MARCH PUB POSTPONED: Genetically Speaking

Pandemic permitting, this pub will be rescheduled.

Just over sixty years ago, the structure of DNA was first described by scientists. Since then our understanding of the “code of life” has exploded and the genetic revolution is still picking up speed. 

  • What advances have been made in the past 15 years?
  • How do scientists explore the genome today?
  • What are the paths of discovery that will drive us forward fastest and furthest?

Explore these questions and more in a relaxed, social setting at the when four Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) researchers – a professor and three doctoral candidates – each present short talks that explore the fascinating story of human genetics research and the impact this research has on our lives now and will have in the future.

Where and When
Wednesday, March 25 • Doors will open at 5:30 p.m.  • Program will begin at  6:30 p.m. and conclude around 8:00 p.m.  
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery • 2410 Ownby Lane  Richmond, VA  23220
Public transit and carpooling are always good ideas: Plan a GRTC bus trip. Street parking is available throughout the neighborhood and some parking is available in Hardywood’s lot on the corner of Ownby and Overbrook.

Who Should Come
Any curious minds 21 and over are welcome. No background in science needed.

What to Expect
An informal night comprised of four short talks and lots of Q&A discussion with food and beverages available for purchase throughout the evening.

A mix of theater-style and table-side seating available on a first-come, first-seated basis. No registration needed.

Presented By
VPM Science Matters, an initiative to inspire people to value science and understand its importance to our future.

Sponsored By
Mr. and Mrs. Joel Dugan, whose generous contributions to VPM seeded and sustain the partnership between Science Pub RVA and Science Matters.

Scientific Thinkers

Brien Riley, Ph.D. hails from Cincinnati, but fled to New York City at 17, and then to London at 23, where he lived for almost 15 years.  Here he met his wife and completed his Ph.D. on the genetics of schizophrenia in the South African Bantu population. Dr. Riley is Professor of Psychiatry and Human & Molecular Genetics at VCU, and has 25 years of experience studying the genetics and genomics of schizophrenia, alcohol dependence and major depression with an international group of collaborators. He earned his BA at Columbia University, and his MSc and Ph.D. at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Imperial College School of Medicine at St Mary’s, respectively. In addition to DNA, his other interests include music, maps, poetry, thunderstorms, mountains and cooking. 

Amy Northrop is a Ph.D. candidate investigating cancer therapeutic targets, and is especially focused on breast cancers. She’s part of the unique dual degree program at Virginia Commonwealth University that enables people to simultaneously earn a Ph.D. and an M.S. in genetic counseling. Amy earned first place recognition at VCU’s 2019 Graduate Research Symposium, was awarded first place for her poster presentation at the 2019 Massey Cancer Center Research Retreat, and landed third place at VCU’s 2018 Three-Minute Thesis Competition. Northrop is grateful for her liberal arts education at Randolph Macon College and has especially fond memories of her “Chemistry of Winemaking” course, which enabled her to travel to Australia and New Zealand. When time permits, she and her two cats enjoy relistening to audiobooks of the Harry Potter series.

Hope Wolf is also part of VCU’s Dual Degree Program and is in her second year pursuing a Ph.D. in quantitative human genetics and an M.S. in genetic counseling. From a young age, she knew she wanted to be a scientist and has trained in many branches of science and medicine including chemistry (earning a B.S. at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), molecular genetics (in a research lab), and clinical and translational science (working as a research coordinator in cardiology clinical trials). In 2019, she earned several accolades, including VCU Institute for Women’s Health’s Elizabeth Fries Young Investigator Award. Wolf is fluent in both English and Spanish, and enjoyed living and studying in Madrid. She enjoys science in her everyday life while cooking, baking, and gardening.

Mariam Sankoh describes herself as neither a people person nor a morning person. Yet somehow, she thrives by doing intimate, community outreach work which often takes place between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m. She’s worked on the “Love Locked Down Theatre Project” (a Virginia Department of Health’s Artist in Residence program), facilitated courageous and clumsy conversations on race as part of Coming To The Table RVA, and enjoys watching cartoons and Marvel movies in her downtime. Mariam is a Ph.D. candidate in the Integrative Life Sciences Program at VCU and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. Prior to starting graduate studies, she simultaneously earned both a B.S. degree in mathematics and a B.S. in bioinformatics from VCU.

Topics On Tap

Genetically Speaking
In 2003, at a cost of three billion dollars, an international collaboration of scientists sequenced a full human genome. Today, genome sequencing of individuals is routine and costs approximately $1,000. What are researchers and practitioners doing with that information? Dr. Riley will shine light on the incredibly complex universe of the human genome. He’ll ground us with a bit of history, highlight the remarkable rise of knowledge of the past fifteen years, and provide insights regarding genomic medicine.

Taking Aim at Cancer One Protein at a Time
The genetic revolution is transforming medicine, especially in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers. But, there are more than one hundred types of cancer and not all types respond positively or equally to known medicines and therapies. Northrop is one of the local scientists working to reduce the knowledge gap in the fight against cancer. She’ll share her story investigating a potential combinational therapy for the complex disease of triple negative breast cancer.

Population Genetics and Health
Population genetics seeks to understand how evolutionary change occurs over time within and between populations. Scientists use the bumps in the evolutionary road to understand the development of human diseases and to coordinate proper care. Sankoh will talk about the promise and shortfalls of this work and the relationship between population genetics and trust that is impacting people’s health.

Diversity, Genetics, and Medicine
Our great advances in genetic research have not led to equal benefits across society. Learn about the historical and methodological considerations which have contributed to the lack of diversity in genetic databases and studies, as well as the ongoing initiatives to correct these shortcomings. Along the way, we’ll learn how genetic studies can improve our understanding of the causes of preterm birth, and improve clinical screening and risk prediction for a population of women who have a high risk of delivering preterm.

Schizophrenia: An Unexpectedly Hopeful Result
What recent work has researchers and practitioners excited about future treatment of folks with schizophrenia?

Science Pub RVA #60