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Featured Plenary Speakers

Martine Rothblatt

Martine Rothblatt

Martine Rothblatt
United Therapeutics, Bethesda, MD, United States

A Personal Perspective on the Science, Ethics, and Commercialization of Xenotransplantation

Martine Aliana Rothblatt (born 1954) is an American lawyer, author, and entrepreneur. Rothblatt graduated from University of California, Los Angeles with a combined law and MBA degree in 1981, then began work in Washington, D.C., first in the field of communications satellite law, and eventually in life sciences projects like the Human Genome Project. She is the founder and Chairman of the Board of United Therapeutics. She is also the CEO of GeoStar and the creator of Sirius Radio.

Sean Stevens

Sean Stevens

Sean Stevens
Senior Director, Synthetic Genomics, La Jolla, CA, United States

Creating a Designer Organ Donor: The Cutting Edge

Dr. Stevens currently leads a group of more than 20 investigators at Synthetic Genomics Inc., developing next generation technologies for organ xenotransplantation.  This $100M collaboration with the Lung Biotechnology subsidiary of United Therapeutics will alleviate critical unmet needs in organ transplantation and expand efforts at SGI for the development and implementation of innovative cell-based and biologic immunotherapies.

Dr. Sean Stevens has led the design, creation, and use of complex genetically-modified mammalian platforms for discovery of biologic and cell-based therapies and disease modeling.  Dr. Stevens and his teams have applied the advanced genomic technologies he has developed to meet crucial health needs, such as;

  • Antibody therapeutics in therapeutic multiple areas, including; sarilumab, targeting interleukin 6 receptor, and dupilumab, targeting interleukin 4 receptor, the latter receiving a “breakthrough therapy” designation.
  • Creation of genetically-modified mouse platforms for antibody therapeutic discovery licensed and in use at 12 of the top 20 pharmas worldwide.
  • Genome engineering of a large variety of complex loci to facilitate creation and assessment of therapeutic proteins and cell therapies in vivo, such as T cell receptor, Fc receptor, HLA and receptor-ligand complexes.

Dr. Stevens is an inventor on >170 US patents and applications, is the author of numerous peer-reviewed scientific articles and book chapters, and speaks at conferences worldwide. He has previously served as co-principal investigator on a Gates Foundation Grand Challenges in Global Health grant and currently acts as scientific consultant for biotech and pharma companies and investor groups, as well as a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for Siamab Therapeutics.

Plenary Speakers

David Ayares

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David Ayares
Ph.D., Executive Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer, Revivicor Inc.

Genetic Modifications to Prevent Coagulation Dysfunction

Dr. Ayares was a co-founder of Revivicor in 2003, and is currently Executive Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer.  Revivicor is a regenerative medicine company focused on providing a safe, human-compatible, alternative tissue source for human therapeutic use towards overcoming the World-wide organ shortage crisis. Based in Blacksburg, Virginia, Revivicor is a fully-owned subsidiary of United Therapeutics. The company has a diverse pipeline of genetically engineered (GE) pigs for use in xenotransplantation applications. Lead pre-clinical efforts are focused on applying GE pig technology for replacement organs, specifically lungs, kidney, and heart, for testing in non-human primate models. Prior to the formation of Revivicor, he was Vice President of Research and COO for PPL Therapeutics Inc., and led the team that cloned the World’s first pigs. Dr. Ayares previously worked for 7 years in the pharmaceutical industry at Abbott Laboratories and Baxter Healthcare, developing gene targeting systems and transgenic mouse models for pharmaceuticals testing, as well as, encapsulation technologies for islet cell delivery. 

Peter Cowan

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Peter Cowan
Scientist Director, Immunology Research Centre, St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

Presidential Address

Professor Peter Cowan is Scientist Director of the Immunology Research Centre, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, Australia. His major research interest is xenotransplantation, focusing on islets and kidneys. His expertise lies primarily in the generation of genetically modified donor pigs to tackle rejection and other problems encountered in xenotransplantation; in particular, dysregulated coagulation He also has a strong interest in the role of complement and purinergic signalling in transplant-associated inflammation and injury. He is President (2015-2017) of the International Xenotransplantation Association (IXA) and has served as Secretary/Treasurer of IXA (2009-2013) and Honorary Secretary of the Transplantation Society of Australia and New Zealand (2007-2009). He is an Associate Editor for The American Journal of Transplantation, Transplantation and Xenotransplantation.

