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Conferees to examine future of genetics

A March 13-14 meeting at MIT will bring together several renowned scientists in the field of genetics as well as politicians, CEOs and religious leaders to debate genetic technologies and how they should be regulated.

Due to heavy response, preregistration is required by today (March 10). Attendance is free for Harvard/MIT/Wellesley students. See the conference web site for information and on-line registration.

Everything from genetic testing to eugenics to genetically engineered foods will be discussed. Speakers at the event, organized by undergraduate members of the Harvard and MIT chapters of the Hippocratic Society, will include Dr. Ian Wilmut, who cloned Dolly the sheep; Rep. James Sensen-brenner, chair of the House Science Committee; George J. Annas, Chair of the Health Law Department in the Boston University School of Public Health; Walter Gilbert, a University Professor at Harvard who won the Nobel prize for developing DNA sequencing technology; and Jeremy Rifkin, one of the nation's most outspoken and influential critics of biotechnology.

Speakers from MIT will include Professor Robert Weinberg, a recipient of the National Medal of Science who discovered the first human oncogene (a gene that can cause cancer) and the first tumor suppressor gene; Professor Phillip Sharp, head of the Department of Biology and winner of the Nobel prize for discovering that genes are interrupted by non-coding sequences called introns; and Jonathan King, professor of molecular biology and director of MIT's Biology Electron Microscope Facility.

Many of the conference panelists have pioneered new strategies for using genetics to understand and treat human diseases. William A. Haseltine, chairman and CEO of Human Genome Sciences, will discuss the progress his company has made in bringing the first drugs from genomics to clinical trials. Kari Stefansson, president and CEO of deCODE Genetics, recently made international headlines for his controversial plan to compile a central database of the health records of all Icelanders.

With such a diverse group of speakers, Professor Sharp predicted that "this student-organized meeting... will stimulate discussions in dorm rooms across the city and country."

"We wanted to organize a discussion on genetics that everyone could understand and benefit from," said conference co-director F. Edward Boas of Harvard. Added co-director Kelly V. Brogan, an MIT junior in brain and cognitive sciences, "This conference is an opportunity for vital discourse on topics that will shape all aspects of life."

All conference events will take place in Rm 10-250 except for a Saturday night banquet at Harvard. Sponsors include the Nature Publishing Co. and the Office of the President at both Harvard and MIT.

A version of this article appeared in the March 10, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 22).

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