Interview with Scientific Program Co-Chairs Robert Flaumenhaft, MD, PhD, and Charles Mullighan, MBBS (Hons), MD
What are your goals for this year’s scientific program?
Dr. Flaumenhaft: In putting together this year’s scientific program, we sought to feature cutting-edge, high-impact science in both benign and malignant hematology. The scientific committees did a fantastic job identifying groundbreaking advances in their respective subspecialties, which simplified our job.
Dr. Mullighan: We wanted to emphasize innovative approaches and technologies relevant to understanding the basis of hematologic disease but also look forward to how these might be useful as diagnostic or therapeutic tools in the clinic.
We worked with the ASH meetings team to explore some new formats, like joint sessions presented by multiple scientific committees. Of course, we also wanted to make the speakers accessible and available, so there are Q&A sessions at the end of each presentation, and we have Continuing Conversations With the Speakers for several sessions. The Meet the Scientist sessions are a valuable resource for that same reason; they feature individual scientists who are experts in a topic that may not be represented in the scientific committee sessions. This year, these sessions will cover aptamers, artificial intelligence, cell-based therapeutics, clonal dynamics, and more. Having these interactive opportunities for enriched conversations with speakers and presenters is important, both for established scientists and for trainees who are thinking about a career in hematology.
Dr. Flaumenhaft: Another goal was for the speaker selection to represent the gender and ethnic diversity of the hematology community. The subcommittees were enormously helpful in actualizing this objective.
Dr. Mullighan: With ‘hot’ issues or areas that are being highlighted by multiple scientific committees, we encouraged the committees to merge and create joint sessions.
How does this year’s program differ from previous meetings?
Dr. Flaumenhaft: One new feature of this year’s program is the poster walk, where several key thought leaders in hemostasis and thrombosis will lead trainees in discussions on selected posters. This session will take place early in the morning to avoid crowds, enabling in-depth dialogue between trainees and experts in the field. This will be a great opportunity for networking, as well as an enriching educational experience.
Dr. Mullighan: The structure of the scientific program evolves with the science. Before I served as co-chair, I was chair of the Committee on Scientific Affairs. As part of our planning, we look ahead to what new committees might be established that best represent advances in science relevant to hematology. The Ad Hoc Scientific Committee on Epigenetics and Genomics has been particularly successful; its topic this year is the three-dimensional architecture of the human genome. In this exciting session, experts will discuss how different parts of chromosomes loop and bring together genes in different regions of the genome.
Dr. Flaumenhaft: This session will take place early in the morning to avoid crowds, enabling in-depth dialogue between trainees and experts in the field. This will be a great opportunity for networking, as well as an enriching educational experience.
What are the “must-see” sessions that attendees should put on their agendas?
Dr. Flaumenhaft: One aspect of the ASH annual meeting that sets it apart from other conferences is its extraordinary strength in both basic science and clinical practice. In many cases, the basic science behind new therapies in hematology was first presented at the ASH annual meeting and, years later, the pivotal clinical trials that bring these therapies into practice are presented. The process by which new discoveries are translated to clinical practice, however, is not typically a focus of the meeting, despite substantial interest. This will be a topic of a session as part of our Special Scientific Symposia. It will be presented in a format new to the ASH annual meeting, featuring an actively moderated panel discussion with representatives from the FDA, venture capital, and industry. This topic cuts across disciplines.
Dr. Mullighan: I’m also looking forward to the Special Scientific Symposium on “Drugging the Undruggable.” There’s been a huge amount of interest in cancer-genome sequencing and the notion of precision medicine to match a drug to an individual patient based on their tumor genetics, but, that’s not always feasible. With this session, we wanted to discuss alternate approaches to thinking about precision medicine in the postgenomic era. There will be three complementary talks covering sequencing-based approaches and exceptional responders, using functional genomics to find a tumor’s Achilles’ heel, and PROTAC-mediated protein degradation, a chemical biology concept that has the potential to increase the druggable target space.
Several of the scientific committees’ sessions are on my “must-see” list, covering topics from the ways to image the hematopoietic stem cell niche, to the complex metabolic circuitry within myeloid stem and progenitor cells, to the new approaches in genome editing.
Dr. Flaumenhaft: One feature of this year’s meeting that interests me is the focus on big data and artificial intelligence. Clearly a timely topic in the popular press, this field is becoming increasingly influential in hematology. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are being touched on in the Presidential Symposium and the Special Scientific Symposia.
And, of course, as a platelet biologist and coagulation specialist, I always attend the Special Symposium on the Basic Science of Hemostasis and Thrombosis, after which ASH hosts a special networking event for the hemostasis and thrombosis community.
I also plan to attend the honorary lectures. In the Ernest Beutler Lecture, Sriram Krishnaswamy, PhD, will discuss how incorporation of factor Xa into the prothrombinase complex modulates its activity, and Jeffrey Weitz, MD, will discuss how direct oral anticoagulants have transformed anticoagulation therapy. The Ham-Wassermann Lecture will feature Amit Nathwani, MD, PhD, discussing gene therapy in hemophilia.