Gene expert boosts BDA’s biosciences drive
Bermuda’s drive to diversify its economy is receiving a helping hand from Bermudian Carika Weldon, a lecturer in biomedical science in Britain.
She initiated this year’s Bermuda Principles Impact On Splicing conference, and she is spearheading its return in February when the five-day conference will be held at the Fairmont Southampton.
The event is viewed as a significant development for Bermuda as the island looks to further diversify its economy. It also highlights Bermuda as the location of a landmark agreement in 1996, known as the Bermuda Principles.
The Bermuda Principles was created by 50 international scientists who converged on the island and agreed that once the complete human genome was sequenced it would not be patented or monetised, but instead be issued freely to advance medical knowledge and innovation.
Dr Weldon, PhD, is a lecturer at DeMontfort University, in Leicester, England. She is involved in research into cancer and gene splicing. For the past two weeks she has been in Bermuda talking about her research to groups and individuals, including David Burt, the Premier, and Opposition leader Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, and to the media. She was a guest speaker at the Think Fest 2017 seminar event on Sunday.
Having a well-qualified Bermudian involved in biomedical science as the founder of the Bermuda Principles conference, is assisting the Bermuda Business Development Agency in its drive to boost business diversity on the island.
The BDA helped with sponsorship for the inaugural conference and is supporting next year’s event.
“The BDA gives me a stamp of approval, and the financial support is helpful,” said Dr Weldon, who added that through the conference, Bermuda is cultivating relationships in the sector. Six keynote speakers and five further invitees are lined up for the second conference.
“Scientists want to come to Bermuda, and it is putting Bermuda on the radar,” she said, noting that the conference is unique as the only annual international event focused on the gene-splicing field.
Kevin Richards, business manager at the BDA, said Dr Weldon has been able to “activate stakeholders here and abroad” to take an interest in the Bermuda event.
Advances in technologies in the biomedical science field and commercialisation opportunities for new genome research are expected to feature in a round-table discussion at the Bermuda Principles conference.
John Narraway, the BDA consultant for emerging technologies, is involved in preparing the round table segment.
Dr Weldon said: “In research, technology is becoming a lot more significant.”
Some of that technology has been shown by Dr Weldon during her visit, such as a miniaturised but powerful, portable DNA/RNA splicing device.
Technology will feature in a further community outreach in Bermuda that Dr Weldon has planned for early November, when she will visit public schools to demonstrate and explain PCR (polymerase chain reaction), a technique that amplifies segments of DNA and has a variety of applications, including genetic fingerprinting.
Also planned for November is a Bermuda premiere screening of HBO’s TV film The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The Emmy-nominated film stars Oprah Winfrey and tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, who died from cancer in 1951. Cancer cells taken from Mrs Lacks were found to reproduce indefinitely and have become one the most important cell lines in history. The so-called “immortal cells” continue to be used to assist with medical research around the world.
The use of Mrs Lack’s cells without her permission or the consent of her family — something not customarily sought at the time — later raised consent issues and privacy concerns. The Bermuda Youth Parliament will debate the topic of “Healer Cells” at next year’s conference.
Dr Weldon said one of the highlights of this year’s conference had been the Bermuda Youth Parliament debate, and she is looking forward to the next one.
Explaining how the idea for the conference came about, Dr Weldon said that during her PhD studies she attended conferences, and when others heard that she hailed from Bermuda they suggested she hold a conference on the island.
After completing her PhD, she watched a TV documentary that mentioned the importance of the Bermuda Principles, which have been used as a model for other fields of research. She felt the legacy of the Bermuda Principles was a perfect platform to build a conference around.
When asked what the feedback has been from her community outreach during the past two weeks, Dr Weldon said: “People are very open to DNA because its very powerful. The reception has been overwhelming. I’ve been explaining what I do and the level of interest has been high.”
The second annual Bermuda Principles Impact on Splicing conference will be held from February 21 to 25, next year. Further details are available at https://www.bermudaprinciples.org/