In 1958, the inaugural annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology took place in Atlantic City and was attended by 300 hematologists, convening the brightest minds in the field to discuss the most critical issues in the treatment of blood disorders. And while there is some distinction and decorum in attending such a prolific and high-profile meeting, the science brought forward at the ASH annual meeting is meant to be more. It is meant to be shared extensively, discussed intensely, and re-watched to help solidify new understandings of novel hematologic ideas. How does a meeting achieve that while society scrambles to clear hurdles of political unrest, racism, and an unrelenting onslaught from COVID-19? In a time where nobody expected ASH or its members to create a meeting that could meet the moment we were in, we surpassed all expectations. So, in this politically, racially, and scientifically turbulent time, the high points from #ASH20 emerged within these same realms.

The meeting kicked off with a fantastic virtual ASH-a-Palooza for “reticulocyte stage” hematologists. Blood Drops on topics including ASH awards, health disparities, wellness, finding your career, and being a basic scientist were enough to make any eager ASH trainee see the treasure at the end of their training rainbow. The two-day event was brimming with mentorship, education, motivation, and wellness.

To help quell our anxieties during this pandemic, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci joined 2020 ASH President Dr. Stephanie Lee on the first official morning of the meeting to talk about COVID-19. The conversation addressed much of the uncertainty around COVID-19 and how life will change in the coming months. Kudos to ASH for securing a fleeting but important moment for us to hear directly from Dr. Fauci — scientist to scientist, physician to physician. The level of the conversation was elevated and moderated beautifully by Dr. Lee. The COVID-19–ASH story continued to evolve in several sessions; namely, Dr. Amanda Payne, an epidemiologist from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, organized the Scientific Workshop on Infectious Disease and Coagulation. This workshop, created by hematologists for hematologists, explored the scientific and public impact of COVID-19 and how the pathophysiologic mechanisms may be able to aid in patient care. More than 20 oral sessions spanning therapies, risk management, and disparities covered our unseen enemy and its role in the lives of hematologists and their patients.

Anyone thinking the quality of science might have been hindered because hematologists were under a COVID-19 onslaught, trying to protect their patients, their families, and themselves, would be very wrong. The caliber of the science presented this year re-affirmed that even in an unprecedented year of unimaginable challenges, scientists and clinicians remained unyielding in their pursuit of research excellence. Dr. Alisa Wolberg perhaps characterized this most accurately in the Best of ASH session through categorizing research by grading where we are in understanding the “enemy”: When we know the foe we can show major advances in disease therapies; when we are re still defining the foes, we can find complex phenotypes and new models; when the foe is us, we can identify health disparities; and when a foe is new, like COVID-19, we can adapt. Science addressing these “foes” was abundant at #ASH20.

Personally, as a sickle cell physician, a major highlight of the meeting was research from Dr. Haydar Frangoul and colleagues and from Dr. Alexis Thompson and colleagues. Their contributions highlighted a pathway to cure sickle cell disease (SCD) with gene therapy — at last, a glimmer of hope for thousands of patients with SCD. There were several sessions on novel therapeutics in the sickle cell space that were an important reminder that we are making progress regarding disparities in a disease that afflicts the Black and Hispanic communities. This was emphasized in a Special Scientific Session on Race and Science moderated by Dr. Alan E. Mast, with Dr. Wally R. Smith and Dr. Lachelle Dawn Weeks. The conversation that was started in this session is one that we need to continue indefinitely as we tackle the racial disparities that exist in the workplace, academia, and health care. Disparities were also addressed in the wonderful Plenary Scientific Session abstract by Dr. Bhavana Bhatnagar and colleagues documenting disparate outcomes in young African American patients with acute myeloid leukemia.

As always, the ASH Honorific Awards served to both recognize the recipients and inspire attendees. The Wallace H. Coulter Award for Lifetime Achievement in Hematology was conferred upon Dr. Mohandas Narla for his contributions to our field. The Henry M. Stratton Medal was awarded to Drs. Michelle Le Beau and Maria Domenica Cappellini for their contributions to basic and clinical/translational hematology research, respectively. The William Dameshek Prize recognized the work of Dr. Adolfo Ferrando; the Ernest Beutler Lecture and Prize was awarded to Drs. Ari Melnick and Courtney DiNardo; the ASH Mentor Award was presented to Drs. Judith Gasson and Wendy Stock; and the ASH Award for Leadership in Promoting Diversity was awarded to Dr. Edward J. Benz. To me personally, the Presentation of Awards at every annual meeting has been the inspiration that powers me for the coming year.

Honestly, there aren’t enough pages for me to completely articulate and describe the high points of this meeting. I have merely shared with you the parts that were most enjoyable to me. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the best aspect of #ASH20. From our humble beginnings in 1958 with only 300 attendees, we have come a long way. One month ago, for the 62nd ASH Annual Meeting, 30,000 of us came together, free of physical constraints, unburdened by time restrictions, united in our mission to further our understanding of hematology and achieve excellence in patient care. The “Best of ASH” can’t be condensed into a few abstracts and sessions, and it can’t be reduced to 1,000 words in this article. It is much bigger than that. Because we, in fact, are the best of ASH. It is you and me, and thousands more. It’s the ASH staff who worked countless hours; it’s the presenters and the participants; it’s the committees that worked incessantly to bring you a meeting that met the standard of excellence we have come to expect from ASH. So, if you’re looking for the best of ASH, you don’t have to look too far.

Competing Interests

Dr. Zaidi indicated no relevant conflicts of interest.