Interview with Education Program Co-Chairs Elisabeth Battinelli, MD, PhD, and Jason Gotlib, MD, MS
What are your goals for this year’s education program?
Dr. Gotlib: We wanted to make sure that the annual meeting highlights ASH’s strategic initiatives and research agenda in sickle cell disease, precision medicine, immunologic treatment of hematologic malignancies, genome editing and gene therapy, stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, epigenetics, and venous thromboembolic disease. This is a combined effort of the Education and Scientific Program co-chairs to ensure that content is both topical and forward-looking, complementary yet not overlapping.
Dr. Battinelli: My goal was to design productive, relevant sessions that would be of interest to both clinical physicians and scientists attending the meeting. I based my choices on consultative hematology – thinking about frequent consults, difficult cases, and new breakthroughs in hematology. I tried to structure sessions around clinical cases that illustrate the diagnostic and treatment decision-making process and can be used as an outline for presentations. Since there are so many new and exciting advancements in nonmalignant hematology in the last few years, I wanted the clinical cases to lead to relevant discussions about the basic science involved, as well as the clinical management issues.
This year, we have also asked well known specialists in fields outside of hematology to give their perspective on topics that intersect a variety of fields, including obstetrics, cardiology, and rheumatology. Along with Robert Flaumenhaft, MD, PhD, co-chair of the ASH Scientific Program, we designed a joint Education and Scientific session on thrombosis in cancer.
Dr. Gotlib: The content speaks to a broad swath of the ASH membership, including adult and pediatric physicians, community and academic-based practitioners, MDs and PhDs, hematopathologists, and allied health care professionals. ASH has an expanding global footprint, and we want to make sure that we embrace our international members with content that is relevant to their practice, as well as expose members to how a disease is approached outside the confines of the U.S. or other developed countries.
In that regard, I’m excited about the session on the management of chronic myeloid leukemia around the globe. This roundtable discussion which will focus on access, diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of CML in resource-poor countries. It will be an enlightening exchange and should broaden our appreciation of the challenges of tackling a disease that we now almost take for granted.
Does this year’s program differ from previous meetings?
Dr. Gotlib: The annual meeting has a secret sauce that works incredibly well, and so we are always looking for topics and ways to present content that engage ASH’s stakeholders – and especially trainees to excite them about our field.
Dr. Battinelli: We have again incorporated some of the session formats that were well received at last year’s annual meeting, such as the debates. And, whenever possible, we’ll use case discussions to frame the session, like with the point-counterpoint session on curative therapies for sickle cell disease. This Education Spotlight Session features two experts discussing curative approaches to sickle cell disease, such as gene therapies, as well as targeted therapies to reduce disease symptoms.
Dr. Gotlib: With increasing sophistication in the tools we use to diagnose and monitor hematologic malignancies, we’ve tried to make sure that aspects of precision medicine, such as minimal residual disease testing, are included within a spectrum of education sessions covering hematologic malignancies. Immunotherapy is a burgeoning field that is similarly well represented in this year’s sessions on myeloma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and pediatric leukemias.
We also wanted to focus on the potential financial challenges of modern therapy, which will be covered in the session on the history and recent past of Hodgkin lymphoma. In one of this session’s three presentations, Scott Huntington, MD, MPH, will discuss firstline therapy in Hodgkin lymphoma as a case example of drug pricing, cost-effectiveness, and the impact on available societal resources to tackle malignancies.
What are the “must-see” sessions that attendees should put on their agendas?
Dr. Battinelli: There are many interesting sessions and we hope that we have designed a program that has something to offer all attendees! But, I think that everyone should attend the spotlight session on the hematologic complications of illicit drug use, given the increased awareness of medical complications associated with their use.
Personally, I’m excited to attend many of the sessions covering hemostasis and thrombosis in both programs, including the session on direct oral anticoagulants in the “real world.” The speakers will focus on the current use of direct oral anti-coagulants, including new indications, reversal, and laboratory monitoring.
I also look forward to our Friday afternoon programming for trainees at ASH-a-Palooza – especially the five-minute, rapid-fire Blood Drops talks.
Dr. Gotlib: I am particularly excited about the Education Spotlight Sessions on the role of chemoimmunotherapy for CLL, molecular hematopathology, and rare childhood leukemias. We now have potent biologics and oral medications for CLL. In this point-counterpoint debate, experts will be discussing whether such drugs are replacing chemoimmunotherapy as frontline treatment or whether we should keep alive the traditional approaches that we’ve used for decades.
In another Education Spotlight Session, a hematopathologist and a molecular diagnostician will review a series of cases elicited from clinicians around the country, covering the clinical aspects, histopathology, and molecular diagnostics of each case to see how physicians can weave together data from different platforms to optimize diagnosis and management of patients in the real world.
I am also excited about the “Diving Into Rare Childhood Leukemias” Education Spotlight Session. Childhood leukemias are an often-overlooked area because of their rarity. Pediatricians need more information about the biology, diagnosis, and optimal management of these neoplasms, and this session will provide an opportunity to discuss this in more detail.
Of course, I always recommend that people attend the plenary and the late-breaking abstracts sessions for the very simple reason that they highlight the groundbreaking research and translational discoveries in malignant and nonmalignant hematology, as well as clinical studies, which are often practice-changing.