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BERM 14 Retrospective

A version of this article by Peter Jenks appeared in Spectroscopy Europe, vol. 28, No 1 (2016) 

The 14th Biological and Environmental Reference Material symposium (BERM) was held in October 2015 at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Centre, National Harbour, MD. Based on feedback received, it was a resounding success, both scientifically and socially.

It is important to put BERM into context: It is the original symposium on biological and environmental reference materials. The first meeting, held in Philadelphia in September 1983. Since then, BERM meetings have alternated between Europe and North America, with a few variations. The last meeting held in the United States was BERM 10 in 2006.

Back in 1983, just 25 people shared 16 presentations, and the idea of the application of sound chemical metrology principles to biological matrices was somewhat novel. Key features of BERM 14 included:

  • 281 attendees, a new record, including representatives of NMIs, government agencies, commercial providers, non-profits, accreditation bodies, users of reference materials. Scientists from 27 countries attended.
  • There were 99 oral presentations in 14 sessions over almost four full days.
  • Poster sessions totalled 108.
  • Twenty-three organizations, most of them producers of CRMs and/or PT, supported the event.  

Over time, the biological aspect of BERM has grown. With six main sessions examining all aspects of metrology and reference materials in biological systems, there was much to challenge a traditional analytical chemist. 

Notable sessions included:

  • “Reference Materials for Biosimilars, Pharmaceuticals and Bioanalysis” kicked off by keynote speaker Bary Cherney of Amgen.
  • “CRM Developments for Clinical Analyses” included two talks on the application of “hyphenated”analytical techniques such as HPLC-ICP – MS and IDMS to some challenging bio molecules by Hongmei Li and Liuxing Feng from China’s National Institute of Metrology
  • “Commutability of Clinical CRMs,” led by Ingrid Zegers of IRMM, examined an area of growing importance as the demand for and use of CRMs in clinical and biological metrology increases.
  • “CRM Developments for Food and Dietary Supplements” began with a plenary talk by Mark Blumenthal of the American Botanical Council highlighting the many challenges associated with bringing good analytical metrology to a rapidly evolving and creatively marketed sector of the health care industry.
  • “Reference Materials and Microbiology” was kicked off by Raymond Cypess of ATCC, who showed how CRMs and best practices are essential to close the reproducibility gap that often appears in biological measurements.
  • “Confidence in Identification for Preparation of Biological Reference Materials” posed the fundamental question: How do you know for certain what you are measuring?

The meeting closed with a thoughtful plenary session by Dr. Derek Craston, Government Chemist to the United Kingdom Government. Craston effectively serves as the “Supreme Court” for metrology disputes between the UK Government and UK businesses.

BERM 15 will be hosted by BAM and supported by IRMM in Berlin, Germany in June 2018. Dr. Ulrich Panne will be the Symposium Chair.