There is a growing perception that basic scientists working in the field of hematology are not as engaged with ASH as clinicians. There are data to support this impression when considering four areas of involvement: membership in the Society, registration for the annual meeting, participation in scientific and standing committees, and abstract submissions. While an individual with an MD may be a basic scientist and a PhD may participate in clinical investigation, such designations can be used to approximate the activities of basic scientists and clinicians. The data below reveal a trend that ASH should seek to reverse.
ASH membership: Between 2010 and 2020, ASH membership among MDs increased from approximately 10,000 to 12,000 individuals, whereas membership among PhDs increased only minimally and remained below 2,000. Among MD/PhDs, the numbers have not changed, at approximately 2,000 members.
Annual meeting registration: Between 2010 and 2020, the number of PhDs registering for the annual meeting increased modestly, from 2,000 to 4,000, despite the total number of yearly registrants increasing during the past five years to more than 25,000 in 2020. Furthermore, many more PhDs register for the annual meeting than are members of ASH. In 2020, there were approximately 1,777 PhD members, while registrations totaled 4,305.
Committee membership: ASH's scientific committees are similarly dominated by MDs. In 2021, 68 percent are MDs, 8 percent are PhDs, and 12 percent are MD-PhDs. Standing committee percentages are similar at 81 percent MDs, 6 percent PhDs, and 12 percent MD/PhDs (data courtesy of Dr. Judy Keen, Director of Scientific Affairs at ASH, and Dr. Ross Levine, Chair of the ASH Committee on Scientific Affairs).
Through the work of this standing committee, ASH will explore and expand ways to provide basic scientists with more opportunities for ASH leadership roles, create more tailored programming at the annual meeting, and identify other ways and means for ensuring that ASH welcomes PhDs into the fold.
Abstract submissions: Between 2016 and 2021, clinical abstract submissions remained generally constant at 50 percent of total submissions, and in 2020 submissions increased to 57 percent. Submission of basic science abstracts decreased from 34 percent to 27 percent. Abstracts categorized as both basic and clinical increased minimally from 20 percent to 24 percent during that period (data courtesy of Dr. Cindy Dunbar, ASH Secretary).
These data raise the question: Why is there relatively less participation in ASH among basic scientists compared to clinicians? During the past decade drug discovery and consequent clinical investigation in hematology have flourished. For example, there have been nine new agents approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia since 2017, after a lack of any sustained drug approvals in the 44 years since the initial description of successful anthracycline and cytarabine induction therapy. Similarly, there have been 10 novel agents approved by the FDA since 2015 for the treatment of myeloma, and 15 new drug approvals for lymphoma. Such progress has catalyzed the conduct of a burgeoning number of clinical studies, perhaps contributing in part to the large number of clinical abstracts submitted to the ASH annual meeting; however, there have been many important advances in basic science as well. Furthermore, many clinical investigations are accompanied by basic science correlative studies designed to provide insights into mechanisms of action or resistance to novel agents. The brisk pace of progress in basic science, clinical investigation, and patient care provides a strong impetus for communication and collaboration between basic scientists and clinicians. There is likely competition from other meetings encouraging basic scientists to submit their work elsewhere. Indeed, there are numerous meetings where basic science related to hematology is presented (International Society of Experimental Hematology, Federation of American Societies for experimental Biology Hematologic Malignancies Meeting, and others). These are much smaller than the ASH annual meeting and potentially permit more desirable interactions. There may be a perception that ASH is a more appropriate home for clinical work. Has ASH become too clinical for basic scientists and too basic for clinicians?
What can be done to encourage basic scientists to connect more with ASH? One practical strategy lies in engaging the ASH Committee on Scientific Affairs. Through the work of this standing committee, ASH will explore and expand ways to provide basic scientists with more opportunities for ASH leadership roles, create more tailored programming at the annual meeting, and identify other ways and means for ensuring that ASH welcomes PhDs into the fold. Efforts to build collaborative communities between basic scientists and clinicians are ongoing. It is ASH's goal that new or enhanced initiatives for basic scientists act in concert with our existing support for clinicians, as the power of ASH lies in our commitment to the full breadth of hematology, from bench to bedside. Basic scientists need to feel that they not only have a prominent place at ASH, but that they belong here.