It’s the most ‘science-y’ time of the year …

It’s the most ‘science-y’ time of the year …

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It’s that time of year again. With just a week to go until the 31st International Symposium on ALS/MND, we thought we’d bring you an update on everything we’ve been doing to make sure we can still present the biggest scientific conference on ALS/MND in the world. Obviously, this year, things are looking a little different and the Symposium is being hosted on a virtual platform. Let’s go back in time to the dim and distant past, pre-COVID, when things were ‘normal’ …

This time last year, and for many years previously, we were in the midst of a hectic few months getting posters printed and shipped overseas to the venue, boxes of materials packed up and sent, abstract books finalised and online, along with a whole host of other activities both big and small. Hurtle forward to March this year, when everything changed. With the announcement that the whole world was in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic the difficult decision was made to cancel this year’s Symposium, which should have taken place in Montreal, Canada. Travel restrictions, the risk to health of everyone attending and the general uncertainty about what the future held meant this was the only possible course of action.

The Research Development team decided that, despite COVID-19, the Symposium would go ahead in the virtual world, and the race to find a platform on which to host the event was on. The International Symposium on ALS/MND is the highlight of the Association’s research calendar, with the aim of bringing together leading researchers, scientists, clinicians and healthcare professionals from around the world to share their research and knowledge, and foster collaborations between groups of people who may not have otherwise found each other. The idea for the TRICALS consortium, of which the MND Association is a leading participant, took root at a previous Symposium. TRICALS is the largest European MND research enterprise to date, bringing together the very best experts from top research centres across 14 countries in a unique collaboration to find effective treatments for MND. TRICALS is sponsoring the MAGNET (Multi-arm, Adaptive, Group-sequential trial NETwork) adaptive platform trial, which will enable the investigation of multiple treatments at the same time – mighty oaks from little acorns grow!

The search for a suitable virtual platform on which to host the Symposium began soon after the decision to cancel the in-person meeting was made, and EventsAir was chosen. No-one on the team had any experience of hosting a virtual event, and the learning curve was a steep one. Half of the team was on furlough leave so it meant the remaining team members had to take on the task themselves. This fell mainly to Riddhi, Nick and Brian, who have worked tirelessly over the last few months to learn the platform and get it up and running, making sure delegates are registered, abstracts have been submitted, plenary speakers have been invited, posters are uploaded, videos are ready – the list goes on and on. These last few weeks have been no less hectic than in previous years!

And here we are … just a week to go and everything is falling into place. We have 25 plenary speakers who will be presenting a wide range of topics from clinical trials and gene therapy to patient care and lessons from COVID-19. We are delighted to announce that this year sees the inaugural Stephen Hawking Memorial Lecture. The lecture aims to to bring speakers from outside the immediate world of MND research, to stimulate new ideas and research collaborations. This year’s lecture on ‘Targeting neuroinflammation across neurodegenerative diseases’ will be delivered by Prof Rudolph Tanzi, Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, USA.

We have almost 400 poster presentations, with live poster sessions on each day of the event. Each poster is supported by a 3-minute ‘lightning explainer’ video where the researcher talks through their work. Poster videos and PDFs are available for delegates to preview throughout the meeting before joining the live discussions with the poster authors in the poster sessions.

The full programme is available on our Symposium website, together with the abstract books for the platform and poster presentations. Abstracts provide a short overview of a scientific paper or presentation and are intended to give other researchers a general understanding of a particular study without them having to read the entire paper.

Although the Symposium remains an academic event, members of the public are welcome to register. Over 1,400 people have already registered, including people living with and affected by MND. Registration is just £45 this year and gives you access to all of this:

  • The virtual platform - viewable on laptop, desktop, mobile, and tablet 
  • Platform presentations including cutting-edge research talks with live Q&As and discussions, award presentations, and live poster sessions. 
  • e-Poster hall  – preview research posters on demand in the e-Poster Hall full of ‘lightning explainer’ videos explaining exciting research, PDF handouts, author bios and abstracts. 
  • Exhibitor Hall – browse and access various resources with the opportunity to talk with sponsors and exhibitors in real time or schedule meetings. 
  • Meeting Hub – meet and connect with other attendees to chat, call, schedule meetings (one-to-one and groups). 
  • Access to the Symposium mobile app - containing a variety of useful information, networking, agendas, attendee and speaker searches, abstracts, messaging and notifications. 
  • Gamification – earn points as you take part in various aspects of the virtual event to win prizes each day. 
  • On-demand access to content for at least 30 days after the event. 
  • Access to the Cytokinetics one-hour Symposium on Tuesday 8 December. 

Registration closes at 23.59 on Thursday 3 December. 

As always, you will not miss out if you cannot attend the Symposium. We will continue to report on the most interesting and relevant research presented after the event by posting blogs, tweeting and, of course, via the Periodic Table of MND Research. Each tile contains summaries of some of the up-coming talks and posters. We will update this during and after the Symposium with interviews, videos, any breaking news and other topics of interest.

We really hope you will be able to join us in the virtual world this year. Stay safe, and we wish you a peaceful holiday season and New Year.

The MND Association’s vision is a world free from MND. Realising this vision means investing more in research, further developing partnerships with the research community, funding bodies and industry, while ensuring that advances in understanding and treating MND are communicated as quickly and effectively as possible. Our Research Development team, composed of 11 members, work hard to achieve this. Principally, the Research Information team within this are involved in communication activities including this MND Research blog.