It’s that time of the year again… #alssymp

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It was only one week after the 27th International Symposium on ALS/MND in Dublin had ended when we started the next stage of planning for Boston 2017. Now a year has passed and we are here again, waiting to learn about the exciting research that is happening throughout the world. But before we start talking science to you, I thought I would give you a whistle-stop tour of what it takes to organise the Symposium.

It all starts with a selection of a venue at least three years prior the event. This has to tick a number of boxes, including appropriate number and size of rooms for platform and poster presentations, a place for exhibitors, lunch, ease of access both inside the venue as well as outside with respect to the location from transport facilities and so on. A number of site visits are organised to ensure that we are familiar with the venue so that we can plan the location of the platform sessions, locations for exhibitors, lunch, meetings, and networking. And then the year of the event comes…

We begin to set up and test the abstract submission system to allow researchers to submit their scientific summaries, talk to potential sponsors, agree a schedule with our publisher for the abstracts, release the first announcement to give an idea of the themes that will be covered, review necessary documents and instructions for submitting authors, and plan for changes on the website for the whole year. Once the submission system opens in March, we start to receive abstracts – now over 550 abstracts every year!

The Programme Committee, chaired by Prof Kevin Talbot and composed of the MND Association staff members together with other invited professionals, then looks at all the submitted (and anonymised) abstracts to decide who will be offered an oral communication, poster presentation, or work in progress poster, or, alternatively, who will be rejected. Each year we also invite a number of additional speakers who are experts in their fields on the specific session themes. And then the fun begins…processing of the abstracts ready for publishing takes at least three months and involves more than half of the research team here at the MND Association. Additionally, the order of the individual posters has to be decided so that there is a logical thematic order within each theme.

At about this time we also start to plan Symposium communications to make sure that everyone knows what is happening during the Symposium, without actually being there. While it is not possible for us to live stream the event, we try to make everyone as close to the event as possible. This is mainly via blog articles or videos summarising what we heard at the Symposium, and live Tweets from us as well as other delegates using #alssymp. As the variety of the talks and posters is so wide, we try to organise it into smaller chunks – this year, we categorised them into five key topics, in order that follows the timeline ‘from bench to bedside’: Biomedical research, Diagnosis and prognosis, Why me? Causes of MND, Clinical trials and treatments, and Improving wellbeing and quality of life . You can find information about each of these topics on our Symposium LIVE webpages together with mentions of the individual sessions and talks corresponding to these.

In the few months before the Symposium, we are finalising the abstract book, programme, shortlisting of poster prize candidates, programming of the Symposium app, and together with our conference team we start to put together information for attending delegates – at this stage, there is lots of designing, printing and laminating involved. Finally, all materials get shipped to the venue more than a month before the event (to make sure it gets there in time), where it is usually managed by the Symposium hosts. This year, these are the ALS Therapy Development Institute and ALS Hope Foundation, who have been working hard to assure that the Symposium runs smoothly.

And that is how we end up here, on the day before the Symposium starts. With over 1,200 delegates registered to attend, the following three days will be filled with over 100 platform presentations and around 450 posters. We will post blog articles throughout the Symposium to update you on some of the sessions, and summarise the event day by day in ‘catch-up’ style blogs after the Symposium finishes.

If you would like to stay up to date with what is happening at the Symposium ‘as it happens’, follow #alssymp on Twitter on the days of the Symposium on 8-10 December.

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