The biennial Hemoglobin Switching Conference has been ongoing for 39 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, young investigators and studies that impinge on the process of globin biosynthesis. Second, this is the only venue (other than the annual ASH meeting, with more than 14,000 participants) that brings together basic scientists and clinicians to discuss both the molecular and developmental origins of, and treatments for, the hemoglobinopathies, the most common inherited diseases in man. Third, the meetings have historically evolved with intense focus 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 and the discovery of the GATA and KLF transcription factor families, 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 biennial alternation in site between the U.S. and Europe. In 2016 the Conference will be held for the third time at the Asilomar Conference Center in California, because of both the ease of international accessibility and economy.
The most commonly inherited human genetic disorders are the hemoglobinopathies, diseases that disrupt the function of the red blood cells that carry oxygen to tissues that execute basic metabolism and that also carry CO2 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 Great Britain and the U.S.A., is the only meeting of its kind, and provides a forum for sharing information between molecular and cell biologists who evaluate disease phenotypes and etiology and our clinical counterparts who treat these diseases. This conference is consciously more inclusive of young scientists, including women and minority participants, than any other forum.