American Society of Hematology’s 2016 Inside Look: Insights from Program Chairs, Speakers, Moderators, and more

This year’s ASH Annual Meeting and Exposition, taking place December 3-6 in San Diego, California, features a diverse lineup of educational activities, networking opportunities, and practice-changing science. ASH Clinical News spoke with the program co-chairs for an exclusive look at highlighted sessions and what attendees can expect from the meeting.

Scientific Program Co-Chairs

Robert A. Brodsky, MD
The Johns Hopkins Family Professor of Medicine and Oncology and Director, Division of Hematology at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD
Ross Levine, MD
Laurence Joseph Dineen Chair in Leukemia Research and director of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Center for Hematologic Malignancies at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, New York

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

Dr. Levine: Obviously, we are excited about the whole Scientific Program, so asking us that question is like asking us to choose a favorite child. Everything is a “can’t-miss” session for attendees, but, for the purposes of paring down a schedule, I would say that Sunday’s Plenary Scientific Session will be a greatest hits compilation of both clinical and translational basic science.

Dr. Brodsky: This year’s Special Scientific Symposium on “Genomic Instability in Lymphoid Development” should also be interesting; speakers will describe new insights into the role of genomic instability in normal lymphoid development and in neoplasia.

As always, the awards presentations will cover engaging topics: J. Evan Sadler, MD, PhD, and Ayalew Tefferi, MD, are accepting the Henry M. Stratton Medal for Basic Research and Clinical/Translational Research, respectively, and will speak about approaches to von Willebrand disease, thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, and myeloproliferative neoplasms. This year’s Presidential Symposium will cover biologic and therapeutic advances pertaining to sickle cell disease.

Dr. Levine: The Oral Sessions are full of tremendous science, and the “Best of ASH,” which takes place on Tuesday, gives attendees a review of the biggest breakthroughs from the meeting’s abstract presentations, including the Late-Breaking Abstracts.

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

Dr. Brodsky: I think attendees will benefit from attending the new joint session developed by the Scientific Committee on Blood Disorders in Childhood and the Scientific Committee on Red Cell Biology, which will feature cutting-edge talks on understanding and repairing diseased red blood cells, including the recent investigations in mouse models and clinical specimens. New concepts in genome regulation and novel approaches, such as gene therapy and alternatives to gene therapy for hemoglobinopathies, will be discussed. These should have important laboratory and clinical implications.

Dr. Levine: Genomics and precision medicine are emerging themes and continue to be a focus of this year’s scientific program. There are a lot of discussions about genomic profiling of patients, including a Scientific Spotlight Session on “Precision Medicine Trials as a Novel Approach to Drug Development” (read more about this session below). This will feature presentations about the new Beat AML Master Trial and the National Cancer Institute’s MATCH Trial.

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

Dr. Brodsky: This year, we developed two joint sessions: the Scientific Committee on Blood Disorders and Scientific Committee on Red Cell Biology and the Scientific Committee on Hematopoiesis and Scientific Committee on Myeloid Biology. These sessions will have cross-cutting themes and cutting-edge science and will be one of the highlights for laboratory-based and translational investigators.

Dr. Levine: With this new type of combined session, multiple committees have banded together to put together bigger collaborative Scientific Committee Sessions, with great discussions about innovative technologies and their implications.

Dr. Brodsky: Also, this year, all of the content from the Scientific Program will be recorded and made available for purchase for people who cannot attend in person.

What are some of the special sessions designed for early-career hematologists and trainees?

Dr. Brodsky: The “Continuing Conversations with the Speakers” series, the Scientific Spotlight Sessions, and “How I Treat: Bringing Science to Clinical Dilemmas” session will all offer early-career hematologists and medical educators a smaller, more intimate setting in which to interact with clinical and laboratory-based investigators who are at the forefront of their respective fields.

Dr. Levine: The majority of the science and the general scientific sessions target early-career hematologists; we want people who are in training or starting their careers, on either the clinical or scientific front, to know that the annual meeting is designed with them in mind. There are many sessions on career development – for students, fellows, and junior faculty, that cover topics like how to get your career started, how to get funded, and how to set up your own program. Much of this takes place during Trainee Day, but there are also sessions specifically designed for trainees that are scheduled throughout the meeting.

