President's Message

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Our Past is Prologue

March 2015 
Thomas Ferkol, MD, MD

Thomas Ferkol, MD

What may come as a surprise to some is that planning for the ATS 2015 International Conferencein Denver began well before we met last May in San Diego with the call for input. Since that time, the International Conference Committee, led by Chair Irina Petrache, MD, and Chair-Appointee Zea Borok, MD, have done a wonderful job in putting together a truly compelling program.

We have made a few changes to mark our 110th anniversary of our founding as the American Sanatorium Society. In celebration, the International Conference will culminate with a series of special lectures that will feature the major scientific and clinical breakthroughs that have provided direction to the future of pediatric and adult pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine. Indeed, as William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” The ATS Discoveries Series is a new set of daily talks that charts many of the major findings in our field, as told by leading scientists and clinicians. With input from our membership, the topics range from the discovery of surfactant to advances in bronchoscopy, from insights into asthma pathogenesis to the potential of lung regeneration. I am confident that there will be something of interest for everyone. The Discoveries Series lectures will be held from 8:30 to 9:15 a.m., Sunday through Wednesday, May 17-20.

The ATS President’s Symposium will take a similar approach of examining how past discoveries have propelled scientific and clinical advances forward. Titled “How to Cure a Lung Disease,” world-renowned scientists, clinical investigators, and other thought-leaders will review how our understanding of cystic fibrosis lung disease has rapidly advanced, which led to clinical trials with novel agents that are changing the lives of patients. Cystic fibrosis can serve as a roadmap for other diseases, and this session will show that partnerships between patient organizations, clinicians, scientists, and industry can be transformative.

The Opening Ceremony will focus on the Society’s support of research, training, and advocacy. We plan to highlight the success of the ATS Foundation, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. In its first decade, the Research Program has awarded over $11 million in grants to 183 young investigators working in pulmonary, critical care, and sleep science. Indeed, one of the featured Discoveries Series speakers, Darrell N. Kotton, MD, was a recipient of our first awards.

The international reach of our research and training is embodied in the ATS Methods in Epidemiologic, Clinical, and Operations Research (MECOR) Program. For more than 20 years, the ATS MECOR Program has trained over 1,000 practicing physicians and public health professionals in low- and middle-income countries with high burdens of respiratory disease. Led by Past ATS President Sonia Buist, the program has produced numerous investigators during the past two decades, many of whom have received funding from the ATS Foundation to pursue their own research projects. To many of our global members, this program represents the Society as much as our journals, international conference, and official documents.

The advocacy efforts of the ATS Washington, DC, office will be recognized during the Opening Ceremony for their efforts navigating the political waters and influencing policymakers nationally and worldwide. We will also highlight the popular fake news program, “The Daily Show,” its brand of advocacy journalism, and the show’s influence on the national health care debate. The keynote speaker is actor, writer, producer, and comedian Aasif Mandvi, who has been a regular senior correspondent on “The Daily Show” for nearly eight years.

Finally, I encourage you to attend the ATS Plenary Session on Tuesday, which builds on the theme of moving forward. We have asked five leaders in pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine (Allan Pack, MD, ChB, PhD; Bill Martin, MD; Erika von Mutius, MD, MSc; Arthur Slutsky, MD; and John West, MD, PhD) to answer a simple question in seven minutes or less: What is the future of your field? They can answer however they wish, drawing on their views of science, clinical care, education, advocacy, and global health. I cannot predict how they will respond, but given their respective bodies of work, I am sure it will be both entertaining and fascinating.

The Plenary Session has traditionally been the venue in which the current president discusses the state of the Society and passes the gavel to the incoming president to signal the rotation of ATS leadership. For me, it will be a bittersweet moment in a place of great personal significance—it was just four years ago during this session in Denver that I joined the Executive Committee as ATS secretary-treasurer. But just as we will reflect on our success over the past year, we will learn what incoming president Atul Malhotra, MD, has planned for the Society’s future.

I look forward to seeing everyone at the International Conference in Denver.

Last Reviewed: September 2017