Foundation Convenes Key International Research Summit

June 25, 2007

Scientists from as far away as Sweden and Australia convened for the 2007 Williamsburg research summit, an invitation-only research conference sponsored by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The conference, held June 1-5 in Williamsburg, Va., gathers the top cystic fibrosis researchers in the world to share the latest information and address important scientific questions surrounding the disease.

During this 5-day international meeting, researchers brought their heads together, brainstormed and presented projects, forming a giant congregation of minds. The goal was to set a common agenda for future research leading to improved treatments for cystic fibrosis and, hopefully, a cure.

“This type of event speeds up the development of new treatments. We are able to identify important research questions and come to consensus on what we know so far, what we need to know, and what tools need to be developed,” said Pradeep Singh of the University of Washington.

Singh was one of the many physicians attending the conference, which is designed to allow clinicians to work hand-in-hand with microbiologists, biochemists, physiologists and other laboratory scientists. By working as a multidisciplinary team, researchers can bridge the gap often found between the laboratory and the clinic, and translate the delivery of discoveries from the lab to the patient.

Conferences like Williamsburg are important because they help set common research goals. Rather than having many investigators working on very different projects, a plan is created whereby efforts are strategically focused by defining the most important research questions. Once the questions are set, researchers can work towards a common goal.

“Over the years, setting and answering research questions has eventually led to a better understanding of the disease, enhanced care strategies and, most important, many of the approved cystic fibrosis drug therapies available today,” said Robert J. Beall, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

More than 50 presentations sparked deliberations on potential research areas for the future including airway inflammation, infection, clinical trials and the connection between cystic fibrosis and liver disease, a condition that now affects 5 to 8 percent of all patients.

Aside from encouraging scientific discussion, the conference also brings new minds into the fold. “I’m an old timer now,” said John Riordan, Ph.D. of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Science is always changing—there are new techniques, ideas, discoveries. So it’s important that new generations of researchers be developed.”

Riordan and Francis Collins, now director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, were part of a team of scientists that discovered the cystic fibrosis gene in 1989. Riordan presented the discovery at Williamsburg nearly 15 years ago. Since then, this work has paved the way for the development of a genetic test used by thousands today.

Back then, and still today, the Williamsburg conference is at the forefront of cystic fibrosis research, allowing researchers to pool their talent, creativity, and wisdom to develop solutions and foster hope for the nearly 30,000 individuals with the disease.