It’s something I’m personally very committed to. We want trainees to know that, everywhere they go in the meeting, we will be looking out for them because they are an integral part of the hematology community. We don’t just want to do this in one venue; we want to give young hematologists the opportunity to share their science and interact with other scientists at every level – from formal didactic sessions to informal networking opportunities and everything in between.

Education Program Co-Chairs

Jorge Di Paola, MD
Director of Basic and Translational Research in Pediatric Hemostasis and Thrombosis
Professor of Pediatrics-Hematology/Oncology
University of Colorado School of Medicine
Denver, CO


Selina Luger, MD
Director of the Leukemia Program
Professor of Medicine
Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA


What are the “can’t-miss” events that attendees should add to their schedules?

Dr. Di Paola: The Education Program has plenty of fantastic content, and some talks are particularly interesting. These include the “Mechanisms of Transfusion Alloimmunization” session, which is jointly sponsored by the American Association of Blood Banks, and the “Anemia in the Young and Old” session. This first session will be particularly relevant because the development of antibodies against transfused cells is one of the major concerns of managing patients who are heavily transfused. The speakers in this session are going to dissect the mechanism of how those antibodies develop and the cellular responses to alloimmunization.

Dr. Luger: We will have several sessions highlighting precision medicine in both benign and malignant hematology. For instance, the winners of this year’s Ernest Beutler Lecture & Prize, Hugues de Thé, MD, PhD, and Zhu Chen, MD, PhD, will speak about using precision medicine to direct diagnostics and therapy for acute promyelocytic leukemia, and the winner of this year’s William Dameshek Prize, Charles Mullighan, MBBS (Hons), MD, is a leader in applying precision genomic medicine to the treatment of acute lymphocytic leukemia.

In designing this year’s Education Program, what goals did you have in mind?

Dr. Luger: We wanted there to be more opportunities for people in benign, malignant, and laboratory hematology to interact and learn from each other. The session on “Common Consults in Thrombosis” will be of interest to both benign and malignant hematologists and will feature a discussion on thrombosis in the setting of cancer. The Educational Symposia, while it is geared toward clinicians, will be of interest to the scientific community because it focuses on new therapies and diagnostic techniques and new approaches to therapy.

Dr. Di Paola: Hematology is a specialty that crosses over so many other specialties, so we tried to create a program that is important for the hematologist who sees patients in the clinic, as well as the hematologist who is asked by other specialists to consult on a case. At the end of the day, we want hematologists who attend the Education Sessions to go back to their colleagues after the meeting and be able to tell them about the most exciting developments in the diagnosis and treatment of hematologic disorders.

How does this year’s Education Program differ from last year’s?

Dr. Luger: With this year’s program, we tried to bring science into the clinic and the clinic into science, to truly make the content relevant to everyone. We also wanted to ensure that female scientists were represented in the sessions; the 2016 Education Program has more women as speakers and session chairs than any previous Education Program.

Are there any sessions designed specifically for medical educators?

Dr. Di Paola: Medical educators will benefit from sessions that review everything from disease pathology to diagnosis to the latest therapeutic developments. I think the sessions on “Bone Marrow Failures,” “Complement Disorders and Hematologic Consequences,” and “Genetic Susceptibility to Leukemias” will be of particular interest.

I would also recommend “An Update on White Blood Cell Disorders.” Attendees will leave that session having basically read a chapter on white blood cell disorders, because the speakers will be discussing everything about these disorders and the function of white blood cells.

Dr. Luger: Communication is an important topic for medical educators (and all clinicians), so this year’s Spotlight Session, “Treatment of the Patient, Not the Disease,” will address many aspects of doctor–patient communication. Speakers will discuss topics such as humanism and professionalism in the era of the electronic medical record, difficult end-of-life discussions, and how to connect with patients when you’re staring at a screen.

The Diary of a First-Timer

With so many activities and information to take in, the ASH Annual Meeting can seem overwhelming for first-time attendees. Newcomer Alan Tseng will be sharing his experiences at the 58th ASH Annual Meeting with ASH Clinical News. Check back in our January issue to see how it went!

Alan Tseng
Third-year PhD student
University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine
Chicago, IL



Why are you planning to attend this year’s meeting in San Diego? What are you hoping to gain?

