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Human Genetics Conference

OMT Graduate Travel Grant Report – Alan Yang

I had a wonderful time in Houston, Texas, presenting at the American Society for Human Genetics annual conference. This is the largest conference on human genetics in the world. I was there for two days to present a poster on the research I did during Trinity Term and the long summer vacation with Dr Luke Jostins-Dean at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology here at Oxford. My research focused on identifying environmental factors and gene-environment interactions that predict inflammatory bowel disease, using a data set called the UK Biobank. To my delight, my research was selected for a Reviewers’ Choice Award, which recognizes the top 10% of posters!

One talk I liked at the conference was on disability rights, which brought together perspectives from geneticists, physicians, and disability rights advocates on the topic of genetic therapy for conditions of disability. The purpose of the talk was to raise awareness of the potential of gene-based therapy as well as the attendant risks and ethical issues surrounding the medicalization of disability and the technology of gene editing. The perspectives I gathered from this talk will help me not only in my future career as a physician but also with the historical research I am doing at this very moment on the field of genetics and the early 20th century eugenics movement.

Another talk that was interesting was on the subject of the weak transferability of genetic findings between groups with different ancestry. Currently our knowledge of the genetic underpinnings of different human characteristics and diseases is more developed for people of European ancestry than for other populations. This gap, however, cannot be easily patched by transferring our findings in European populations to other populations, for reasons that are still unclear. The talk was trying to tease out the reasons for this, but my biggest reflection was that this inequality in genetic knowledge can lead to further inequalities in medical care if we do not address it.

I had a great time presenting my poster itself. Several people came up to ask questions, and it was nice explaining my research to them.

Beyond the conference itself, the weather in Houston was gorgeous. A bit humid, but very sunny and warm. A good respite from the rainy onslaught I had been experiencing in Oxford at that point. I also took advantage of the opportunity of travelling to Houston by eating delicious Tex-Mex tacos and heavy southern pulled pork and beef brisket at the famed Pappas restaurant chain. It was nice being able to spend casual time outside of work with my labmates. I think we got to know each other better.

I would like to sincerely thank the Warden’s Discretionary Fund at Rhodes House and the Old Members’ Trust Graduate Travel Fund at University College, Oxford, for their support, which made it possible for me to attend this conference, receive the award, and learn more about my field.

Find out more about the range of travel grants and scholarships available to assist Univ students on our Travel Grants page or read further travel reports.

Published: 14 November 2019

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