Waiting for me in my email after the FOCIS 2007 conference was the following email from a leading investigator: “It’s the first time I have attended the FOCIS meeting, and the sessions were simply outstanding. I was surprised to learn that FOCIS just started in 2000. It’s a testimony to the founding vision and ongoing care that has resulted in such a relevant, dynamic scientific meeting.”
I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment, and it echoes the reason I have now begun my term as FOCIS president. We are all engaged in a remarkable evolution of clinical immunology, which is a reflection of scientific opportunity, unmet medical need, and the energy of our collective teamwork. The immunological sciences are the foundation for recent advances in understanding the shared pathophysiology of many diseases, including autoimmune diseases, cancer, allergy/asthma, infectious diseases, immune deficiency, and transplant rejection. Opportunities to improve diagnosing and treating these diverse diseases are multidisciplinary and cut across traditional clinical boundaries. Linking more than 20 major professional societies representing 40,000 professionals with this common vision is a service that will ensure progress towards the goal of improving human health through immunology.
Over 1,100 delegates attended the FOCIS 2007 meeting June 7-11 in San Diego, which capped a year of successful educational programs designed to further the immunological knowledge of trainees, investigators, basic scientists and clinicians. Behind the scenes at FOCIS 2007, some organizational transitions took place: After many years of dedicated leadership, David Hafler’s term as president came to an end, Jonathan Braun assumes the role of FOCIS vice president, PJ Utz assumes the role of secretary/treasurer, and Andrew Lichtman joins FOCIS as the new education committee chair. On the FOCIS Centers of Excellence (FCE) front, Cornelia Weyand has stepped down as FCE chair and we welcome Michael Lotze to that position, a key leadership role linking our network of 47 institutional centers of excellence committed to cross-disciplinary research, fostering training environments for translational research and practice.
The core purpose of FOCIS is to improve human health through immunology. The core interdisciplinary value of FOCIS is to accomplish this by translating new knowledge from basic science into multiple clinical disciplines, to both understand and treat immune-based diseases. As is evident, FOCIS is maintaining a tradition of strong and committed leadership and as the new FOCIS president I look forward to working with all of you to encourage broad and effective evolution of this concept throughout the scientific and medical community. I look forward to your participation.
Gerald T. Nepom, MD, PhD
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FOCIS 2007 was held in sunny San Diego, CA from June 7-11, 2007. The main objectives were met by promoting state-of-the-art immunological approaches for prevention of infection and treatment of diseases such as cancer, type 1 diabetes (T1D) and rheumatoid arthritis. Presented as well, was an amazing synthesis of previously reported and current data into concepts that appear to have changed prior textbook immunology precepts as well as furthered immunological-based therapies into clinically relevant treatment modalities. Also notable were the many fruitful academic, pharma and biotech collaborations whereby important academic discoveries have been accelerated into clinical translation.
A major focus of the FOCIS meeting is to provide insight into the latest immunomodulatory protocols that have been tested in clinical trials as well as those that currently have promising evidence for eventual testing in clinical trials. T and B cell combination therapies were proposed, adjuvant/innate immune activation was demonstrated to assist in promoting efficacious immunemodulation of vaccines and other cancer treatments and a greater understanding of signaling events mediated by cytokine receptors, epitope binding differences between therapies, harnessing B cell biology for treating autoimmune disease, vaccination pathways was achieved.
Highlights involved the relatively novel concept of diseases caused by B cell mediated autoimmunity and therapies harnessing what are known and still being discovered regarding their biological mechanism of maturation, activation and ultimate immune modulatory effects. In addition, though already being practiced in part, extensive discussion on complementary therapies involving biologicals and chemical treatments of autoimmune related disease occurred. TLR activation appears to enhance or even enable immunodulation, particularly in the case of vaccination. Significant advances in adoptive transfer techniques have brought metastasized cancers to shrink 100-fold if not completely disappear.
Last but not least was the conclusion that significant advances have been made in the genome wide association studies, particularly in the areas relevant to autoimmune diseases. Since 1996, genetic autoimmune disease associations have been coming at the rate of 1-2 genes per year. In 2007, this number jumped to 23 genes. It is now possible to study common disease variants for lupus, psoriasis, RA, 12 genes for T1D. All in all, the meeting was highly informative as well as exciting in terms of the tremendous momentum immunomodulatory treatments have attained in the clinical settings for all kinds of diseases.
FOCIS honored Eli Sercarz, PhD, Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies with the FOCIS Lifetime Achievement Award. Linda Wicker, University of Cambridge, a former fellow of Dr. Sercarz, presented the award.
