I’ve recently gotten back to Melbourne after spending a few days on the Gold Coast for the 39th Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM) of the Australian Pain Society (APS), which was nothing short of a resounding success. Before I get into my recap, I need to congratulate the Local Organising Committee – Chaired by Dr Daniel Harvie – as well as Tracy Hallen, Vanessa Lane, and the rest of the team at DC Conferences for putting on such a fantastic event.
The 2019 ASM featured a great line up of international speakers, including Professor Beth Darnell (Department of Anesthesiology, Stanford University), Dr Nanna Finnerup (Department of Clinical Medicine, Aarhus University, Denmark), and Professor Tor Wager (Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience laboratory, University of Colorado). The seven national speakers were equally impressive, featuring:
- Associate Professor Ben Colagiuri, University of Sydney
- Professor Clare Collins, University of Newcastle
- Dr Melissa Day, The University of Queensland
- Associate Professor Michael Farrell, Monash University
- Associate Professor Julia Hush, Macquarie University
- Ms Jenni Johnson, NSW Agency for Clinical Innovation
- Professor Glenn King, The University of Queensland
Read on for a brief recap of some of my highlights from the ASM. There will be additional coverage and content relating to the ASM in the APS newsletter, on the APS blog, and on Pain Research Forum in the near future!
It was an early start on Sunday, with pre-conference workshops running from 8.30 in the morning. I attended the Basic Pain Research workshop, where seven speakers gave insightful presentations into their work. Of particular interest were Dr Christine Barry from the Centre for Neuroscience at Flinders University, Adelaide, and Preet Makker, a MD and PhD Candidate from the University of New South Wales. Dr Barry presented research on a new mouse model of vulvodynia that her team has been developing, while Preet presented work he has been undertaking where they think about an animal model of chronic constriction injury as a model of progressive diseases that mimic clinical neurological syndromes.
After having some time to relax in the afternoon, it was time for the Welcome Reception—the first social function of the ASM—on the Sunday night. The Welcome Reception always provides a great opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues in a relaxed environment. It also provides an opportunity to put faces to names—or in my case, Twitter handles—as I met Marg Vandemost, a local psychologist and researcher, and had a brief but enjoyable chat with Dr Owen Williamson, a pain physician and ski tragic based in British Columbia.
Following a Welcome to Country ceremony from Aunty Robyn Williams, the meeting was officially opened by Professor Milton Cohen from the St Vincent’s Clinical School at the University of New South Wales. The first plenary session for the meeting features the inaugral IASP Global Year Against Pain Lecture. In 2019, the focus is placed on pain in vulnerable populations, including older persons, infants/young children, individuals with cognitive impairments, and survivors of torture. Professor Beth Darnall discussed her involvement in brief and digital pain medicine approaches aiming to equalise access to better pain treatment across all patients.
The early career researcher session organised by Associate Professor Tasha Stanton on Monday night was well attended. Keynote speakers Glenn King, Beth Darnall, Tor Wager, and Nanna Finnerup sat with students and trainees and had their brains picked in an informal setting. Personally, I always enjoy these kinds of events as I feel like I walk away with at least one new perspective or idea to think about. These sessions also allow you to meet other people who are going through similar parts of a research journey. I met Megan McPhee, an Australian currently completing her PhD in Denmark and had a great chat about setting up a personal website using R.
Early risers could start the day off with beachside yoga, but I was back at the Convention Centre bright and early for my interview with Rising Star Award Winner Dr Arjun Muralidharan from the University of Sydney. It great to chat about his research and his interest in the upcoming Cricket World Cup. Our chat will be available soon on Pain Research Forum.
Professor Clare Collins gave a wonderful plenary on whether improving dietary patterns and nutritional status within chronic pain works. There are many common links between pain and nutrition. While evidence suggests nutritional interventions can reduce self-reported pain compared to control interventions, more high-quality studies are needed for this information to be translated into care for chronic pain patients. Clare highlighted two great online resources relating to nutrition. The first was the Healthy Eating Quiz, a free online guide designed to help you rate how healthy your eating habits are. The second was on online course relating to dispelling diet myths, where you can arm yourself with the knowledge and tools to make healthy eating decisions. If you have an interest in diet and nutrition, then I definitely recommend checking these out!
One of the most anticipated events of any APS conference is the Gala Dinner – and it never fails to disappoint. This year that Gala Dinner was held at stunning HOTA – pronounced Hoe-ta – the stunning Home of the Arts. At the President’s Reception preceding the dinner I was lucky enough to briefly interview Professor Sean Mackey of Stanford University. I was very interested to learn about what kind of music has playing to help him get in the zone for grant writing! We also celebrated the birthday of outgoing Society President Fiona Hodson in style.
There was no rest for the wicked on the final morning of the meeting, with the Annual General Meeting drawing a good crowd despite the 7.30 start time. A jam packed plenary session following the AGM, with Tor Wager starting off with a fascinating talk on the clinical impact and brain mechanisms of the placebo effect. Michael Farrell rounded the plenary session out with an amusing discussion of how other forms of interoception – or the sense of the internal state of the body – can help us understand pain processing. The studies Michael mentioned were certainly different – such as this one where volunteers inhaled capsaicin (the part of a chilli that causes the burning sensation) and then had to try not to cough.
The final talk of the conference was given by Ben Colagiuri from the University of Sydney. Ben discussed a recent meta-analysis examining the blinding status of drug trials in chronic pain. Interestingly, only about five percent of trials testing a drug intervention for chronic pain assessed blinding – which is a critical part of these types of studies. What was even more interesting is being funded by pharmaceutical companies was the strongest predictor of not assessing blinding. However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom as Ben recommended a number of ways researchers could improve the way that blinding is implemented and measured in these trials.
It was great to see so many conference attendees using social media to connect and disseminate everything that was going on. Brian Pulling, Eva Sierra, and Belinda Mikaelian were all very prominent tweeters throughout the week. Make sure you check out #AusPainSoc to see all of the best tweets from the ASM!
Hope to see everyone in Hobart next year so we can do it all again!