2014 ASH Annual Meeting Program Preview: A Discussion with Program Co-Chairs

Now that the “ASH Dash” to submit abstracts is finished, we can look forward to taking advantage of everything this year’s annual meeting in San Francisco has to offer. The meeting is jam-packed with educational and networking opportunities, so to help you get the most out of your experience, we asked ASH’s Education and Scientific Program Co-Chairs to give us a personal tour of highlights of this year’s event.

Education Program Co-Chairs

Margaret V. Ragni, MD, MPH
University of Pittsburgh
Hemophilia Center of Western PA
Pittsburgh, PA

Johnathan Friedberg, MD
James P. Wilmot Cancer Center
University of Rochester
Rochester, NY

In your opinion, what are the “can’t-miss” events attendees should put on their schedules?

Dr. Ragni:I think this year’s program is outstanding, but since it’s impossible to attend every session, there are a few that I think people should be adding to their agendas. I predict the highly acclaimed symposium on “The Basic Science of Hemostasis and Thrombosis” (Tuesday, December 9 from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m.) will be on many people’s short lists. If you’re interested in new agents, I would also recommend attending “Targeted Oral Anticoagulants: Skating on Thin Ice with Blood Thinners,” which will offer guidance about the practical use and monitoring of these agents.

For clinicians who regularly treat young children or elderly patients, I think the Education Spotlight session on “Venous Thromboembolism in Vulnerable Populations” will offer some very useful information. And, last but not least, the “Best of ASH” session will provide some great take-home information.

Dr. Friedberg: In addition to the more formal didactic sessions, the program includes the Education Spotlight Sessions and “How I Treat” sessions that provide a more intimate setting for complicated or controversial topics to be discussed. In particular, I believe the Spotlight Sessions on PET imaging and T-cell lymphoma will be particularly well-attended. These have limited seating, too, so I’d advise people to get there early. We also have a very distinguished panel of experts on the “How I Treat” roster, so attendees should make their reservations early for those, as well.

Which sessions will tackle challenging clinical situations?

Dr. Ragni: The “How I Treat” sessions will also be particularly useful for information about applying science to clinical dilemmas; the small-group format fosters some great discussion among speakers and attendees. Thrombosis will be a theme of several sessions, with a special focus on the latest recommendations on thromboprophylaxis in cancer and the findings of the TIPPS study, which will help practicing hematologists manage complications of pregnancy. The consultative hematology course will cover common problems encountered in everyday clinical practice, which is something every practicing hematologist can benefit from.

Dr. Friedberg: In my opinion, survivorship in blood cancers has been a relatively understudied area, so we dedicated a session to survivorship across various different types of cancers. Several of the sessions take a “forward-looking” view of newer drugs that are being used, such as “Current and Future Therapies for Aplastic Anemia and Myelodysplastic Syndromes,” where we look at the micro-environment and niche and finish with a review of drugs currently under development; but also, I think the audience members will get a good sense about the research agenda is in these areas.

What are some of the special sessions designed for early-career hematologists/trainees? For educators?

Dr. Ragni: There is an assortment of activities to help hematologists-in-training get the most out of the ASH annual meeting — both in terms of career development and networking. In addition to the Trainee Welcome Reception Friday evening, there’s also a special Trainee Lounge, which provides a place for young hematologists to refresh, regroup, and network.

Dr. Friedberg: For educators, I think they would be well-served to attend the specific education programs of interest to them and get an idea of how we have merged science into clinical care. This design should serve as a paradigm, and perhaps something they could emulate at their institutions.

What were your goals in designing this year’s Education Program?

Dr. Ragni: We were excited to weave science throughout the Education Program. Each Education Session will include “science” in the form of scientific rationale for diagnosis and treatment of each hematologic disorder discussed. We thought this would enhance the learning experience for the practicing hematologist.

