08.01.2019 09:46
by Christina Bürger

Our first EANM Congress

Just hours ago more than 6000 participants, gathered at the Plenary Hall of the Congress Center Düsseldorf Süd, listened to the highlights and closing remarks of the EANM 2018. In a surf-award style and only meters away from the rocky beaches of the lower Rhine, there was an exciting exposition about the most promising research on nuclear medicine and medical imaging in the world, humorously garnished with pictures of beaches from around the world. From radiotracers and clinical imaging to theranostics and the role of artificial intelligence in detection, diagnostic and assisted treatment of diseases, all the relevant aspects of the conference were praised there.

Ours is a different account, from the point of view of a new generation of researchers starting to work in the field and attending for the first time this massive and influential Congress. Curiosity, variety of perspectives and a lot of enthusiasm for the future is what characterizes these highlights from a group of early stage researchers (ESRs) of the HYBRID consortium.

During 5 days, from 13th to 17th of October, researchers from around the world presented their latest work, along with invited speakers who lectured on specific subjects, in more than 150 sessions. The talks were divided in symposia (Pre-Congress Symposia, medical Joint Symposia, Satellite Symposia), lecture-like sessions (Plenary Sessions, Continuing Medical Education, Continuing Technologist Education, Special Sessions, Pitfalls and Artefacts, medical Teaching Sessions, and the Young Daily Forum) and research-oriented Tracks and Posters (Do.MoRe, M2M, Rapid Fire Sessions, e-Poster Walks).

The first HYBRID meetings started before the conference itself, at the Pre-Congress Symposia, where a predominantly young attendance met together to attend a full day of introductory and advanced lectures on state-of-the-art nuclear medicine research. It was also the first opportunity to exchange ideas and discuss networking opportunities with other young researchers with similar interests and problems.

Given the perspective of our research projects, most of us attended different oncology, cardiology and artificial intelligence sessions. From within these seminars, two HYBRID members clearly stood out: Prof. Boellaard with his seminal talk on quantification in PET studies, and the all-encompassing presentation of Prof. Vicky Goh on the myriad of oncological applications of machine learning in MRI. Furthermore, many other talks deserved the applause of the entire audience, like Prof. Hatt’s introductory talk on pitfalls and advantages of radiomics, and Prof. Dr. Kotzerke’s overview on dose painting of hypoxia marked tumors.

The overall feeling of the audience after the symposia was that with such an interesting introduction to all these topics, a great Congress was about to begin. After a short session of questions with the lecturers and the necessary exchange of contact information, the Plenary Hall was awaiting us at full capacity for the Opening Ceremony. The Welcome Reception was a great opportunity to bring together the HYBRID ESR group and, along with friends and colleagues from Groningen and Vienna, update the group on the progress of our work and discuss what sessions to attend. The images speak for themselves, and the evening finished in a happy and relaxed mood.

Our highlights

Starting the Congress one would like to attend every meeting and ask questions to every speaker. Not only that is impossible, but also this Congress was so big that it was even difficult to go from one hall to the other in the middle of a Session without losing at least one talk. It required strategy, planning, and time management to attend at least all the interesting talks in our fields, which was greatly simplified through the EANM 2018 app, our first highlight of the Congress.

Given our research interests, though, the probabilities were high to find at least one HYBRID ESR at every Do.MoRe Reconstruction, Data Analysis, and PET/CT-PET/MR session. Artefacts in Hybrid Imaging was another popular choice for our group, where clinical cases were presented and the audience learned interactively which were common and uncommon artefacts for different technologies. From this session stood out the talk “Is it artefact or physiological uptake?” by Prof. Wong, where audience could decide whether a feature of an image was an artefact or not, and learn from that hands-on experience.

With respect to the cardiac talks, the Continuing Medical Education (CME) session on cardiovascular diseases attracted the most attention. Of special interest were the talks on myocardial blood flow (MBF) quantification and detection of coronary artery disease, extremely relevant for some of our HYBRID projects. In that sense, it was also noteworthy the Cardiovascular Joint Symposium, where HYBRID senior researcher Dr. Nekolla’s talk on MBF quantification and Prof. Knutti subsequent talk on MBF interpretation were remarkable.

Another useful resource for new researchers was the Young Daily Forum, which took place every day at 1 pm. Presented by the charismatic Roy Sheppard and with participation of specialist speakers, it promoted skills, perspectives and discussions that everyone in science should be familiar with, and that are especially important for early stage researchers to avoid mistakes and to stay alive in the research world. It gave insights on patient involvement, presentation skills for research conferences and how and why to successfully publish research in a journal. Not less important for students was the alluring offer of a free meal with the attendance, that along with the interesting topics and the ability of the presenter to attract attention were keys to make the Forum lively and busy every day.

A totally different learning experience were the Plenary Sessions, where all attendees gathered in the Plenary Hall to listen to renowned and long-standing speakers give overviews and future perspectives on entire fields of study. One of the most interesting talks was presented by 2016’s Chemistry Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Ben Feringa, rightfully named “The fascinating world of molecules”.

On the clinical side, one of most expected sessions was about the upcoming EARL update for PET/CT standardization. The 3 talks (and most prominently HYBRID member Prof. Boellaard’s presentation) were among the hottest talks in the medical physics community of the Congress, providing important clarifications and insights about the new standard, and also generating an extensive debate afterwards. Prof. Boellaard gave two additional talks at the Do.MoRe: Image Processing/Analysis session, focusing on inter-observer variability for lesion segmentations on PET images, and on the development and validation of realistic 3D printed inserts to study the performance of radiomics features.

We need also mention the great participation of our HYBRID colleague and friend Alejandra Valladares, the only representative within HYBRID ESRs giving a talk at the EANM 2018. Her presentation on variability and standardization of PET/MR images in different centers throughout Europe was along the same line of the latest EARL update, adding contributions from the PET/MR perspective. It is a clear image of what the HYBRID project is trying to achieve: make the right steps towards global standardized quantification approaches for medical images, which would benefit researchers, clinicians, and most importantly patients. Not an official HYBRID member but already an honorary one, Lalith Sundar also gave an outstanding presentation about ViQuant, an automated pipeline for quantification of FDG uptake in the brain, which aroused a lot of interest and stimulated debate.

The HYBRID Congress

The Congress has finished and we go back to our work, but it left us experiences, teachings and (perhaps more importantly) inspiration to keep working hard. Not only because we were able to see the relevance of our own work, but also because we were reminded that HYBRID comprises highly qualified experts in our field. Additionally, every talk inspired and gave us ideas, it was an opportunity for networking, and we come back home filled with new perspectives, possibilities, and motivation.

The HYBRID EANM 2018 was a great experience in all its aspects, and especially in reassuring ourselves of having taken the right path. We know for certain that this group of ESRs is promising, exciting, and willing to help each other and collaborate to make everyone’s projects more meaningful and influential. Through official and unofficial meetings, through one-on-one conversations, and even through hallway and coffee-breaks, we strengthened our community, shared interesting ideas, constructive comments and also had some small talk to relax and to remember that there is more to science than just protocols, phantoms, coding, and funding.

by Nicolò Capobianco, Guilherme Domingues Kolinger, Esteban Lucas Solari and Alejandra Gonzalez Valladares

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