As the sun set over the dazzling blue of the San Diego harbor, the last posters were pulled from their corkboard homes, the last hugs and smiles were shared (with frenzied exchanges of numbers and texts), the last footsteps of ASH badge-donning figures echoed through the convention center, and #ASH23 wrote its epilogue and came to a brilliant close. And though we seem to say it every year, this year was perhaps even more special, cherished, more deeply felt. Together, we perceived and tackled challenges, celebrated heroes — both new and enduring — and forged connections. Upon our return to this new (strangely-yet-not-so-strangely quieter) reality post-meeting, here are the central messages that are still resonating with and reshaping us.
This year heralded a blockbusting achievement for ASH, with a record number of abstracts published, totaling more than 7,400, including 1,068 orals and six late-breaking abstracts hailing from 66 categories! Not to fret: We’ve already contacted the Guinness World Records official site, and they’re on it.
Challenging the Status Quo
Science at the service of all people — this is the “new normal.” The work shared this year demonstrates that recognizing the full spectrum of physiology and using an inclusive approach to the definition of pathology is essential for providing effective and equitable care. A call for a universal reference range for ferritin, with a target of 50 ng/mL to avoid the underdiagnosis of iron deficiency in female patients, and the recognition of variation in neutrophil counts (including those associated with the Duffy-null phenotype to prevent overdiagnosis of neutropenia) show the great impact of challenging the mindset that “we’ve always done it this way.”
Sunshine and Rainbows
The beautiful San Diego weather set the stage for various celebrations, from small gatherings to large events. With networking events focused on science and medicine for sickle cell disease (SCD), thrombosis and hemostasis, and systems-based hematology, there were plenty of opportunities to meet known and new colleagues and friends. The brightest light shone on the 20th anniversary of ASH’s Minority Recruitment Initiative (MRI), a longitudinal and multifaceted program that has invested more than $15 million to support more than 500 clinicians and scientists from underrepresented groups throughout their early careers in hematology. A collection of “special edition” rainbow-colored ribbons allowed us to openly and proudly demonstrate our support for each other and recognize the impact of the ASH diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.
Miles to Go
While we recognize the progress we’ve made, we also had opportunities to check ourselves (and our biases) this year through further exploration of health equity issues. Whether it be in multiple myeloma (MM) care (per ASH News Daily’s “Miles to Go” article), gene therapy equity for SCD, transfusion medicine equity, hemophilia carrier screening and gender equity, global access to transplant, or — tackling inclusivity from a regulatory perspective — striving to secure clinical trials that are representative, a multitude of oral, poster and special-interest sessions, workshops, and the Health Equity Studio moved us to reflect on how far we’ve come and confront the ground we have left to cover.
A Celebration (to Last Throughout the Years)
We celebrated another milestone this year as the ASH Clinical Research Training Institute (CRTI) turned 20! This program for clinician-scientists not only develops a richness of skills and serves as a springboard for collaborations and mentorship alliances, but (perhaps most importantly) cultivates genuine, unwavering friendships. Echoing the sentiment by Jeffrey Lebensburger, MD, who served as CRTI co-director from 2020 to 2022, one leaves this program changed as both a researcher and a person. Happy birthday CRTI, and thank you for all you have done!
We also rejoiced in this year’s Plenary abstracts, featuring a distinguished cast that empowered us to give the “AX” to refractory chronic graft-versus-host disease (using novel axatilimab), led us to meet the WIZ (a.k.a. the oral transcription factor, WIZ, offering insight into a new therapeutic approach for SCD), invited us to sp(l)ice up our lives by targeting mutant SF3B1 mis-splicing, suggested adding a sprinkle of isatuximab to backbone MM induction therapy to deepen responses, urged us to “take our vitamins” (prenatal folate, to be precise) to maintain hematopoietic stem cell function, and finally inspired us to REACH for the stars vis-a-vis hydroxyurea dose optimization on a global stage. The Late-breaking Abstracts revealed superiority of quadruplets in MM, benefits of venetoclax addition to ibrutinib in mantle cell lymphoma, the virtues of repurposed pomalidomide for hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia, a potential for reduced intensity HLA-haploidentical transplant in severe SCD, the efficacy of revumenib in KMT2Ar acute leukemia, and a new predisposition gene, ERG, as a key player in bone marrow failure and hematologic malignancies. We applaud each of these studies for boldly charting the future of our field!
Heroes and the Next Generation (uh, Not Sequencing)
One of the human elements that inspired us most this year was the reverence for those who came before us and that inherent, palpable drive to give back to, teach, and foster the next generation. In that spirit, we are paying tribute to past editors of ASH News Daily, going back to 2002, for having blazed new trails and inspired us: Drs. Joseph Antin, Thomas Ortel, Peter Emanuel, Belinda Avalos, Elaine Muchmore, Margaret Ragni, Ruben Mesa, David Steensma, Mary Jo Lechowicz, Joseph Mikhael, Michael Bishop, Marc Kahn, Julie Kanter, Laura Michaelis, Aaron Gerds, Saad Usmani, Mehdi Hamadani, Ayesha Zia, and Ahmar Zaidi. We offer special thanks to Naseema Gangat, MD, who led ASH News Daily through a two-year mandate, including a global pandemic, with supreme generosity, masterful vision, intellectual prowess, and class. We also want to champion our indomitable trainees who, while perhaps overwhelmed by the grandeur of #ASH23 (the quotable sentiment expressed by many of our “next-gen” hematologists), thoroughly appropriated and embraced the meeting! No matter how new you are to the ASH family or annual meeting, you are always welcome here!
Dreamers, Behind-the-Sceners, and the Intrepid Epilogue
There is so much more that went into making #ASH23 the success that it was than anyone could imagine. The steady chain of science — and the teams behind it, from basic to translational to clinical to health outcomes-related work — was nothing short of magical to witness. We also acknowledge the dreamers, those who plan and conceptualize the meeting down to the finest detail, and those behind the scenes — from the ASH Executive Committee members and volunteers to all those working so hard to disseminate the knowledge and literally deliver the news (ASH Committee on Communications, ASH News Daily family): We thank you! Our loyal readers, you remain our purpose and our inspiration, and we thank you for reading and connecting with us throughout (Merci! Gracias!). Finally, the #ASH23 virtual meeting platform and online editions of ASH News Daily remain at your fingertips night and day, to catch up on what you missed (let’s be real, we know you couldn’t be everywhere all at once). Please save the date for #ASH24, returning to San Diego, December 7-10, 2024. Until then, keep dreaming, challenging, collaborating, championing, and moving forward — and don’t you forget about us, or each other, as we remain sincerely yours.