Dr. Friedberg: This effort also addresses how hematology has evolved; the clinical care of the patient now really requires a scientific understanding. So, we crafted a number of sessions to keep that continuum between discovery in the laboratory and its application in patients. My hope is that people attending the Education Program sessions leave with a comprehensive understanding of the state-of-the-art advances in whichever disease interests them, as well as how to apply that information in the clinic.

Scientific Program Co-Chairs

Benjamin L. Ebert, MD, PhD
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Harvard Medical School
Boston, MA

Steven R. Lentz, MD, PhD
The University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA

On the Scientific Program side, what are some of the highlights?

Dr. Ebert: The special award lectures and the plenary session should be right at the top of everybody’s list as the premiere sessions for the meeting. In terms of cutting-edge science, I’d also make sure to add the “Late-Breaking Abstract” presentations (Tuesday, December 9 from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m.) to your agenda.

Dr. Lentz: One of my favorite sessions is “Promoting Minorities in Hematology Presentations and Reception” (Saturday, December 6 from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m.). ASH recognizes how important it is to invest in the future and encourage minority students to enter the field of hematology, and this is a great opportunity for minority students to present their research presentations.

And, of course, with such a full program, you’re bound to miss something. That’s why the “Best of ASH” program (Tuesday, December 9 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.) is a life-saver.

Which areas of research do you think will have the most exciting implications for clinical practice?

Dr. Ebert: There are a couple of themes that appear throughout the Scientific Program, such as immunotherapy. There have been enormous breakthroughs in the past couple of years, in terms of developing new therapies that target the immune system to attack malignant cells. The Special Scientific Symposium on CAR T-cell therapy, for instance, really highlights the stunning efficacy this therapy has shown in the treatment of acute leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and other lymphoid diseases.

Another theme is epigenetics and genomics — specifically, how mutations in epigenetic regulators lead to hematologic malignancies. From a research standpoint, developing new technologies for genome editing will be another scientific focus, and this crosses benign and malignant hematology as well as opening up new frontiers and potential implications in gene therapy.

Dr. Lentz: I’m excited about the breakthroughs we are seeing with iron — the understanding of iron metabolism, new drugs for iron deficiency and iron overload, and treatment of poor iron utilization due to inflammatory diseases. Iron has been at the core of hematology for a long time, but we haven’t seen much progress for many years. And now, all of a sudden, we are seeing great advances.

Thrombosis, and particularly the role of neutrophil extracellular traps in that process, will also be a common theme across several different sessions — for instance, the Scientific Committee on Hemostasis will address it, and the Scientific Committee on Transfusion Medicine will talk about their role in transfusion-related acute lung injury.

How does this year’s Scientific Program differ from previous years?

Dr. Lentz: This year, we are continuing and expanding on a few “pilot” programs that began at last year’s meeting, including the “Continuing Conversations with the Speakers” series and the Special Scientific Symposia. The topics broached in those sessions are not limited to one specific area of hematology, but cross-cut across the entire breadth of hematology. These were very successful last year, and we have a few really exciting topics this year — the CAR T-cell therapy mentioned earlier, as well as RNA therapeutics in hematology.

These are great sessions; they are small-group format and are designed with a level of accessibility between the audience and the speakers.

Dr. Ebert: We wanted to foster debate to engage the audience, so a number of the Spotlight Sessions are in point/counterpoint format. Another important thing to mention is that the Spotlight Sessions are no longer ticketed, which is good news for attendees.

Do you have any recommendations for early career hematologists, trainees, or first-time attendees?

Dr. Ebert: From a personal perspective, when I attended ASH as a trainee, the session that taught me more about the science of malignant hematology was the “Workshop on Myeloid Development.” That’s true for this year, too; the amount of exposure you get to research in malignant hematology delivered by senior-level investigators is astounding. This is a really intense session because there are so many presentations (condensed to 5 slides each), but I really feel like I learned more in those five to six hours than I had from any other meeting I’ve ever attended.