As the first in-person meeting for American Epilepsy Society after the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 AES Annual Meeting brought challenges and opportunities. The 2020 Annual Meeting was run on a 100% virtual platform creating a stepping stone for this first AES hybrid meeting. With a moving target of COVID-19 numbers, the in-person meeting was carefully planned to adhere to the latest CDC guidelines, while the Digital Select offering provided access to a substantial portion of the educational content for those unable to travel. This 75th AES meeting was able to safely bring together almost 4,000 people in-person and over 1,700 virtually.
The largest convention centre in the US, the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago was the perfect setting for allowing social distancing and plenty of space for safe learning and socialising. The AES Annual Meeting gathers professionals from multiple fields with one focus: Epilepsy. Through dissemination of research and education AES aims to improve the quality of life of people with epilepsy. AES includes the entire epilepsy community in the planning and delivery of its educational sessions and has increased its focus on addressing healthcare disparities through its educational programmes. This was clear throughout the 2021 meeting and was very well received.
As usual, the 2021 AES meeting was arranged over five days, with multiple learning opportunities for different learning styles and levels of expertise. From the larger full-sized symposia to the small group discussions that allow participants good exchange of ideas the AES meeting has it all. Feedback from prior years and an assessment of knowledge gaps as well as the most current new information help the meeting to continuously improve from year to year. This year’s AES offered almost 180 education hours. In addition, participants have three months after the meeting to access digital content from the meeting.
The Epilepsy Specialist Symposium opened the first day of the meeting. A neurosurgical symposium this year, this three-hour case-driven course took the audience through the different intricacies and latest technologies of epilepsy surgery. A special session was held on Sodium Channel Blocking Antiseizure Medications and the heart, addressing recent FDA warnings on this type of medication. The Annual Fundamentals Symposium discussed epilepsy therapies in different patient populations while the ILAE North American Symposium examined the application of algorithms and artificial intelligence in epilepsy care. The special Judith Hoyer lecture was given this year by President Emeritus Dr Page Pennell, on contemporary care for women with epilepsy. This first day was wrapped-up by the Spanish Symposium, and the small group Basic Science Skills, Investigator workshops and special interest groups.
The main course of the second day of the meeting was the Presidential Symposium, Pediatric State of the Art, and Best Practices in Clinical Epilepsy. These dealt respectively with recent research revolutions, electrical status epilepticus in sleep and complexity of care across the age spectrum. This was also the first of three days where over 1,300 researchers from around the world presented their posters or platforms and engaged in discussion of their latest investigations. They had the chance to do this virtually or in person.
The Annual Course and Merritt-Putnam Symposium were highlights of the third day. The Annual Course was a full day event detailing how to help patients live with epilepsy. This important event addressed issues including access to care, resources outside of the epilepsy office, and the future of epilepsy care. DJ Hapa, an internationally known disc jockey and an advocate for epilepsy, made brief introductions during the day of his own story, bringing a very special personal touch to this symposium. The Merritt-Putnam Symposium focused on recent genetic discoveries and how these have led to precision medicine application for specific epilepsy therapies.
Three main symposia were held on the fourth day of the meeting: Advanced Practice Provider, Hot Topics, and Scientific. The Advanced Practice Provider Symposium brought professionals from different fields to speak on sensitive topics including SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy), gender issues, and epilepsy during pregnancy. A special lecture and the Hot Topics Symposium updated the current state of knowledge of COVID-19 and its effects on epilepsy. The Scientific Symposium was dedicated to multiscale simulations to probe mechanisms and target epilepsy treatments. The highly scientific Lombroso Lecture was the icing on the cake on the fourth day on Seizure-induced Epigenetic Regulation of Cognition in Alzheimer’s Disease.
The last day of the meeting covered the Epilepsy Therapies and Translational Research symposia. The first one described the latest medical and surgical therapies for refractory generalised epilepsies, and the latter presented novel translational research examples that can serve as models for future epilepsy projects.
The 2021 AES Annual Meeting implemented a hybrid model (in-person and virtual) with multiple, big and small parallel learning and interaction opportunities. Participants can replay, review or view unseen material up to three months after the meeting. The main symposia were intertwined with a variety of smaller sessions including workshops, special interest groups, platforms and posters providing an ideal opportunity for dialogue. Live and off-line digital access during and after the meeting boosted involvement and reach for the programme allowing participants to learn at their own pace. Is this the future of scientific meetings?