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New SLAS Board of Directors Members: Energized and Equipped to Make a Difference

Joshua Bittker, Ph.D.; Richard Ellson, M.S.; and Dean Ho, Ph.D., were elected by SLAS members to serve three-year terms on the SLAS Board of Directors beginning January 2013. Each brings unique talents and a similar commitment to serve the Society. They join six other members of the 2013 Board of Directors. SLAS invites you to learn a bit more as you read the new directors' answers to the questions below.


Bittker is director, lead discovery at The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, MA (USA).

Ellson is chief technology officer, co-founder and director at Labcyte, Sunnyvale, CA (USA).

Ho is professor at the School of Dentistry, University of California, Los Angeles, CA (USA).


Q. Why did you become a member of SLAS?

Bittker: I joined SBS in 2008 when I started my current position at The Broad Institute. My background prior to that was actually in more alternative forms of HTS, so SBS and later SLAS were great resources for learning more about industry standards for screening and automation and an excellent way to make connections to the scientific community.

Ellson: Prior to my membership, I had been involved with production of laboratory consumables, manufacturing automation and stand-alone devices. When I became more involved with the integration of these in the life science laboratory setting, both ALA and SBS were organizations I joined to learn more and engage with like-minded professionals. Membership in SLAS was the next step when it was created.

Ho: SLAS is unique in that it unites members from academic, government and industry using a forum that serves as a model for translational research. SLAS members are leaders in the basic/developmental research community as well as those who have successfully led the transition from the benchtop into the clinic. Therefore, SLAS is truly a catalyst in that it forges the discussions that lead to collaborative interactions that span from the basic to clinical which really makes it a special organization.


Q. Why have you chosen to increase your involvement over the years, and what have you found most beneficial from your membership?

Bittker: I have become more involved in SLAS as I have taken on a wider range of responsibilities in my job, and I have found the resources of the Society very useful for learning about new technology. Through SLAS my team and I have made connections with other colleagues in related areas and have contacted vendors about our evolving needs and ideas for new products. The most useful thing about SLAS is that it is a year-round resource, not simply an organization that runs a couple conferences a year. Through tutorials, webinars, specialized seminars and other online resources, I've found that SLAS is a good organization to turn to when seeking expert opinion in the areas of automation, screening or drug discovery.

Ellson: My involvement started with attending LabAutomation and SBS shows. Successful laboratory automation and screening requires the assay, consumables, instruments and robotics/automation linking them together to provide a workflow for the user that fits their economics and throughput. SLAS has been the best place to view both components and systems, hear about new methods and workflows and, most importantly, interact with the members of this community. While many of our members and participants in activities of the Society are "competitive" in some sense (commercially or otherwise), I continue to be amazed at the openness of our members, presenters, authors, attendees and the genuine desire to convey their work and advance this field. Access to this community and interacting with members has been the biggest benefit to me.

Ho: I have made lifelong friends as well as developed energetic collaborations with my laboratory through my involvement with SLAS. Whether it's working with my JALA Editorial Board and Scientific Advisors, or interacting with conference participants at SLAS, I have found my involvement with SLAS to be among the most gratifying personal and professional experiences in which I've had the opportunity to participate.


Q. How has your work, and life, background prepared you to step into this new role as a board member?

Bittker: Throughout my career a significant number of the projects I've been involved in have been collaborative in nature. Whether working at a small biotech company establishing a collaboration with big pharma, or leading projects at an academic screening center, I've seen the importance of good communication in enabling good science. I've also been responsible for many different aspects of screening, automation, drug discovery and informatics. As I am familiar with these different areas and having knowledge of how they interact, I feel that I will be able to reach out to many members of SLAS who come from a variety of backgrounds and interests.

Ellson: Having learned so much as an SLAS member and from many roles in the Society, I am both motivated and have a broad perspective. This will serve me well as a board member. Being a member of the Board of Directors of other organizations is also helpful in understanding the mechanics of the board and its operation. Three board experiences are worthy of mention. First is my present role as chair of a non-profit business group, which represents over 10,000 employees through their member employers for promoting sustainability and economic growth. Being the chair entails developing a close working relationship with the executive director and marshaling meetings and the other board members. Second was the Editorial Board for an SLAS journal, which provided an opportunity to interact with the Society professional team and build working relationships. Third, my "for profit" board experience has been as a board member for Picoliter Inc., and now Labcyte since 2000, as well as some of the foreign subsidiaries of the company.

