With the COVID-19 pandemic still looming large, the 2021 Transplant and Cellular therapy (TCT) kicked off in "virtual Hawaii” this year. While we the attendees certainly missed meeting in Hawaii and having in-person interactions, this new virtual format provided some silver linings. We now had the ability to view several concurrent sessions without having to run between halls! We also have the opportunity to view sessions lesiurely through March 14: small wins during this pandemic. The virtual platform also gave a renewed focus on the use of social media in keeping the attendees actively engaged. The conference organizers and the newly minted American Society of Transplant and Cellular Therapy (@ASTCT) content committee kept attendees and colleagues nationally and intentionally (including non-attendees) abreast of the latest news and events at TCT under the hashtag of #TCTM21 on #medtwitter. According to Symplur.com, from Feb. 8 to Feb. 12, the #SoMe engagement had an astounding total of 6,486 tweets, with 922 participants, and 22,571,478 impressions. There were many newer therapies and important themes during this conference, aptly summarized by Dr. Uroosa Ibrahim in a tweet about keywords.
The hot topic this year was undoubtedly the immense impact the #COVID19 pandemic has had on our field and the lives of our patients. We learnt from colleagues around the world, including Mexico, Latin America, China, Europe, and different centers in the U.S., the measures undertaken to ensure patients received lifesaving stem cell transplant cellular therapies. The take home messages were clear: “with adequate precautions and policies in place there is no need to postpone lifesaving transplants or cellular therapies.” The work of the National Marrow Donor program (NMDP) and Center for International Bone Barrow Transplant research (CIBMTR) and their rapid responses to the pandemic was highlighted. The NMDP continues to provide “dynamic guidelines” to ensure safety of both donors and recipients. The CIBTMR conducted several timely studies during the pandemic. This included the lack of impact of graft cryopreservation on transplant outcomes in patients receiving post-transplant cyclophosphamide (PTCY) based graft versus host disease (GVHD) prophylaxis (1) and short-term use of tocilizumab on risk of infections (2). In the best abstract session, the CIBMTR analysis of 318 transplant recipients with COVID-19 was presented (3). This study demonstrated that transplant recipients with COVID-19 had a 30% higher risk of mortality than the general population (1–5%). The last day of the meeting culminated with Dr. Fauci being honored by the society with ASTCT public service award. His recommendation echoed through the virtual halls: “Vaccinate your immunocompromised patients with the COVID vaccine as soon as they can. Some protection is better than no protection at all.”
Finally, this year’s meeting also had a special importance for me, as a woman in science. Dr. Mary Horowitz was honored for her 30 years of dedication, devotion, and incredible leadership in the rapidly evolving field of HCT and Cellular Therapy. Dr. Helen E Heslop delivered the Mortimer M Brotin Lecture, and Dr. Elizabeth J Shpall gave the E Donnall Thomas Lecture. Both were honored for their contributions to the field. Dr. Stella Davies takes on the baton of ASTCT presidency from Dr. Pavan Reddy this year (2020-2021) and Dr Brenda Sandamier is the future ASTCT president-elect. No doubt the future of women in our field is bright with many inspiring leaders to look up to.
1) Hamadani et al BBMT, April 2020, 26:1312-1317
2) Frigault et al Blood 2020; 136 (1):137-139,
3) Sharma A et al Lancet Hematology 2021, https://doi.org/10.1016/S2352-3026(20)30429-4
Illustration by Jennifer Bogartz