SNMMI Goes Virtual: An interview with Vasken Dilsizian, MD, President, SMNMI

Like many organizations adapting to a new reality brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Society of Nuclear Medicine & Molecular Imaging (SNMMI) is changing course for this month’s 2020 annual meeting. Originally scheduled as a 3-day event in June in New Orleans, the SNMMI 2020 Annual Meeting – Virtual Edition will be held online July 11-14.

Going Virtual | A difficult decision

New Orleans has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially after Mardi Gras celebrations contributed to an uptick in cases. The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, where SNMMI was to hold its in-person meeting, was transformed into a 1,000-bed field hospital, and local leaders have indicated they will not permit large gatherings for the foreseeable future.

“We had to monitor this carefully, week by week, month by month. Our organization's priority is the safety of our staff, members and exhibitors,” says SNMMI President Vasken Dilsizian, MD. “Given the declarations by the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana, and the effects of the pandemic, we decided to cancel the in-person annual meeting and plan a virtual meeting.”

While changing the format has been challenging, going virtual hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for the meeting. At this writing, the virtual event has more than 5,000 registered participants, and is expected to meet or exceed the typical attendance of 5,500 for the organization’s in-person meeting.



An innovative interactive program

Dr. Dilsizian says this virtual event will speak directly to a younger generation of clinicians that has grown up with video games and is already comfortable communicating online, as well as established clinicians who are becoming increasingly familiar with online interaction, thanks to the pandemic.

The virtual platform will enable participants to attend live continuing-education sessions, review and listen to hundreds of scientific abstracts on demand, peruse a virtual exhibit hall, and even attend networking events – all in a flexible format designed to meet the needs of each individual’s schedule. The program will feature a wealth of current information presented by nuclear medicine and molecular imaging experts from around the world.

The Virtual Exhibit Hall is slated to showcase new products and technologies from more than 80 top suppliers. Participants can visit individual booths, browse resources, and interact via chat with the exhibiting companies' personnel.

A Virtual Science Pavilion will include scientific posters and oral abstract presentations. Participants will be able to ask questions of the authors via a chat feature. Attendees also will be able to search content and flag the posters/abstracts they would like to visit again, as well view the award-winning posters and presentations.

Molecular Hubs for different groups will be held prior to the start of the program each day. In addition, the meeting will include several “Drink and Think” events, a special Movie Viewing Party, and a Presidents’ Town Hall Reception for outgoing SNMMI and SNMMI-TS Presidents.

Engaged membership and new vendors

Initially, some exhibitors expressed skepticism of the format, as many prefer face-to-face interaction with attendees. “But after demonstrating the flexibility of our software, which is very similar to the interactive video games that are familiar to many of our members, the vendors were amazed,” stated Dr. Dilsizian.

What’s more, SNMMI’s Virtual Meeting has attracted vendors that have not previously participated in the conference – which Dr. Dilsizian interprets as an indication of growing interest and investment in nuclear medicine, particularly in advanced molecular imaging.

“Not only did we keep the majority of the vendors, we actually added 10 companies that had not registered for the original meeting, and five are brand new companies. We're excited because this speaks about the excitement in the field itself, and that speaks highly of where the field is going,” says Dr. Dilsizian.

The event is free for SNMMI members, many of whom are dealing with furloughs, lost jobs, reduced salaries, and disappearing educational funds.

“We owed it to our members to make this event free. Our number one goal was to be sympathetic and understanding. We wanted our members to realize that the SNMMI understands this financial situation,” he says.



The latest in Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging

Hot topics that will be covered at the meeting include advances in radiochemistry, and the implementation of new diagnostic and therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals in patient management. The development of new software that allows quantification of radiotracer uptake and receptor imaging will also be highlighted. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn about recent clinical trials anticipating FDA approval. New instrumentation, particularly whole-body PET/CT that can perform multi-organ imaging simultaneously with quantification of flow, metabolism, and receptor imaging using different radiotracers, will also be featured.

Therapeutics will be a major focus. “Therapeutics is experiencing exponential growth in the field. One of our exciting topics is therapeutics for prostate cancer and neuroendocrine tumors, and also looking at what else is on the horizon and other cancers we’ll be able to treat in the future,” says Dr. Dilsizian.



Educational Pathways

The SNMMI annual meeting attracts clinicians from a number of disciplines; including physicists, nuclear medicine physicians, cardiologists, residents, researchers, technologists, and students.

In fact, Dr. Dilsizian is triple boarded in internal medicine, cardiology, and nuclear medicine.

“The reason I did that is because I thought that in order to be a good investigator in the field of nuclear medicine, you really need to understand the basics of instrumentation, radiopharmacy, and radiotracers in depth before you apply them to the clinical setting,” he says.



SNMMI Attractions and Highlights

Dr. Dilsizian emphasizes that the meeting’s three plenary sessions are “must-see” events. “The plenary sessions are brilliant. They include wonderful key speakers who are being recognized with special awards for their lifetime achievements. The plenary sessions feature the Young Investigator awards, which highlight the next generation of leaders in the field.”

Rounding out the virtual event is the Henry H. Wagner, MD, lecture, which will consist of four authorities summarizing the SNMMI abstracts, providing insights into the future and what’s new in research supporting neuroscience, oncology and cardiology. All live sessions will be available for viewing immediately after being presented; on-demand sessions will be available through 2021.

“The advantage of this virtual meeting is that you can have an on-demand review, and the good news is that all the sessions can be reviewed throughout the year,” Dr. Dilsizian says.


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