Monday, 09 July 2018 13:37

The Clinical Microbiology Open: An Attendee's Perspective

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Researchers standing in front of a clin micro open signKicking off the 2018 Clin Micro Open. Photo credit: Esther Babady.

I recently attended a professional meeting for clinical microbiologists that was quite different from any I had previously experienced or heard of – the Clinical Microbiology Open (Clin Micro Open, or CMO), a 2 day conference in West Palm Beach, Florida. The seed for CMO dates back to a similar small meeting in 2012 called “Camp Clin Micro,” held in Houston, Texas, to bring together industry representatives and clinical microbiology lab directors in a format that was more conducive to open dialogue about the issues in the field, and how they could work together to address them.


Attendees from this first meeting were anxious to renew the series, and in 2018, ASM relaunched the event under a new name - “Clinical Microbiology Open” - meant to reflect the open but competitive nature of the application process to select participants. Chris Doern, lab director at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Mike Dunne, former lab director currently at Biomerieux, were the program co-chairs, and a steering committee included academic representatives Marc Couturier (ARUP Laboratories) and Amanda Harrington (Loyola University Medical Center), as well as several from industry - Sherry Dunbar (Luminex), Romney Humphries (Accelerate Diagnostics), Michael Lewinski (Roche), and Celine Roger-Dalbert (BD Diagnostics).


Microbiologists from hospital labs and public health labs applied to attend, with each accepted participant giving a 10-minute talk about a topic or idea within clinical microbiology that may benefit from increased or improved collaboration between academic and industry representatives. In addition to the speakers (about 20), there were also attendees from industry members of ASM’s Corporate Council (about 30) and a few representatives from government regulatory agencies. After a cluster of 4 or 5 talks, there was a brief question period before participants broke up into focus groups to discuss each topic in depth, where each focus group included representatives from academia and industry. After this the entire group reconvened to hear a synopsis from each focus group including opportunities for academic and commercial representatives to work together to move the field forward.

The meeting started off with a bang – the first talk was by Stanford University’s Benjamin Pinsky, who discussed complications encountered while developing tests for emerging infectious diseases, including a vigorous exchange with regulatory representatives. Further talks presented on a variety of pressing issues in clinical microbiology:


  • A lack of molecular methods for the diagnosis of fungal infections, with an appeal for industry to enter this space to improve standardization and test offerings.


  • Limited FDA-cleared testing options for pediatric populations (which are often excluded from clinical trials), and the added burden this places of pediatric labs.


  • The impact of implementing total lab automation, and some remaining targets for improvement in this process that can be addressed by collaboration between industry and academia.  


  • Challenges in the standardization and application of next-generation sequencing in hospital and public health labs.


  • A presentation on the potential for high-throughput sequencing of cell-free DNA in urine for diagnostic testing, which may provide a more complete picture (including the presence of pathogenic viruses) than standard methods (culture).


  • A how-to guide for coordinating multi-site outcome studies, with emphasis on the need for more such studies to generate more meaningful data going forward.


  • An appeal regarding the expanding number of targets on multiplex tests - perhaps having more targets does more harm (impairing reimbursement process) than good (lack of clinical utility for some of the more extraneous targets)?


  • The complicated nature of interpreting results of indwelling catheter urine cultures.


  • The challenges of laboratory management, stewardship of laboratory resources, and laboratory quality management.


  • Opportunities for the clinical microbiology lab and industry to make better use of “big data” to improve the diagnostic process, including discussion of unutilized aspects of sequencing data, MALDI-TOF mass spectra, and agar plate imaging (in the context of total lab automation).


A speaker at the 2018 Clin Micro OpenA speaker at the 2018 Clin Micro Open. Photo Credit: Esther Babady.

I presented on an idea regarding the potential use of radioactivity for labeling bacterial cells in various diagnostic applications – the focus group discussion following made it clear that my idea had a very short half-life! It was good to get the feedback early. Presenter Lars Westblade from Weill Cornell Medicine said “the working groups after each session were a particular highlight and permitted collegial, honest interaction.” I agree, and thought the format of the meeting - short bursts of talks, followed by brief question sessions, focus groups, and brief summary - was key to driving discussion.


The meeting was very laid back and informal, but still efficient and productive – plenty of good humor mixed in with practical lab talk – and was unlike any meeting I have attended in the past. I learned a lot speaking with colleagues about issues in their labs during breaks between sessions and during meal times (the food was pretty good too). I highly recommend this meeting to anyone interested in participating next year – look for a call for applications sometime in the Fall of 2018.


The above represent the views of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the American Society for Microbiology.


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Last modified on Wednesday, 11 July 2018 15:04
Matthew Pettengill

Matthew Pettengill is the Scientific Director of Clinical Microbiology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is a Diplomate of the American Board of Medical Microbiology. His research interests include developing alternative blood culture methods and rapid blood culture isolate identification assays.