RNA Institute to Hold Annual Symposium in Collaboration with University of Rochester

Collage of quoted RNA researchers. Clockwise from top left, those pictured include Marlene Belfort, Lynne Maquat, Alexis Weber, Andrew Berglund.
Clockwise from top left: Marlene Belfort, Lynne Maquat, Alexis Weber, Andrew Berglund.

By Erin Frick 

ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb. 23, 2023) — The University at Albany’s RNA Institute will hold its 9th annual symposium on March 16-17. The event, produced in collaboration with the University of Rochester Center for RNA Biology, provides a forum for faculty, students and industry representatives to present their research and network with colleagues.

Past symposia have played host to Nobel laureates, National Academy Members, Howard Hughes Medical Institute principal investigators and renowned university professors, scientists and medical doctors from around the world.

This year, the organizing team is taking a new approach, designed to strengthen connections between academia and industry. In addition to academic researchers, this year’s invited speakers include representatives from biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies throughout New York.

“While students interested in biology, chemistry and related fields often go on to pursue careers in academia, many find successful careers in industry,” said RNA Institute Director Andy Berglund. “Our previous symposia, like many scientific conferences, have tended to focus on bringing together academic researchers. This year, to help expose our students to a broader range of career options, we invited speakers from leading pharmaceutical and biotech organizations to demonstrate career pathways that wouldn’t otherwise be showcased.

“In addition to networking opportunities, we will also be holding a career panel roundtable discussion with industry scientists aimed at student attendees. This is a great opportunity for our trainees to make connections with industry scientists to continue developing their professional network and explore career opportunities.”

Among the invited industry speakers are representatives from companies with origins in UAlbany and University of Rochester research programs; these include Codomax, SupreMEtric, Scriptr and sxRNA. Plus, UAlbany alumni who now hold positions in industry are coming back to serve as judges for both the poster session and the roundtable discussion.

Focus on Collaboration

“I’m excited that this year’s RNA Symposium is taking on a slightly different twist, by bringing in our industry partners,” said Marlene Belfort, distinguished professor and senior advisor of the RNA Institute who has been involved in the symposium since its inception. “That not only provides a great networking opportunity for our students and postdocs, but also for the industry folks, who like to recruit our trainees for jobs in the private sector.

“I am also particularly pleased that we’re doing this together with the University of Rochester’s Center for RNA Biology — we have a long history of collaboration, including several joint conferences going back more than a decade. It’s great to be moving forward together with them.”

“The University of Rochester Center for RNA Biology and the RNA Institute of the University at Albany comprise the two strongholds of RNA-centric research in Upstate NY and have a long history of working together,” said Lynne Maquat, professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center and director of the Center for RNA Biology. “In the spirit of applying to become a new NYS Center of Excellence, we are co-sponsoring the RNA symposium, focusing on RNA biology and therapeutics.

“The term ‘RNA’ is now part of the common vernacular, in part due to the recent COVID pandemic that was caused by an RNA virus and therapeutically addressed by an RNA vaccine. Prior to the pandemic, RNA researchers have toiled away for many decades, learning how RNA serves not only as the template for protein synthesis but as a regulated and regulatory molecule, in some cases with enzymatic activities that were previously ascribed only to proteins. The growth in RNA research and human health applications means that the next generation of RNA researchers are in high demand and the upcoming symposium is a perfect opportunity for New York industry to recruit these talented trainees.”

Student Spotlight

UAlbany’s Alexis Weber is a PhD candidate working in the lab of Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Igor Lednev. Weber, the chief operating officer of SupreMEtric, is among this year’s invited speakers. Weber will present “Transitioning from Academia to Start-up: Commercializing from a Researcher's Viewpoint.”

"When you attend large conferences, it can be overwhelming or difficult for students to make meaningful connections with industry scientists,” Weber said. “But it is these connections that will assist with acquiring a job after graduation and are extremely important. The RNA Institute Symposium provides a more intimate circumstance to still meet with scientists from influential companies. Students should take advantage of experiences like the RNA Institute Symposium to network and try and make valuable connections."

Event Details

Symposium events will be split between the New York State Museum, which will house the poster session and opening dinner on day 1; talks will take place in the Campus Center Auditorium on day 2.

For those who cannot attend the symposium in person, there will be an option to view the talks via Zoom. Registration is open until March 12 for both in-person attendees and virtual participants.

High school students and teachers may attend the symposium free of charge.

The symposium organizers thank the RNA Society for its generous support of this event.