By Paul R. McCurdy, MD
In celebration of ASH’s 50th, Reflections on ASH is a series of articles that touch on different people’s perspectives on the ASH annual meeting. We end this series with Dr. McCurdy, who’s attended all 49 ASH annual meetings, including this year’s meeting!
From its modest beginning on an enclosed porch in an Atlantic City hotel, a day-and-a-half adjunct to the large prestigious spring clinical research meetings, the annual ASH meeting has morphed into the multi-day mega meeting of today. The second meeting was held in the fall, purposely separated from other medical meetings. Initially, the all-volunteer-managed meeting was held in the home city of the president; the Society and its meetings are now professionally handled. ASH was one of the first subspecialty societies whose annual meeting replaced the clinical research meeting as the most prestigious place to present cutting-edge research.
One revolutionary change was the 1969 introduction of the Education Program at the Cleveland annual meeting. Up-to-date summaries of the clinical and research status of topics in classical hematology were presented by leading academics. This idea was championed by Dr. T. Hale Ham, head of the Division of Research in Medical Education at Case Western Reserve. The ASH leadership believed it wasn’t needed by the mostly research-oriented Society members, but reluctantly approved it as a trial. Annual meeting attendees were asked to sign up in advance for the topic(s) they wished to hear. It was a mob scene! Each of the sessions was crowded, with standing room only and many attendees unable to squeeze in. Thus, the Education Program became a fixture and there are those who go to the meeting only or primarily for it. A few ad hoc handouts evolved into the annual Education Program, a valuable updated reference source for the topics covered. The members of Dr. Ham’s cooperative study on medical education methods formed the nucleus of the ASH Education Committee.
One or two years later, several scientific “subcommittees” were formed to address particular subsections of hematology. As an interested bystander, I observed the creation of the Subcommittee on Immunohematology to provide a venue for the fledgling science of transfusion medicine, well served by neither the technically oriented blood bank groups nor the basic science programs of ASH. The subcommittees (now “scientific committees”) have proliferated and become well-attended fixtures at the annual meeting.
ASH annual meetings have been the venues for the development and expansion of the study of molecular genetics and genetic polymorphisms, beginning with a series on thalassemia at the first meeting. One of the first disorders found to have a molecular origin was sickle cell anemia, followed by other abnormal hemoglobin disorders.
Of a more evolutionary nature was the increasing dominance of oncology. The early ASH leadership focused on “classical hematology” and resisted the inclusion of malignant diseases other than the leukemias, lymphomas, and related disorders. Other societies arose to provide outlets for solid tumor oncology and bone marrow transplant research. The increasing involvement of ASH members in clinical practice and the importance of cancer led to a progressively greater emphasis on clinical and research oncology at the annual meeting.
Having attended every one of the ASH annual meetings, I am repeatedly amazed at our progress in understanding and treating hematologic disorders.
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