Preparing for the windy city: Symposium update

Every year we are responsible, as an Association, for organising the BIGGEST international conference event of the year on MND. The 23rd International Symposium on ALS/MND will return, after 16 years, to the windy city of Chicago from the 5-7 December this year.

This event is one of the most exciting events in the research calendar for those involved in MND research, and it promises to be full to the brim with exciting, cutting edge presentations. Scientists, clinicians and health care professionals across the globe come together every year for this stimulating event.

The deadline for abstract submission was back in May and we’ve been incredibly busy since then in compiling the abstracts for this year’s Symposium.

This year we received 419 high quality abstracts from across the globe, totalling 172,581 words! The Symposium Programme Committee, chaired by Prof. Wim Robberecht, had to review every single one of these in order to compile a stimulating and varied programme.

This year the Symposium will consist of a total of 96 oral presentations, with joint opening and closing plenary sessions on risk factors of the disease and the challenges of translating knowledge to treatment. There will be parallel scientific and clinical sessions exploring a wide variety of topics from target pathways, disease models and biomarkers, through to cognitive changes, multidisciplinary management and clinical trials. The final programme offers plenty of new ideas and key insights, particularly into the newly discovered C9ORF72 gene.

The Symposium will also see 251 poster presentations, and 55 work in progress poster presentations, showcased on a wide range of scientific and clinical themes that all sound incredibly interesting!

Me and Kelly have spent the past several weeks editing, formatting, proof reading and compiling all of these abstracts, which were sent to the publisher last week. The final document was 290 pages long and consisted of 150,096 words! The next stages of this process for us are to receive the proofs back from the publisher so that we can double, and triple, check them before they are ready for the Symposium. We will also be letting authors know their final poster numbers and timings so that they can get their presentations in order for the big event.

The full Program is available NOW on our website to give you an insight into the themes, and topics, that will be presented this year

Stem cells, Symposium planning and Science Communication Conference

As Brian said earlier this week, the news that we are now funding an international stem cell project went national and indeed international through a number of different websites and papers. Getting such cover was fantastic and we’re still receiving enquiries from people wanting to know more information!

At the same time we’ve also been dealing with the abstracts for the symposium. Over the past week we have compiled the scores that an international group of researchers and clinicians who sit on the Programme Committee have submitted to us. After reading over 350 abstracts, I’m sure they’ve got a sense of accomplishment but for a select few, their involvement doesn’t end there…

The Programme Committee give us their time for free. The fact that they read, analyse and judge each abstract in such a short time, whilst conducting their own research studies, being clinicians and generally living their lives is remarkable. We are truly thankful for their help as organising the International Symposium on ALS/MND without their help would be impossible (or at least a lot more stressful!!)

We’ll be taking you behind the scenes next week with what the Programme Committee meeting is like to attend so keep an eye out for a new blog post!

On top of this, three of the science communicators among the team, (Belinda, Kate and Kelly) also attended a Science Communication’s conference in London. In order to make sure that we continue to give you the best research information there is possible, it is important that we attend such conferences to learn more about what’s happening in the world of Science Communication – such as what are the problems, who’s coming up with the solutions and what can we learn from others etc. This event was organised by the British Science Association in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust and overall was an exciting opportunity for us to begin to develop new ideas and gauge what other charities and bodies are up to!

Topics included blogs, tweets, a number of reports on science and society from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills  and how to engage with parliamentarians. We’re still trying to digest all the information and act upon it.

If you have any ideas, suggestions or comments about the way that we produce research information at the moment – ie our blog, research information sheets and research section of our website then they are always welcomed. New ideas that you would like to see happen would also be welcomed! Please email us at as we’d love to hear from you. Or add a comment on the blog – please note that you do not have to give your email address to comment if you don’t want to but we’d appreciate it if you leave your name.

Our symposium abstract journey begins…

The deadline for submitting abstracts for the International Symposium on ALS/MND has now officially passed and this year, 354 abstracts were submitted to us for consideration from a total of 25 countries.

However, the deadline is by no means the end of the journey of the abstracts – it is only the beginning! 

This morning we all (at least mentally) took in a deep breath and rolled our sleeves up as we prepared to have ‘all hands on deck’.

Time then spiralled away from us in a whirlwind of printing the abstracts, sorting them into their different themes (genetics, multidisciplinary care etc) and then photocopying each theme onto different coloured paper –which is a mammoth sized task believe me.

While sorting, the urge to have a sneaky read of the abstracts with the most intriguing titles becomes almost too strong. However, in doing so we could  easily lose a few days as each abstract is roughly 450 words! So for now, we’ll feel content in knowing that we’ve received a strong set of abstracts that we hope will be presented at this year’s symposium – the reading will just have to wait until later on this year!

 The dust is now settling from our manic morning and our reign of the photocopier has come to an end. The result of all this are the piles of coloured paper which now lay waiting to be sent to each member of the Programme Committee – of which Dr Brian Dickie sits on as well as eminent researchers and clinicians from across the world.

They have the difficult task of deciding whether each individual abstract should be rejected or accepted as well as what form of presentation it should be given – ie poster, work in progress or an oral presentation.

With 154 people requesting a talk this year and about 80 spaces available, deciding which abstracts should be given the platform for 15 minutes and which should be offered a poster (or rejected) is a difficult decision that is not taken lightly.

We organise the symposium every single year and seeing it develop from a trickle of abstracts to a wave of hundreds and then to be moulded to form the world’s largest medical conference on MND is one of our proudest moments. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that this year will be no exception!