Ho: My research pertains to the development of novel therapeutics using nanodiamond agents to improve drug efficacy and safety. Our work is highly multidisciplinary, which has served as a foundation for my interactions with researchers from backgrounds that have included bioengineering, cancer biology, chemistry, materials science, dentistry, medicine and many other domains. In addition to investigating the development of these compounds, we are actively engaged in the process of translating these technologies toward large animal model and eventual clinical studies. Therefore, developing a better understanding of how academic research can be bridged with commercialization/industry is a critical part of my research program, and this has served as inspiration for my enthusiasm for serving on the SLAS board and participating in Society programs.


Q. As a newly elected board member, how do you see yourself contributing to the SLAS mission?

Bittker: One issue I mentioned in my candidate statement is the potential for SLAS to develop and implement a standard for sharing assay protocols and data. I am excited to draw on the expertise of members in our Society to work toward this goal, which will require knowledge in informatics, electronic record keeping, biology, assay techniques and many other areas. This endeavor will advance the Society's mission, both by facilitating information exchange between collaborators and by making it easier for more scientists to understand the key aspects of assay biology, instrumentation and automation.

Ellson: I would like to contribute to sustainability of the organization and work to best balance our outreach and education missions with our resources. We have a vibrant community, strengthened by our merger, and my goal is to extend our reach and to continue to generate enthusiasm in our membership for our mission.

Ho: Some of my key goals include helping to develop new Society programs to promote SLAS exposure to the global community of innovators because researchers from all over the world are making vital contributions to the translational research community, and SLAS is leading the way in terms of actively engaging these researchers through its spectrum of resources. My experience working with collaborators in China and Europe within the same communities that SLAS would like to engage will hopefully serve as a resource to the Society.


Q. What is most exciting to you about taking on this new responsibility?

Bittker: The most exciting part of being on the Board of Directors is the chance to work with members of the Society to make the organization what they want it to be. The potential for SLAS to be a community, a knowledge resource and a networking tool are all dependent on members taking advantage of these opportunities, and I hope to work with members to hear how the board can make it easier to integrate SLAS membership with their professional responsibilities.

Ellson: For me, it is expanding our reach and services to new communities; these may be defined by geography, field of use or even career phase. For instance, I meet and talk to many high school students who are extremely interested in robotics. They are passionate and involved; some of their parents might even say "obsessed" with school robotics team activities. We have an affinity with these students and potential future members. I have been impressed with FIRST ever since one of their leaders first spoke at ALA in 2008, and each year SLAS supports FIRST teams at the exhibition. So, FIRST knows us. So do the students that regularly participate at SLAS. But, those high school students I mentioned earlier? None of them had ever heard of us! We can do more with our pre-professionals, and we should. Sports teams are out recruiting their stars in high schools, and our profession remains a secret to many of our potential future recruits. We need to change this.

Ho: I am thrilled to be joining such an enthusiastic team of collegial board members. SLAS facilitates one of the most successful conferences that truly integrates academia, industry and government. SLAS also partners with several meetings in Asia and Europe, and the Society is also one of the biggest supporters of early career researchers. With all that SLAS does, the Society operates like a tight-knit family that has always welcomed new volunteers, and I've made lifelong friends through the organization. SLAS was also a major source of support and encouragement for me when I started my own career. Therefore, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to serve the Society.


Q. Where do you see SLAS making the greatest impact in the next two years? The next five years?

Bittker: Over the next two years I foresee an important role for SLAS in fostering collaborations between various organizations, whether it is partnerships between large companies, collaborations between large and small industrial partners, agreements between CROs and their customers or industrial-nonprofit alliances. As I mentioned above, one way to promote these interactions is to facilitate better communication between scientists. Longer term, as SLAS continues with its plans to expand globally, I hope that the Society will be recognized as the organization with the best ability to foster these types of interactions on a global scale.

Ellson: I think our core programs and services are strong, and the finances of the organization should be able to continue to support them. We need to continue to do what we do and to adopt what new methods make sense to bring information and experiences to our members to further our mission. Our greatest impact is the success of our members in the work they do, leveraging the knowledge of our community. Growing the community and improving the transfer of knowledge to make this happen will have the biggest impact.

