A Cutting-Edge Program to Contextualize COVID-19

Benjamin Kile, PhD
Professor of anatomy and developmental biology, Monash University Biomedicine Discovery Institute
Omar Abdel-Wahab, MD
Attending physician and director of the Center for Hematologic Malignancies at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Interview with Scientific Program Co-Chairs Benjamin Kile, PhD, and Omar Abdel-Wahab, MD


As co-chairs, what were your goals in creating this year’s Scientific Program?

Dr. Kile: Our obvious goal, as it is for every co-chair each year, is to try to do one better than last year’s meeting. It’s a pretty daunting task, particularly against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Abdel-Wahab: We want to create the most cutting-edge and exciting Scientific Program possible, which is relevant to both benign and malignant hematology. Because we’re still living with the COVID-19 pandemic, and because COVID-19 has so much relevance for hematology and hematologic malignancies, there is a lot of content related not only to COVID-19, but also to viral infections in hematologic malignancies and interactions between the immune system and hematology.

Dr. Kile: We wanted to address the pandemic, but not make the meeting entirely about COVID-19. We’ve tried to balance the topical content related to COVID-19 and its relevance to hematology with everything else that’s happening in the world of hematology, which is a field that moves extraordinarily fast. We wanted to present sessions that highlight the emerging knowledge about COVID-19 and contextualize it with the fundamental science of hematology and infections – for example, how viruses and pathogens interact with the vascular wall and trigger coagulation cascades and other elements of thrombosis.

Aside from adding COVID-19–related content to the program, did the pandemic change the meeting planning process?

Dr. Kile: In certain ways, the pandemic has made that a bit easier, because the hybrid platform gives us more freedom to select speakers regardless of their location. Even during planning, we replaced face-to-face get-togethers with Zoom calls, which made it easier to connect with people. That collaboration also worked in our favor in terms of working with the ASH scientific committees – which are the backbone of the annual meeting. When you’re on a scientific committee, it is easy to focus on the committee’s mission, but you don’t often get to collaborate with the other committees. The pandemic enabled a little more flexibility and a little more inclusivity of other committees.

How did this year’s program differ from that of previous annual meetings?

Dr. Kile: I’ll start with a session near and dear to my heart, “Platelets Megakaryocytes, and the Immune Continuum.” COVID-19 has highlighted the response of blood cells and the coagulation system to infection and their roles in the immune system. This is an example of a COVID-19–relevant session where the three presenters will discuss exciting recent work in the context of the broader fundamental science of how this lineage interacts with the immune system. The session from the Scientific Committee on Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, looking at the role of vascular biology and coagulation in response to infection, will fit nicely together with the megakaryocytes session.

The joint session from the Scientific Committees on Blood Disorders in Childhood and Hematopoiesis, “Gene Editing 2.0: Advances in Gene Editing to Treat Genetic Blood Disorders,” will also be fascinating. So much science has been partially obscured by COVID-19 in the last 18 months, but the progress made with gene editing in blood disorders and the ability to make fundamental changes in those diseases is profound.

Platelets Megakaryocytes, and the Immune Continuum

Monday, December 13, 2021, 2:45 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Georgia World Congress Center, Hall C1

Gene Editing 2.0: Advances in Gene Editing to Treat Genetic Blood Disorders

Saturday, December 11, 2021, 4:00 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.
Georgia World Congress Center, Thomas Murphy Ballroom 1-2, Level 5

Viral and Bacterial Infections – Basic Insights Into Vascular Biology and Coagulation

Monday, December 13, 2021, 10:30 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.
Georgia World Congress Center, Thomas Murphy Ballroom 1-2, Level 5

Dr. Abdel-Wahab: There are a few exciting cutting-edge themes in this year’s program. The first is the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) and data science, which is touched on in group of presentations on what we call “computer vision” in hematology. Much of how we diagnose different blood cancers is based on a pathologist looking under a microscope and describing what they’re seeing. Now, we are exploring the idea of training computers to evaluate slides and deliver diagnoses to help us determine clinical information.

The other topic I think will be really interesting is iron therapeutics. In a session called “From Structure to Function: Next Generation Iron Therapeutics,” researchers will discuss ways to improve anemia and blood production by improving iron uptake, as well as our basic understanding of how iron is metabolized in the body to produce red blood cells.

From Structure to Function: Next Generation Iron Therapeutics

Sunday, December 12, 2021, 4:30 p.m. – 5:15 p.m.
Georgia World Congress Center, B304-B305, Level 3

AI, Data Science, Computer Vision and the Hematology Laboratory of the Future

Sunday, December 12, 2021, 9:30 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.
Georgia World Congress Center, C108-C109, Level 1

Dr. Kile: The session on iron therapeutics runs the gamut from fundamental molecular science to therapy, and I am looking forward to the fantastic session on AI from the Scientific Committee on Hematopathology and Clinical Laboratory Hematology. There is a lot of talk about AI’s potential to revolutionize clinical practice, so this session is going to cover the real impact being felt now – rather than discussing AI as some sort of magical solution.

The Scientific Committee on Myeloid Biology’s session on cell memory and innate immune pathways is going to be absolutely fantastic. We always thought the innate immune pathways were the “dumb” part of the immune system – basic and non-adaptive. Well, of course, it’s way more complicated than that. The element of memory has profound implications for response to pathogens and in malignancies, such as the way the immune system is persuaded to ignore tumors or how memory underpins the immune response to cancer.

Cell Memory and Innate Immune Pathways During Myeloid Cell Development Function

Sunday, December 12, 2021,
9:30 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.
Georgia World Congress Center,
C108-C109, Level 1

ASH-EHA Joint Symposium: Targeting Macrophages and the Innate Immune System to Treat Hematologic Malignancies

Sunday, December 12, 2021,
12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Georgia World Congress Center,
Hall C2-C3

Which sessions are you adding to your own agendas?

Dr. Abdel-Wahab: Sessions that I know are going to be well attended are those on immunotherapy in hematology, covering chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy and natural killer cells.

Dr. Kile: I am looking forward to the ASH-EHA Joint Symposium, featuring Ravi Majeti, MD, PhD, and Claudia Lengerke, MD. Again, this joint session speaks to this year’s collaborative spirit and focus on the immune system. Drs. Majeti and Lengerke will discuss manipulation of the innate immune system for therapeutic gain in malignancies.