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Interview with Prof. Natalia Rost

Prof. Natalia Rost, Massachusetts General Hospital / Harvard Medical School, USA
AAN 2022

Interview with Prof. Natalia Rost, MD, MPH, FAHA, FAAN, chair of the Science Committee of the 2022 AAN meeting

Prof. Natalia Rost is Chief of the Stroke Division at Massachusetts General Hospital and Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. As chair of the Science Committee, Prof. Rost was interviewed by Medicom about the exceptional way this year’s AAN annual meeting was organised and mentioned some of the highlights of the hybrid meeting in Seattle.

How was it to have an in-person meeting again after a 3-year absence?

“This was a glorious experience. There was joy in the air, palpable to those who were there. Even the masks did not deter us from smiling all the time. After such a long break, it was a much-needed experience.”

How many attendants were in Seattle, and how many more participated online?

“This is almost a week-long meeting, so we had waves of people coming and going, swelling up to a maximum at the middle of the week of over 7,000 people on site.”

Effectively, there were 2 AAN annual meetings in 2022.

“We had 2 separate meetings: one was in person in Seattle, on April 2‒7, with access to online material on demand a few weeks later. And then there was a stand-alone virtual meeting, on April 24‒26, that was only virtual.”

That is a rather original approach to organise an annual meeting.

“The AAN is one of the more creative organisations of its kind and likes to be innovative in approaching formats. This meeting was no exception. We spent a lot of time deciding how to reconcile certain limitations of an in-person meeting and some of the unique aspects of a virtual meeting that cannot be fully replicated when you attend in person. Take the so-called fireside chats, which are very different in person compared with virtual. So rather than offering a less than optimal experience to those unable to join in person, or who prefer a virtual format, we decided to create unique experiences for both in-person and virtual attendants, focusing on the advantageous aspects that both formats have. We went to great lengths to offer original content for the virtual meeting, including original scientific research, in addition to highlights of the in-person meeting, such as award-winning lectures and other plenary presentations. It was a unique experience.”

Do you think this particular experience and set-up of the AAN annual meeting will be repeated in the next few years?

“Going forward and pandemic permitting, we will continue to reinvent what getting together looks like. The virtual conferencing is here to stay; an annual virtual meeting however, is not necessarily required. This year, almost 4,000 people chose —for different reasons— to solely attend the second, virtual meeting. So we need to continue to think about what we can offer to them in the future. Anyhow, virtual education is here to stay.”

This conference report covers the in-person meeting in Seattle. As a stroke specialist, what presentation(s) specifically drew your attention?

“There was a great showing of neurovascular science. For me personally, some plenary presentations stood out. My 2 favourites were the 2 presentations at the presidential plenary session. Prof. Bruce Ovbiagele from the University of California in San Francisco gave a fantastic Wartenberg lecture on global health disparities in cerebrovascular care and on the need to include individuals of every background in stroke research to develop treatments applicable across the world. I also greatly enjoyed the lecture by Prof. Dr Catherine M. Amlie-Lefond, winner of the Sidney Carter Award in Child Neurology, who spoke on pediatric stroke. It was an intriguing, clinically-centred talk on this rare disease and its management, that deserves greater attention. At the Emerging Science session, there was a fascinating talk on an endovascular brain-computer interface, which helped ALS patients to operate a computer. I hope that at some point it can help the rehabilitation science in stroke to move forward too.”

What else would you consider to be a highlight of the 2022 AAN meeting?

“One thing I would like to mention is the emerging amyloid therapies that are evolving. True, the first amyloid-removing therapy, aducanumab, came to the market surrounded by controversy. But what I found striking were the clinical trial results on other emerging new-generation amyloid therapies. Preliminary data on donanemab for example showed that it not only removes amyloid but also decreases  phosphorylated (P)-tau217 and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), biomarkers of neurodegeneration. Another one was lecanemab, of which phase 2 results were presented. And then there is SAGE-718, which modulates the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor. The race is on in neurodegenerative diseases, especially Alzheimer’s.”

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