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Thanks for a Great Year!

By Sabeth Verpoorte, Ph.D.

It seems like just yesterday that I assumed the SLAS presidency at SLAS2018, last February in San Diego, and now the year is almost up! It’s time for me to say farewell and hand over the reins to my successor, Alan E. Fletcher, Ph.D., of PerkinElmer Discovery and Analytical Solutions (Hopkinton, MA, USA). I’ve really enjoyed my three years on the SLAS Board of Directors and am honored to have been given the opportunity to serve as the Society’s 2018 president.

Before I turn to my thank yous, though, I’d like to take a look with you at our SLAS 2018 year in review. It’s been another great year for our Society, with a number of new developments worth noting. We’ve worked hard to perfect the programs, products, services and events we offer to our membership – a stellar group of innovators and contributors to the world of life sciences discovery and technology. There have also been a few ‘firsts’ in 2018 that I’d like to highlight.

2018 SLAS Europe Conference and Exhibition: SLAS welcomed over 1,000 participants from 46 countries to its first SLAS Europe Conference and Exhibition at the Square Brussels Meeting Centre, June 27-29. Those attending the event felt it lived up to the SLAS standards of quality, with many options for networking, fascinating and entertaining keynotes and an excellent scientific program under the guidance of Conference Co-Chairs Emilio Diez-Monedero, Ph.D., of Atlas Molecular Pharma (Madrid, Spain), Annika Jenmalm Jensen, Ph.D., of Karolinska Institutet (Stockholm, Sweden) and Ian Shuttler, Ph.D., of Tecan Trading AG (Zurich, Switzerland). I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate them for a job well done! It can be challenging to set up a new event, but this inaugural SLAS conference went off without a hitch. I attended the conference with a couple of my graduate students and a postdoc, and our reactions to the meeting were unanimously positive. We also enjoyed the great atmosphere of Brussels in the summer!

SLAS Visiting Graduate Researcher Grant: The SLAS Grant Program that launched in 2015 is close to my heart with its support of graduate students and young faculty. It began with the two-year Graduate Education Fellowship Grant and this year, we awarded our first SLAS Visiting Graduate Researcher grant to Kelci Schilly, B.Sc., University of Kansas (Lawrence, KS, USA). Kelci’s three-month stay in my lab at the University of Groningen ended just a couple of weeks ago. She took the opportunity to learn more about 3D printing and how it could be applied to the design of easy-to-use components for the analysis of blood samples. She’ll take this new knowledge back to share with her colleagues in Susan Lunte’s lab at the University of Kansas. Sue and I will leverage this visit hopefully not only for a joint publication, but also as a basis for continued collaboration in the future. As for Kelci, she also took the opportunity to travel a bit in Europe and absorb some culture. We were very happy to have her work with us, as she contributed both scientifically and socially to our department. We wish her well as she works toward her Ph.D. thesis! Note: If you are reading this column before December 17, 2018, there is still time to apply for the 2019 grant!

2018 SLAS Americas Sample Management Symposium: More than 160 attendees from 11 countries made it known that getting together to talk about sample management opportunities and challenges with SLAS colleagues is an important way to spend a few days. The program was information packed and thought-provoking, the exhibitor innovations were enlightening and plentiful and the discussion time alone was worth the cost of admission. “Although we work in slightly different areas of sample management – academic, biotech, pharma and vendors – we can share key learning synergies and best practices,” says Symposium Chair Sue Holland Crimmin, Ph.D., of GlaxoSmithKline (Philadelphia, PA, USA). “It’s merely a matter of bringing the community together.”

New SLAS governance structure introduced: Led by long-time SLAS volunteer Rich Ellson of Labcyte Inc. (San Jose, CA, USA) and under the guidance of SLAS CEO Vicki Loise, the Governance Task Force presented this new model to the membership in early 2018. Having worked on the Task Force myself alongside Rich, Vicki, Frank Fan, Ph.D., of Promega (Madison, WI, USA), Richard Eglen, Ph.D., of Corning Life Sciences (Corning, NY, USA) and Emilio Diez, I can assure you that our new governance model was well conceived and worked out, with an eye to accommodating SLAS globalization efforts in the near and longer term. The new model has now been phased in completely, enabling greater interaction and synergy between the SLAS Board of Directors and SLAS volunteer committees, and between committees themselves. I extend my thanks to all the members of the Governance Task Force for their dedication in completing this difficult task. I encourage you to become involved with our Society and help make a difference within our industry. There are numerous opportunities to contribute – read more about them.

This brings me to the last part of my last message – my thank yous to a number of people with whom I have interacted often this past year. It has been a particular pleasure to work together with my fellow Board members. They are an inspiring group of individuals, and each brings unique insight and experience to our SLAS organization and gives so generously of their time to serve our community. Together, we have had some lively and very constructive Board meetings! I also was very grateful on several occasions to be able to consult with my colleagues on various questions that arose and have their prompt responses appear in my inbox. I have been able to gain a good glimpse of the corporate world and how it operates, thanks to a few of my Board colleagues. It has been very enlightening! I would like to thank Ian Shuttler, and Peter Grandsard, Ph.D., of Amgen (Thousand Oaks, CA, USA) especially, as their tenure on the SLAS Board of Directors ends along with mine. I wish all the best to my successor, Alan E. Fletcher, and incoming members of the 2019 SLAS Board of Directors: Michelle Arkin, Ph.D., University of California San Francisco, (San Francisco, CA, USA), Sammy Datwani, Ph.D., Labcyte Inc., (San Jose, CA, USA) and Hansjoerg Haas, Ph.D., Thermo Fisher Scientific – Laboratory Automation (Burlington, Ontario, Canada).

I extend my gratitude to Vicki Loise, with whom I regularly spoke via the Internet at odd times of either my day or hers. I enjoyed our conversations, which often were about how to navigate SLAS through the rapidly changing world of volunteer membership associations. Vicki has worked hard this past year to position SLAS as a global association promoting enabling technologies in the life sciences. She is leveraging the impressive collective experience on the Board to continue this process to maintain SLAS’s leading role in our community. Vicki also leads an incredible SLAS professional team that supports all of our activities, whether we realize it or not. Thank you, Brenda, Suanne, Mary G., Nan, Mike, Caroline, Jill, Kathy and Amy, as well as a few key long-term contractors who you may have seen at our international conference -- Lynn, Mary M. and Barry! You may meet them here. I can assure you that our Society is in very good hands!

My very last thank you is extended to you, the reader of this message, and member of our SLAS community. In the end, you are why we do all of this! After months of seeing our Society in action from this leadership position, I am overwhelmed by all the work that is done by so many contributors – each and every one committed to impacting life sciences discovery and technology in truly positive ways. Thank you for your dedication! I wish you all a wonderful, peaceful holiday, wherever you may be!

December 3, 2018