Ho: In the next two years, SLAS will serve as a major hub for featuring research breakthroughs across the spectrum of automation and screening because of its strengths in both the basic research as well as industrial research and development communities. Within the next five years, SLAS will be standard for how translational research can lead to game-changing clinical technologies. SLAS has already served as a model for successful translation. It has featured many of the top academic research talents in the world. SLAS also has featured many of the startup companies born from academia all the way through to the clinical/real-world impact that these technologies are making.


Q. What would you tell someone who is considering becoming a member of SLAS?

Bittker: I would make sure that person is aware that membership in SLAS has many different benefits and encourage the prospective member to take advantage of everything SLAS has to offer. Having more engaged members not only benefits each person individually, but makes the overall organization more interactive and makes the resources available to all members that much more significant.

Ellson: It is the premier place to go if you want to learn about laboratory automation. The Society engages people at many levels, as our programs are suited to novices as well as experts. Our conferences and journals will give you the information, contacts and perspective to be successful.

Ho: SLAS is one of the most dynamic professional societies in existence, and provides a unique forum for featuring all facets for research and development, ranging from basic/benchtop research, to the culmination of the development component into clinically applicable technologies. With all of the professional aspects of SLAS that make it such an influential organization, it is also comprised of some of the friendliest and supportive members whom I have ever met.


Q. Talk about an area of the SLAS Strategic Plan that is most interesting to you?

Bittker: As you can probably tell from some of my other answers, I think the goal of "Cultivating Partnerships for Enhanced Member Opportunities" is one of the most exciting ways for SLAS to provide value to its members. Whether on the personal level through career development and mentoring or on the organizational level by providing community standards and promoting alliances between member organizations, the interactions of the network of members that comprise SLAS are an essential aspect of being a professional society.

Ellson: We have a diverse set of skills and types of professionals within SLAS, yet we share common purpose that keeps our members and volunteers working together and willing to share their time and expertise. What is most interesting to me is growing the diversity of the organization further while simultaneously maintaining the cohesive mission and community.

Ho: The globalization component of the SLAS Strategic Plan is the most compelling to me, because as the translational research community continues to evolve, drawing from the expertise and strengths from all facets of the international research community will be increasingly important.


Q. When not involved in work/SLAS activities, how do you like to spend your time?

Bittker: I spend a lot of time with my family, traveling or participating in the kids' activities. My wife and I just had our fourth child this fall, and I had the opportunity to spend a month at home with the baby. I also play a number of sports recreationally, including tennis and softball in the summer, volleyball in the winter and ice hockey year round. Fortunately most ice time for hockey is after the kids are in bed, so I can still keep up my one to two games of pickup hockey each week.

Ellson: I enjoy time with family and squeeze in fitness activities whenever possible – the most recent addition being swimming and the most consistent being cycling. I have been a bike commuter since moving to California in 1995. Commuting to work has become recreation, and whenever possible, I go the "long way" out along the San Francisco Bay Trail. Over the years, observing the migratory bird patterns and being loaned The Big Year by a fellow Society member (thanks, Steve Fillers!) started me down the track to being a birder along with one of my daughters.

Ho: Because I travel so often giving lectures or developing new research collaborations, I can often be found in the gym so that I can keep up with the rigors of flying all over the world. My wife and I also just welcomed our first son, which will undoubtedly reduce my travel, and I look forward to all the excitement that parenting brings!


Q. Is there anything else you would like the SLAS ELN readership to know about you?

Bittker: I'm grateful for the opportunity to serve on the board, and I'm looking forward to continuing to work with SLAS members I already know while also meeting members I haven't had the chance to interact with yet. If you don't already know me, please introduce yourself either at SLAS2013 or electronically.

Ellson: One of the most enjoyable parts of my role as CTO at Labcyte is talking to people about how new technologies or methods can improve their work either having subtle or dramatic changes to workflow. I hope to do the same in my role as a Board member for SLAS and have this constructive dialogue with the Board, staff and membership to figure out what workflows we should adopt as a Society as the tools and economics change for the Society's mission. So, please stop me when you see me and talk to me or send an e-mail to share your thoughts on how SLAS can do better.

Ho: I look forward to meeting everyone at SLAS2013 in Orlando!

January 4, 2013