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Comments on an Upcoming Conference on Neurodegenerative Diseases

Posted Aug 27 2013 12:00am

I received a brochure in the mail advertising an upcoming medical conference: From Neurodegeneration to Brain Health: An Integrated Approach . It's a two-day event to be held on October 25-26, 2013, in Cleveland and sponsored by Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals. It caught my attention for a few reasons:

  • The conference is clearly designed to showcase the talent of Case Western Reserve Medical School and its associated health system with 19 faculty members from the institution and seven from other institutions. This types of disease is obviously an area of expertise for the school and hospitals. They are thus a logical choice to host the event.
  • The conference is available for both on-site and on-line participation. Such a model has been a goal of mine for many years in conferences that I plan but it's extremely expensive to provide such on-line services. This will become the standard model for well-funded conferences so that those interested in the conference material can participate without the associated travel expenses.
  • The conference tuition is astonishing low: $145 for an on-site physician and $95 for an on-line physician. The registration fee for an on-line resident or fellow or physician is $25. By my estimate, these are less than 10% of the true cost of the meeting. There are also no sponsoring vendors listed in the brochure probably because of CME restrictions.
  • Under acknowledgements, the following statement appears: This symposium will be support by grants from industry. A complete listing of supporters will be presented in the syllabus materials distributed at the meeting.
  • The brochure also contains the proper disclosure: Faculty will disclose all relevant financial relationships and that they will identify any "off-label" or investigational used of pharmaceutical products or medical devices.

Effective imaging and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's is the holy grail for both imaging and pharmaceutical companies. I have blogged about these topics in the past (see: Brain Plaque Diagnostic Imaging Procedure Approved by FDAEarly Detection of Alzheimer's Disease: Mutations of Three Genes Studied ; Using Altered Metabolic Pathways to Diagnose Alzheimer's Disease ). Alzheimer's disease lacks both highly accurate imaging modalities and effective drug treatment. Because of the high prevalence of the disease, enormous profits will be reaped when these two problems are solved.

Although I am suspicious that the major imaging and pharmaceutical companies that are providing grants to sponsor the meeting will be able to keep their hands off its content, they probably are also underwriting much of the actual research performed by the faculty so they don't need to try too hard to put some sort of spin on it. 

The more important point is that all continuing medical education will begin to segment into several tiers with this conference as an example of the highest tier with very low registration fees and on-line participation. I also think that it will be almost impossible for the "CME experts" at the various schools to prevent some sort of spin at these conferences despite the fact that "disclosures" will be required in compliance with all of the relevant local, state, and national CME requirements.

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