Debra JH Mathews

Debra JH Mathews

Debra JH Mathews
PhD, MA, Assistant Director for Science Programs, Berman Institute of Bioethics and Associate Professor, Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University

CRISPR Technology: Past, Present and Future

Debra JH Mathews, PhD, MA, is the Assistant Director for Science Programs for the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, and an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Mathews earned her BS in Biology from the Pennsylvania State University and a PhD in genetics from Case Western Reserve University. Concurrent with her PhD, she earned a master’s degree in bioethics from Case. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in genetics at Johns Hopkins, where she continued her work on human genetic variation and human population history. She also completed the Greenwall Fellowship in Bioethics and Health Policy, which was jointly administered by Johns Hopkins and Georgetown universities. Dr. Mathews has also spent time at the Genetics and Public Policy Center, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, working in various capacities on science policy. As the Assistant Director for Science Programs, Dr. Mathews is responsible for overseeing the Stem Cell Policy and Ethics program and the Program in Ethics and Brain Sciences, as well as other bench research-related endeavors in the Berman Institute. She is also a member of the steering committee of The Hinxton Group, an international collective of scientists, ethicists, policymakers and others, interested in ethical and well-regulated science, and whose work focuses primarily on stem cell research. Dr. Mathews’s academic work focuses on ethics and policy issues raised by emerging biotechnologies, with particular focus on genetics, stem cell science, neuroscience and synthetic biology. In CRISPR: A path through the thicket, a paper in Nature, Dr. Mathews and colleagues discuss the ethical questions of genome editing and present recommended actions for continued research.

Heiner Niemann

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Heiner Niemann
Director and Head, Biotechnology, Institute of Farm Animal Genetics (FLI), Neustadt, Germany

The Next Generation of Multi-Transgenic Pigs

Professor Dr. med. vet. Heiner Niemann is Head of the Institute of Farm Animal Genetics (FLI) in Mariensee near Hannover, Germany. Concomitantly, he is Professor for Reproductive Biology at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Hannover and Honorary Professor at the Hannover Medical University (MHH). His main fields of research include regulation of mammalian preimplantation development, somatic cloning and epigenetic reprogramming, derivation and maintenance of pluripotent stem cells in livestock, and genetically modified livestock, with special emphasis on xenotransplantation. He supervised ~100 doctoral and PhD students and served on many expert committees related to his research field. He has published the results of his research in >380 peer reviewed papers and spoke on numerous scientific meetings around the globe. He is Past President and Programme Chair of International Embryo Technology Society (IETS) and is a member in other scientific societies. He has been elected as member of the German (national) Academy of Sciences (Leopoldina) and received several other awards for his achievements, including the 2017 Pioneer Award of the IETS.

Harald C. Ott

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Harald C. Ott
Principal Investigator, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria

Dr. Harald C. Ott is a thoracic surgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital and an Assistant Professor in Surgery at the Harvard Medical School. He is best known for his work in whole organ regeneration. He discovered and perfected the method of stripping an organ of its own cells and then infusing the remaining scaffold with new progenitor cells (Perfusion Decellularized Matrix: Using Nature’s Platform for Engineering Bioartificial Heart. Nat Med. 2008 Feb; 14(2):213-21.). To date, his technology has been successfully applied to heart, liver, lung, kidney, and pancreas regeneration. This method of reseeding and engraftment with native cells potentially eliminates donor organ shortage and the need for life-long immunosuppression in transplant patients, and thus lays the path for effective solutions for the millions of people in need of organ repair or replacement. Harald’s background is in surgery (M.D.; University Innsbruck in Austria, 2000) and this training has been an asset for his chosen field of scientific research. The privilege to work with patients suffering from end organ failure provides both motivation and inspiration to continue his work in organ regeneration.

Ajit Varki

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Ajit Varki
Distinguished Professor, Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, United States

Evolution of Sialic Acids: Implications for Xenotransplant Biology

Ajit Varki is Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Cellular & Molecular Medicine at UC San Diego; Adjunct Professor at the Salk Institute, Co-Director, UCSD/Salk Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny(CARTA); Co-Director, UCSD Glycobiology Research and Training Center(GRTC); Executive Editor, "Essentials of Glycobiology"; Co-author of Denial (Hachette, 2013); and member, National Academy of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He served as President, Society for Glycobiology; Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Clinical Investigation; and President, American Society for Clinical Investigation. His research focuses on sialic acids in biology, evolution and disease - in relation to explaining human origins.

Luhan Yang

Luhan Yang

Luhan Yang
Havard Medical School, Boston, MA, United States

CRISPR Technology: Past, Present and Future

Dr. Yang contributed to the development of the highly programmable genome-engineering tool CRISPR, using it to create isogeneic human stem cells and to model the cardiovascular features of Barth Syndrome.  In light of her scientific contribution, Dr. Yang was named as one of “30 Under 30” in Science and Healthcare by the Forbes Magazine. She also received the “Young Entreprenure Initiative Laureate” in 2014.  Dr. Yang did her Ph.D in Human Biology and Translational Medicine from Harvard Medical School. She has a bachelor and master degree in Biology from Peking University.

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