The June 2007 Focus issue of Nature Reviews Immunology was produced in collaboration with Nature and FOCIS with support from Beckman Coulter. This special issue relates to the main topics of FOCIS 2007, and highlights recent advances in cytokine research, encompassing experimental studies in animal models, ex vivo studies with human cells and human clinical trials. This research strategy, similar to that used by scientists and clinicians in studies that resulted in the approval of therapy targeting tumor-necrosis factor (TNF) for rheumatoid arthritis, has led to several new and targeted approaches for the treatment of human inflammatory diseases. As the field of clinical immunology has developed, it has evolved from an observation-based science to an interventional discipline and the development of new therapies for inflammatory diseases has greatly accelerated. Read more at http://www.nature.com/nri/focus/cytokines/index.html
FOCIS 2008 – Save the Date!
Planning for the FOCIS 2008 scientific program is already underway. Mark your calendars for June 5-9 at the Marriott Boston Copley Place.
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FOCIS has taken on the role of connecting multiple disease specific, genetic consortia under the FOCIS Network of Consortia in an effort to uncover the genetic basis of autoimmunity. The Network, spearheaded by FOCIS past president, David Hafler, MD, Harvard University and Stephen Rich, PhD, University of Virginia, has recently completed genome wide association scans revealing novel candidate genes that may provide important insights into disease pathogenesis and therapeutic targets.
Consortia that presented their data in the session were:
The work of the initial phase of the genome wide association scans for autoimmunity was presented at the FOCIS 2007 Network of Consortia session on Monday, June 11, 2007.
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Taught by course creators, Abul Abbas, MD and Hidde Ploegh, PhD, the Basic Immunology Course continues to be an outstanding pre-cursor to the FOCIS annual meeting. This year’s course in San Diego registered more than 70 people.
Course evaluations indicate the purpose of the course is to review selected topics that are relevant to clinical challenges, the development of novel therapeutic strategies, and areas in which there have been substantial progress.
Third Time’s the Charm!
The Advanced Course in Basic & Clinical Immunology announces the third placement of this consistently sold-out course:
Advanced Course in Basic & Clinical Immunology
February 27 – March 2, 2008
Mark your calendars and register early as spots are limited. Registration will be available on the FOCIS website www.focisnet.org beginning October 1, 2007.
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Active Participation Breeds Success
This year at the FOCIS Centers of Excellence (FCE) Directors Meeting, the active participation in programs such as the B Cell Outreach Program and the Medical Undergraduate Immunology Course, presented by many centers acted as a catalyst in encouraging the participation of other centers. Stanford University, a FCE that is 15 years in the making, provided best practices from education, immune monitoring core, clinical trials unit, communication and development.
Top Trainees Honored with a Day of Science
Each year prior to the FOCIS annual meeting, each FCE competitively selects two trainees to participate in the Trainee Satellite Symposium (TSS) held on the first day of the annual meeting. The TSS highlights the research of these trainees and provides them the opportunity to present their studies to a select audience of academic leaders in clinical immunology.
This year at FOCIS 2007 49 Trainees from 26 FCEs participated in TSS. Eleven trainees were selected for oral presentation and for the first time, gave their talks inside the programs of FOCIS Member Society Satellites. Trainees and FCE Directors had the opportunity to attend satellites and then convened for a judged TSS poster session complete with pizza and refreshments. Congratulations to all who participated in the FOCIS 2007 Trainee Satellite Symposium!
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The Society for Mucosal Immunology (SMI) and Nature Publishing Group (NPG) are pleased to announce a new publishing partnership. SMI and NPG will launch a new publication, Mucosal Immunology - SMI’s official journal, this fall. Mucosal Immunology is now accepting submissions of papers discussing all aspects of immunity and inflammation involving mucosal tissues. Click here for more information.
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The Immune Tolerance Network is now accepting applications for its 2007 ITN Scholars Program from senior clinical fellows, junior faculty and established investigators who have a demonstrated interest in clinical research. The clinical track of the 1-year fellowship provides intensive, hands on training in the design and implementation of clinical trials. This year, a second mechanistic track has been added that focuses on the integration of biomarker and mechanistic assays into clinical trials. One year salary support is available for some clinical track awards. The application deadline is August 31, 2007.
ST*AR PROGRAM TRAVEL AWARD TARGET AUDIENCE: PhD students and PhD post docs conducting basic research related to allergic diseases, asthma and immunology.
Program goal: To provide PhD students and PhD post docs with an opportunity to consider research opportunities in the field of allergy and immunology.
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American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
• American College of Rheumatology
American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation • American Society for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics
American Society of Nephrology • American Society of Transplantation • American Uveitis Society
Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis • Association of Medical Laboratory Immunologists
Clinical Immunology Society • Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America • Immunology of Diabetes Society
International Complement Society • International Cytokine Society • International Society for Interferon and Cytokine Research
International Society of Neuroimmunology • International Society for Biological Therapy of Cancer
Society for Investigative Dermatology • Society for Mucosal Immunology • The Transplantation Society