Mustafa Sahin, MD, PhD, is currently serving his second year as Chair of the Scientific Selection and Program Planning Committee responsible for planning and organizing the content of the annual meetings. Dr. Sahin, an Associate Professor in Neurology at Harvard University, was appointed as chair of this committee by CNS President, E. Steve Roach, MD. The purpose of this interview was to determine how the content of an annual CNS meeting is determined and what is in store for those attending the 2013 CNS Annual Meeting in Austin, TX, October 30 – November 2.
QUESTION | What is the process for planning the CME content of a CNS Annual Meeting?
The first step is to determine the members of the Scientific Selection and Program Planning Committee. This committee consists of 24 members of the CNS. Six of these members rotate out each year and are replaced by six new members. Once the committee is established, the next step is to invite proposals for symposia and seminars from all members of the society. The committee then evaluates and chooses among those proposals.
QUESTION |So the process of determining the content of the meeting is a “democratic” one?
Yes, it is a bottom-up process, in which the content is determined by the membership. This is the best way to guarantee that the content of the meeting addresses the issues and subjects in which the membership is most interested and what they consider most relevant.
QUESTION |Are all of the symposia and seminars chosen from among those suggested by the membership?
Three of the five are. The Wednesday NDC Symposium is organized by Bernie Maria and the Thursday morning Presidential Symposium is a collaborative effort involving the CNS President and the Program Chair. Each year, the Presidential Symposium focuses on one aspect of child neurology that is particularly exciting and in which new and important scientific breakthroughs are occurring.
QUESTION |What will be the subject of the Presidential Symposium this year?
The Presidential Symposium this year will focus on gene therapy for childhood neurological diseases. Propelled by the advances in genetics, we can now identify disease genes and mutations at an unprecedented pace. Together with the progress in design of viral vectors, genetic therapies are undergoing a renaissance. In the Presidential symposium this year, we will hear from some of the leaders of this field and learn about the ongoing clinical trials. The talks will cover genetic strategies to ameliorate childhood disease such as muscular dystrophy, Pompe disease, spinal muscular atrophy and lysosomal storage diseases. These talks will also highlight the challenges in the field, such as routes of access, toxicity of the vectors, immune reactions, etc. In the past 20 years or so, gene therapies have moved from a dream to a reality for diseases.
QUESTION | Does this Presidential symposium serve as the cornerstone for the meeting’s theme this year?
Yes. The overarching theme to this year’s CNS meeting is translating advances in genetics and neurobiology into novel treatments. So, in addition to the Presidential Symposium focusing on gene therapy, there are breakfast seminars and symposia that touch on that same subject of novel treatments for childhood neurologic diseases. For example, there will be a symposium on treatable metabolic epilepsies and a second symposium on non-epileptic paroxysmal disorders. There will also be a breakfast seminar on next generation sequencing.
QUESTION | Are there any symposia or seminars designed to compliment other components of the program?
Yes, definitely. For example, the morning after the Presidential Symposium focusing on the scientific basis of gene therapy, there will be a breakfast seminar addressing ethical considerations in gene therapy.
QUESTION | Is there an attempt to balance the content of the meeting so that it is equally appealing to practitioners of child neurology, as well as to clinician-scientists?
Yes, a conscious effort is made to ensure substantial content in the meeting that will be appealing and relevant to all the members. So, in addition to scientific advances, there will also be important clinical updates on subjects that are relevant to everyone practicing child neurology. These updates will cover such topics as traumatic brain injury, refractory status epilepticus, inherited neuromuscular disorders, Tourette syndrome, and pediatric neuro-ophthalmology.
QUESTION | In light of recent health care reforms and changes in graduate medical education, will there be any components of the meeting that address medical economics or the practice of medicine?
Yes, very definitely. There will be two separate sessions devoted to changes in health care delivery and systems. The first of these will be a seminar entitled “Shifting models of health care delivery and the child neurologist.” This seminar will examine how the Affordable Care Act, changes in reimbursement, shifts in the delivery of health care, and increases in regulatory requirements are going to impact the practice of child neurology. A second breakfast seminar will be devoted to reducing medical errors by better handoffs. This seminar will focus especially on residents’ handoffs and will examine ways in which patient handoff processes can be improved and standardized to optimize the communication between physicians and ensure patient safety. I should add that, outside the CME program itself there will be a session on Maintenance of Certification for child neurologists on Thursday led by ABPN President, Dr. Larry Faulkner.
QUESTION | In addition to the seminars and symposia, there are also platform and poster presentations. What is the process for selecting those presentations?
The Scientific Selection Committee divides itself into five groups, based on the expertise of the individual committee members. They review all of the submitted abstracts. Those reviews are done anonymously, so the reviewers do not know the identities of the abstract authors. The groups then assign a ranking to each of the abstracts, based on scientific merit of the abstract. Generally, approximately two-thirds of the submitted abstracts are accepted for presentation at the meeting.
QUESTION | How is it decided which abstracts will be presented at the platform and which will be presented in poster form? Is there an attempt to establish a theme for the platform presentations?
The abstracts are selected for the platform presentations based on their scientific merit. Therefore, the very best of the submitted abstracts will be presented at the platform sessions.
QUESTION | Do you have any advice for members, especially junior members, regarding how they could maximize their chances of having their abstract successfully selected?
Yes, abstracts that are written in such a way that they are interesting to a large number of people will have a better chance of being selected. Therefore, I would advise junior members to write their abstracts with a clear sense of both their subject and their audience. Engaging attendees in discussion at their poster board is a great learning experience and will result in better abstracts in subsequent years based on a better sense of one’s audience.
QUESTION | While we’re on the subject of junior members, will there be any special sessions this year devoted to the advancement of our junior members?
Yes, as we did last year, there will be two simultaneous seminars devoted to of the junior members this year. One will consist of a panel of journal editors, who will discuss the issues related to getting work published. The other one is still being planned. In addition, this year we will continue the pilot program that we started at last year’s meeting in Huntington Beach to enhance and personalize career mentorship for pediatric neurology residents in training. The goal is to provide personalized guidance and brainstorming during this short encounter as well as to provide recommendations for networking throughout the CNS meeting. In these sessions, the junior members will meet with two or three senior child neurologists, who can discuss their career plans, review their CV’s, and provide them with career advice and guidance.
QUESTION | You certainly have a great meeting planned, and it no doubt has taken a lot of work and planning. When does the planning begin for content of the annual meeting?
The day after the annual meeting ends, plans begin for the next year’s meeting. I’m looking forward to a great meeting in Austin.