The biannual Hemoglobin Switching Conference has been ongoing for 31 years, and there are multiple reasons for its resounding success. First and foremost, the organizers (Stamatoyannopoulos, Higgs and Engel) strive to identify and then highlight new discoveries by always including new investigators and studies that impinge on the process of hemoglobin switching. Second, this is the only venue (other than the annual ASH meeting, with >14,000 attendees) that brings together basic scientists and clinicians to discuss both the molecular and developmental origins of, and treatments for, hemoglobinopathies. Third, the meetings have historically morphed into focusing on wherever the science led, thus remaining extremely topical, and has not only been the forum for presenting the first cDNA clones, the first cloned human genomic locus (and the first mutations in same), the structure of erythropoietin, but it has also launched the careers of many of the current leaders in this field (indeed, numerous postdoctoral fellows and young faculty first presented their work in plenary sessions at this conference). Fourth, this is the only meeting on this topic that routinely has approximately equal attendance by investigators from both inside and outside the U.S., and this fact is reflected by the bi- annual alternation in site between the U.S. and Europe. In 2012 the Conference will again be held at the Asilomar Conference Center in Monterrey, CA, because of both international accessibility and economy.
The most commonly inherited human disorders are hemoglobinopathies, diseases that disrupt the function of the red blood cells that carry oxygen to tissues to execute basic metabolism and that also carry waste products back to the lungs for exchange for fresh oxygen. We now understand a great deal about the origins of these metabolic diseases from a genetic and biochemical perspective, but we are only beginning to understand how we might devise effective therapies to treat them. This international conference, held every two years alternating between Europe and the U.S., is the only meeting of its kind, and provides a forum for sharing information between molecular and cell biologists who study disease characteristics and etiology and their clinical counterparts who treat these diseases. This conference is consciously more inclusive of young people, women and minority participation than any other forum.