DEI Committee Members Share What Inspires Their Work

October 09, 2023

Thank you to these ASGCT members for their work in the field, their service on the DEI Committee, and for sharing their perspectives with us.

The Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) Committee was formed in 2020 with a mandate to ensure the Society is an equitable environment, respectful of and empathetic to the diversity of our membership. The DEI Committee is made up of a variety of members who work in all areas of the cell and gene therapy (CGT) field. From clinicians to academics to industry players, the differing perspectives and innovative ways of thinking that they offer are all as essential to the work as the action items.

The effort to share vital information through the lens of these perspectives is just one initiative that is important to the committee. The yearly symposium at the Annual Meeting provides these opportunities. Additionally, the committee gives three DEI awards to early investigators who are from underrepresented populations or are directly impacting underrepresented communities with their work. Over the last year and a half, DEI committee members and ASGCT staff have worked closely on a new program called Biotech Discovery Labs, which focuses on training high school teachers from Milwaukee Public Schools in laboratory experiments that increase their students’ understanding of biotechnology.

Membership in ASGCT is the easiest way to get involved in these efforts! Renew your membership so you can get involved in a standing or scientific committee.

We asked members of the DEI Committee why this work is important to them. Join us in giving a huge thanks to the contributing members who brought their personal perspectives to this blog post.

What inspires your DEI work within ASGCT?

Promoting DEI in research is ultimately to the benefit of science. By promoting DEI in a research laboratory, we ensure novel ideas and interpretation of scientific data for future research work. This ultimately leads to lesser-known diseases, approaches, and conditions that need to be tackled, opening up a new field of research that was previously unknown to that lab. This will also lead to more emphasis on conditions that affect minority groups, increasing visibility for these and thus, potentially ensuring beneficial research outcomes.

-Rodolfo E. de la Vega, MD, PhD, Mayo Clinic

After I moved from Puerto Rico to the contiguous United States to pursue my PhD, I learned about the underrepresentation of historically excluded communities in STEM at all levels of academia; this motivated me to become involved in recruitment and retention efforts aimed at increasing diversity at the graduate level in my university. As I transitioned to industry and learned more about drug development, I continued to understand the strong need for DEI work everywhere: from K-12 and university programs, to academia, industry, and workplaces in general, to the design and execution of clinical trials. It is imperative that we have diverse voices present at the decision-making tables at all stages of this pipeline, and serving on ASGCT’s DEI committee gives me the opportunity to directly contribute to this goal.

-Jorge Santiago-Ortiz, PhD, Apertura Gene Therapy

It can seem challenging to tackle DEI-related issues with rare diseases or complex technology. How do you suggest starting?

By being aware of demographics, impact of and access to the research outcome, and an implementation of clearly laid out strategies to overcome any barriers to availability of clinical interventions to individuals in marginalized groups. That could include any intentional initiatives such as non-biased, yet inclusive enrollment in the clinical trials, educational support groups to help understand the impact, and financial, social, and health implications of the interventions if any.

-Sandhya Sharma, Baylor College of Medicine

What does intersectionality mean to you?

Intersectionality means the ability to see and understand an individual as all of the things that make up their identity, embrace all of those things, and make the best effort you can to honor all of those parts of their identity"

-Rebecca Schell, REGENXBIO 

It is imperative that we have diverse voices present at the decision-making tables at all stages of this pipeline

Jorge Santiago-Ortiz

SS: My race, gender, skin color, cultural background and traditions I grew up with, schools I went to, and the society I was raised in has molded me to be a certain individual. For me, intersectionality really means that each of the individuals I meet, work with, or come across also come from/with their own unique identifications. At the end of the day, I have to be aware of those, respect that uniqueness, but also identify how these various sections affected or will impact personal, and professional growth at individual, and community level.

DEI extends beyond race, ethnicity, and gender. What are other aspects of your identity that contribute to who you are as a scientist/researcher? 

RS: As someone who is neurodivergent and has many family members who also are, this contributes to my identity and how I work within any organization.

JSO: I think of all aspects of my identity and my experiences, and how they influence and modulate each other (effectively, their intersectionality) as contributing to who I am as a scientist and researcher. This includes, but is not limited to: my identity as a cis-gendered gay Latino man; my upbringing in a modest home in a small town in Puerto Rico, where I was raised by my mom and my grandmother with Spanish as our first language; how I was the first person in my family to study engineering and to pursue a Ph.D.; my experience supporting my family navigate healthcare and the barriers that they and others face for not speaking English. These and other experiences continuously shape who I am as a scientist and inspire me to contribute to DEI efforts, with the goal of increasing representation and access for historically underserved communities.

REV: Personal background is an important aspect of DEI. Each individual is different and their upbringing, be it because of cultural, economic or family background, makes them stand out. A great deal of my scientific approach is related to my medical training in a developing country where resources are scarce.

SS: I grew up in Nepal where my mom always pushed me for academic achievements, to be better, and do better as a women. For me, my early life which was heavily influenced by social, cultural, and traditional upbringing in Nepal, and most importantly my mom, and dad who always helped me cross those boundaries, and now my mentors at CAGT, and their relentless support, and encouragement contributes to who I am as a scientist.

ASGCT would like to thank our contributing DEI Committee Members for their thoughtful responses. We encourage all our members to engage further with these topics.

Related Articles


Milwaukee High School Students Try Their Hand at Pipetting

Renee Strong - November 22, 2023

Learn the Latest on Gene Therapy in Australia

Samantha Ginn, PhD - October 25, 2023

ASAE Award Recognizes Global Gene Therapy Training Course

Sam Kay - September 25, 2023

Milwaukee Teachers Are Ready to Take Biotech Training to the Classroom

Devin Rose - August 21, 2023