Aside from exposure to the forefront of hematologic basic and clinical research and networking with leaders in the field, I’m looking forward to gaining more experience in different styles of scientific presentation, which will be critical in my career development. I’ve been told the caliber of work selected for presentations at ASH is top notch.

Are you interested in a specific session taking place during the meeting?

Some of the sessions I am interested in include those from the Scientific Committee on Immunology and Host Defense, the Scientific Committee on Hemostasis, and the Scientific Committee on Thrombosis and Vascular Biology. I’m also interested in some of the education programs, such as the “An Update on White Blood Cell Disorders” and “Common Consults in Thrombosis” sessions. I hope to attend one of the “Meet the Blood Editors” sessions.

Session Sneak Peek

Scientific Committee on Blood Disorders in Childhood and Scientific Committee on Red Cell Biology: Understanding and Repairing Faulty Red Blood Cells

Saturday, December 3, 2016, 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. and Sunday, December 4, 2016, 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.


  • Colleen Delaney, MD, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA
  • Alex Minella, MD, BloodCenter of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI


  • Ann Dean, PhD, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD
  • Harvey Lodish, PhD, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Cambridge, MA
  • Lucia De Franceschi, MD, Policlinico GB Rossi, University of Verona, Verona, Italy
  • Marina Cavazzana, MD, PhD, Hôpital Necker – Enfants, Paris, France

Fundamental insights into the relationships between gene structure and transcriptional control, gained using erythroid cell systems, have driven the development of novel therapeutic approaches to red blood cell diseases, including sickle cell anemia and thalassemias. The development of these approaches represents a paradigm for future molecularly targeted therapies. This session will combine presentations of newly elucidated, fundamental mechanisms of cell signaling and gene expression control, with demonstrations of ongoing, state-of-the-art studies of gene therapy strategies aimed at treating and curing hemoglobinopathies in humans.

Dr. Dean will focus on the biology of gene regulatory elements that regulate transcription through long-range interactions with promoter regions; Dr. Lodish will present ongoing work focused on harnessing an integrative, mechanistic understanding of erythroid progenitor cell signaling pathways; Dr. De Franceschi will describe the development of non-gene therapy strategies for clinical application; and Dr. Cavazzana will present novel therapeutic approaches in an effort to cure the more prevalent inherited blood diseases worldwide.

Scientific Committee on Hematopoiesis and Scientific Committee on Myeloid Biology: Clonal Development of Hematopoietic Stem Cell Specification and Differentiation at Single Cell Resolution

Saturday, December 3, 2016, 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. and Sunday, December 4, 2016, 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.


  • Yi Zheng, PhD, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Cincinnati, OH
  • H. Leighton Grimes, PhD, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Cincinnati, OH


  • John Dick, PhD, The Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto, Canada
  • Bertie Gottgens, DPhil, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • Ellen Rothenberg, PhD, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA

This session will focus on cutting-edge, integrated single-cell genomic and genetic analysis of hematopoiesis, coupled with single-cell biology. Together, these approaches provide new knowledge of the molecular networks that resolve hematopoietic cellular processes in both human and model systems, expanding our understanding of how clonality is achieved and dynamically controlled in both normal and disease states of blood cell development. This work will expand our understanding of clonal selection/clonal dominance, and lineage fate decisions at the single-cell level.

Dr. Dick will describe clonal evolution of human hematopoiesis at single-cell resolution; Dr. Gottgens will present single-cell molecular profiling experiments that reveal new aspects of blood stem cell regulation and their perturbation by leukemic factors; Dr. Rothenberg will present a systems biology level understanding of the transcription networks that control lymphoid cell fate decisions; Dr. Schroeder will present his work using transcription factor reporters to track myeloid lineage fate determination.

Grassroots Network Lunch

Saturday, December 3, 2016, 11:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.


