperative, and the Society anticipates a report release on that history in early 2023. Together, we can move the field forward by calling out and rejecting discredited notions that divide our one humanity and embrace an inclusive vision for profound health benefits of genetic research.
While I am energized by the breadth of our expanded scientific programming in multiple venues and our efforts to be a more inclusive organization, I am equally proud of ASHG’s leadership within the genetics and genomics community. This was clear back in 2019 with the launch of ASHG’s Strategic Plan, which provides a road map for the Society to continually respond to evolving member needs, and to focus efforts where we can best serve the field more broadly. We will be assembling again in 2023 to reflect on member input and ideas, including a member survey, committee discussions, and conversations with a variety of stakeholders to expand upon current programs and past accomplishments. The outcomes of these discussions will yield numerous benefits for members and will be a major step forward for the field and no small undertaking by ASHG and our valued member leaders.
All of this continues to show the progress that we have made. It takes a real partnership between volunteer leaders and staff to get everything done together. We have weathered the pandemic and because of the due diligence of planning effectively, the Society has actually come out ahead. Being able to do a virtual meeting so quickly during these challenging times also needs to be acknowledged as an achievement.
I want to express my gratitude to ASHG’s staff for the dedication they bring to their tireless work for ASHG. I am also extremely grateful to the many dedicated members of the Society’s committees and to the Board for their full attendance at every meeting held over the last two years and for their continued commitment and tireless optimism. And finally, I hope in 2023 we can come together again as we did earlier this year to celebrate our collective achievements over the course of the time of ASHG’s existence at ASHG 2023 in Washington, DC to celebrate not only 75 years, but toast our bright future – and begin building it, together.