Presenter behind a podium next to a slide projection
Dom Esposito, Ph.D., kicks off the Alpha-Twists and Beta-Turns of Recombinant Protein Production conference.
Researchers talking in front of posters
Researchers discuss during a poster session at the protein production conference.
Scientist presents slides to a room
Jana Ognjenovic, Ph.D., presenting about cryo-EM.
People talking in an open space
Attendees gather around in the foyer at the protein production conference.

The first conference held under the auspices of Frederick National Laboratory’s (FNL’s) Scientific Standards Hub, an initiative formed to address the scientific reproducibility crisis, has just wrapped up. 

The two-day event, dubbed The α-Twists and β-Turns of Recombinant Protein Production, examined standardization in laboratory and commercial production of proteins. A total of 120 scientists attended to discuss issues facing the field and exchange ideas for solutions. 

“As a national laboratory focused on developing and using advanced technology, FNL can bring together the academic community and industry to encourage and promote the application of standards and references. … Hosting the conference, with more to come, is exactly what the Scientific Standards Hub set out to do among its many objectives,” said FNL Chief Science Officer Len Freedman, Ph.D. 

The reproducibility crisis has stemmed from a lack of standardization across areas in science: processes and protocols, data collection, data reporting, and others. Dom Esposito, Ph.D., director of FNL’s Protein Expression Laboratory and an organizer of the conference, said it has been a longstanding challenge for protein production efforts in the United States. 

Given proteins’ biological importance, to say nothing of their widespread applications in biological and biomedical research, standardization would offer a meaningful increase in research integrity. 

“In Europe, there’s a group called the P4EU which does this—getting academic and industry researchers together to have open discussions about our problems and challenges and ways to work on solutions to them. But it’s been really hard to get people in the U.S. to do anything similar. So, I proposed to Len that we might be able to start up something similar using FNL’s Standards Hub,” Esposito said. 

From common ground to cooperation 

Two researchers engaging with a scientific poster

The conference spanned lectures on protein and antibody workflows, protein production case studies, structural biology, and technology development. There were also breakout discussions held in a roundtable style as well as poster sessions, both of which allowed for conversations on a smaller scale. 

These were opportunities for attendees to hear from scientists with whom they may not have interacted otherwise—or to have their own voice heard or amplified. There were also chances to discover plenty of shared ground. 

“[There were] lots of subsequent smaller discussions after the meeting, which suggested that people really were starting to address all these issues that we share, with the hopes of coming up with solutions,” Esposito said. “Maybe just realizing that other people are having the same problems was enough to make everyone feel a bit better about the challenges of our jobs.” 

Esposito added that he was personally aware of multiple attendees who exchanged contact information and had begun planning to collaborate. Some expressed interest in making the conference an annual event. 

More to come 

It’s too early to say whether that’ll come to pass, but the scientific community should expect more FNL-hosted conferences related to standardization and reproducibility. The Scientific Standards Hub has gained momentum and will continue to engage the scientific community to address these issues, Freedman said. 

FNL launched the Scientific Standards Hub, originally called the Standards References and Training Research Committee (STAR TREC), in 2020 as a central location for researchers to share and deposit references, resources, and standards in various scientific disciplines. Since then, the hub has grown to encompass other functions and established the ongoing High Fidelity Seminar Series on topics related to reproducibility. It’s a distinct if not unique niche a national laboratory can fill, with a mission and resources differing from companies or academic institutions.  

The conference, as the latest step, seemed to be a welcome addition to the field at large, Freedman said. 

“The fact that scientists such as those who [attended] this meeting are concerned enough to want to brainstorm about potential ways to constructively address this—here as it relates to protein expression—is very exciting, and we at the FNL are happy to co-host this,” he said. 

The α-Twists and β-Turns of Recombinant Protein Production was co-organized by Dom Esposito, Ph.D., at the Frederick National Laboratory; Oleg Brodsky at Pfizer, Inc.; Ruth Saxl, Ph.D., of The Jackson Laboratory; the FNL Scientific Standards Hub; and the FNL Protein Interest Group. 

FDI; Kemp Proteins, Refeyn, Inc.; Thermo Fisher Scientific; and W.H. Gore sponsored the conference. 

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