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From Dec 4-7, hematologists, scientists and trainees from around the world gathered in sunny Orlando Florida to discuss the latest in blood diseases and research. Over these three days, the Orange County Convention Centre was host to two poster sessions, presentations from clinical and academic leaders, and an impressive array of exhibitors.

I arrived late December 2 nd and spent the 3 rd shopping and exploring. Orlando is an odd place, with very little “natural” about it. Manicured lawns and carefully arrayed palm trees are the norm. Hotels and restaurants tempt the tourist crowds with ponds of koi, the fish sweltering in the heat and cooled down with influxes of cold water. It is a car city, with stores, hotels, and amenities spread far apart and divided by 6+ lanes of traffic. But it was bright, sunny and warm, and for that, I tried to overlook the funny taste of the water and the supreme lack of fresh food.

Things got going on Saturday with some sessions and breakfast talks already well on their way from as early as 7am. Exhibits opened at 10am sharp. Big Pharma was high in attendance, with appearances from Pfizer, Roche, Johnson and Johnson, and Genentech, to name only a few. Each company tried to out-do each other with high end “hospitality bars” which served gourmet snacks and coffee. Current clinical trials in the areas of leukemia/ myeloma diseases were highly touted, as well as advances in stem cell transplant techniques.

Over the next two days, there were scientific sessions and special lectures around the clock –far too many to attend, much less write about. There was a clear focus on clinical treatments and outcomes, not surprising when ASH caters primarily to clinicians. There were also a surprising number of studies on the usages of cord blood -a growing area for business and medicine. One special lecture of note was the Ham Wasserman lecture on stem cell mobility and homing. I will be writing about this topic in an upcoming Stem Cell Network blog! A few other lectures were interesting, mostly relating to genetic aspects of blood diseases, and I may touch on these topics in later posts.

I was a little disappointed in the poster sessions. Many posters did not have people available to answer questions, which sort of defeated the purpose of having a dedicated poster session. The food was also set up terribly, forcing people to line up even if they just wanted a bit of cheese and bread to nibble with their drink. On Sunday, I had the privilege of attending the President’s Reception, held in the Peabody Hotel. The Peabody is probably best described as a whole hearted attempt at grandiose elegance. I nearly had a heart attack when I entered the reception and saw that most people were seated –I went to the event knowing a grand total of ONE person. It didn’t help when the bartender asked me for ID. But, I eventually got connected with people, had some amazing food (though I didn’t eat as much as I would have liked, definitely the best food I had in Orlando!), and the open bar didn’t hurt either.

Post reception, I had drinks at Rocks, the hotel bar, where I learned that the hotel maintains a cache of special ducks which it parades out front once per day. Huh. Monday, I’ll be honest –I did very little. I was too lazy to get lunch so I grabbed food at the convention centre which subsequently made me violently ill. I have never been so happy to pack up and get to the airport!

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Looks like I’ll be attending the 52nd Annual Meeting and Exposition of the American Society of Hematology.  This year’s event is being held in Orlando, Florida at the Orange County Convention Centre, December 4-7.  I’ll be attending not as a researcher or programmer, but as a blogger!

As always, there promises to be some interesting discussions.  I’m looking forward to this year’s Ham-Wasserman Lecture, named in honour of the late Thomas Hale Ham, MD and the late Louis R. Wasserman, MD.  The Ham-Wasserman Lecture is given by a individual from outside the United States who has contributed to the field of hematology.  This year’s lecture will be given by Tsvee Lapidot, PhD, from The Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel.  Dr. Lapidot will be presenting a talk entitled, “The Brain-Bone-Blood Triad: Traffic Lights of Stem Cell Homing and Mobilization”.

And of course, whats a conference without receptions?  ASH has three official receptions – a Welcome Reception on Saturday night with finger foods and drinks, and two Poster Hall Receptions on the Sunday and Monday nights, respectively.  If you’re attending, please stop by and say hi!

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Please check out my latest blog for the Stem Cell Network!

In this post, I outline the process of preparing hematopoietic stem cells for patient transplant. Check out the previous post to learn more about why this type of transplantation is used in cancer patients.

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