  • Gregory C. Simon, Office of the Vice President

Thanks to ASH’s advocacy efforts and the ASH Grassroots Network, issues important to the future of hematology are brought to the attention of the U.S. Congress and federal agencies. The ASH Grassroots Network Lunch provides a forum for interested members to learn how they can participate in ASH’s advocacy efforts, communicate with Congress and the White House, and become effective advocates for hematology. Greg Simon, executive director of the White House Cancer Task Force and the Obama Administration’s Cancer Moonshot initiative, will be the featured speaker at this year’s lunch. Mr. Simon will discuss the achievements of Moonshot thus far, including the findings of the initiative’s Blue Ribbon Panel, the recently released Cancer Moonshot Taskforce Report, and the outlook for the effort in the next presidential administration.

Special Scientific Symposium on Genomic Instability in Lymphoid Development: Causes and Consequences

Saturday, December 3, 2016, 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.


  • Richard Ambinder, MD, PhD, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD


  • Stephen Desiderio, MD, PhD, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD
  • Barry Sleckman, MD, PhD, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, NY
  • Markus Müschen, MD, PhD, University of California – San Francisco, San Francisco, CA

As part of the new joint committee sessions in this year’s program, this presentation will describe new insights into the role of genomic instability in normal lymphoid development and in neoplasia. Recent investigations in mouse models and in clinical specimens shed new light on the regulation of recombination mediated by the RAG proteins, double strand breaks, the DNA damage response and cell-cycle checkpoints. Dr. Desiderio will discuss genomic instability in developing lymphocytes; Dr. Sleckman will discuss the coordination of recombination and DNA repair in developing lymphocytes; and Dr. Müschen will discuss the clonal evolution of acute lymphoblastic malignancies.

Precision Medicine Trials as a Novel Approach to Drug Development

Sunday, December 4, 2016, 4:30 – 6:00 p.m.


  • Louis Staudt, MD, PhD, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD


  • Brian Druker, MD, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR
  • Keith Flaherty, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA

This Scientific Spotlight Session will discuss the state of precision medicine clinical trials that incorporate genomic profiling to understand the molecular basis of therapeutic response. Dr. Druker will speak about progress in precision medicine approaches to treat acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and provide updates on an umbrella trial design to identify rational therapies for AML based on recurrent molecular abnormalities in these leukemias. Dr. Flaherty will discuss the NCI-MATCH basket trial, which is enrolling patients with a wide range of cancer types and assigning them to treatment arms based on deep amplicon resequencing of known cancer genes.

ASH–College of American Pathologists Guidelines on Initial Work-Up of Acute Leukemia

Sunday, December 4, 2016, 4:30 – 6:00 p.m.


  • Daniel A. Arber, MD, Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford, CA
  • Kathryn Foucar, MD, University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, Albuquerque, NM

The laboratory evaluation of patients suspected of having acute leukemia is complex. The College of American Pathologists (CAP) and ASH formed an expert panel to review the relevant literature and to establish a guideline for appropriate laboratory testing (e.g., guidance on which genetic tests should be ordered for diagnosis) as well as clinical information for the initial diagnosis of acute leukemia, including acute myeloid leukemia, acute lymphocytic leukemia, and acute leukemias of ambiguous lineage. In this session, Drs. Arber and Foucar will describe the process used for the development of the acute leukemia guidelines and summarize the guideline statements, the strength of evidence for each statement, and the rationale for the specific elements.

The ASH Choosing Wisely® Campaign: 2016 ASH Choosing Wisely Champions

Monday, December 5, 2016, 12:15 – 1:15 p.m.


  • Lisa K. Hicks, MD, St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, Canada


  • Maria I. Juarez, MD, Cancer Institute of Dallas, Mansfield, TX
    Reduction of RBC Transfusion Via Updated Guidelines, Modified Workflow, and Physician Education
  • Javier Munoz, MD, Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, Gilbert, AZ
    Reduction of Post-Treatment Scanning Using EMR Alerts
  • Ravindra Sarode, MD, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX
    Reduction in Unnecessary or Misapplied Thrombophilia Testing in Patients with DVT, PE, or Other Thrombotic Disorders Using Combination of Education and EMR Alerts

In cooperation with the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation, ASH is introducing the “Choosing Wisely Champions” to recognize the efforts of practitioners who are working to eliminate costly and the potentially harmful overuse of tests and procedures and to provide annual meeting attendees with an opportunity to learn about projects that might be translated to their own practices. These three individuals will present successful strategies that they have developed and implemented in their practice, institution, or hospital system.