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Interview with Prof. Natalia Rost

Prof. Natalia Rost, Massachusetts General Hospital / Harvard Medical School, USA
AAN 2019
Interview with Prof. Natalia Rost, MD, MPH, FAHA, FAAN, chair of the Science Committee of the 2019 AAN meeting

Prof. Natalia Rost is Chief of the Stroke Division at Massachusetts General Hospital and Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. As chair of the Science Committee, Prof. Rost talks to Medicom about some of the scientific (and other) highlights of this year's AAN meeting.

Why was the opening party of the meeting called 'Philly Spectacular'?

“Because it was spectacular! The AAN has brought its annual meeting to Philadelphia multiple times, mainly because the city is so well-situated and able to accommodate such a large group of attendees, over 15,000 this time. Philadelphia also offers a lot of history and art, such as the Barnes Foundation, one of the best private art collections worldwide. From a scientific standpoint, the breadth and depth of the presented science is also spectacular, with over 3,000 abstracts, plus presentations by the world's most renowned scientists as well as promising young investigators. This meeting is really our annual party.”

How hard and time-consuming is it to chair the Science Committee?

“It is a serious commitment, but also the biggest antidote to a burn-out. I've never regretted being involved with the AAN. You give, but receive much more. When I became a member of the Academy, I was still a medical student; exactly 20 years later I am helping to shape the meeting. It has been the greatest gratification of my professional career. Busy? Busy does not count.”

Can you point out some new features at this year's meeting?

“Almost immediately after a meeting is over, we start planning for the next year. We assess very carefully the feedback we get, but the Science Committee also constantly surveys the response to presentation formats. For at least 10 years we continue to innovate, both content and format. We have also learned that neurologists -however 'nerdy' of a crowd- but they also like to have fun. So, infusing some joyous elements into the meeting has tremendously stimulated participation. People walk around smiling, enjoying the meeting, not just hurrying from one presentation to the next. That is why we have organised the 'Grand Experience' for example: a unique vast space with a stage in all four corners to signify openness, breaking the siloes, with separate talks, creating energy and buzz. Or take the 'Brain Dome', which allows you to walk through the brain; it is a mix of neuroanatomy, neuro-physiology, and a touch of Disneyland.
I am particularly proud of a new series called 'Advancing medicine: innovation and inspiration', with three great lecturers. Dr Hugh Herr is an engineer who has developed smart prostheses, bionic limbs that he uses himself, as he has lost both his legs. Dr Mona Hanna-Attisha helped to put an end to the problem of lead-poisoned drinking water in the city of Flint. Dr Patricia Churchland talked about the interface between neuroscience and morality.”

You are a stroke specialist. Are there any trials or other developments in stroke you would like to mention?

“Stroke care has evolved dramatically over the past years. The most important development has obviously been the application of thrombectomy. There seem to be periods of acceleration and then of contemplation. We have achieved a particularly high level of care to patients with large-vessel occlusion. There are now signs of contemplation, where we implement what we have discovered, analyse the results, perform quality assessments; and reflect upon how to proceed further. We are e.g. trying to develop 'pre-hospital' systems of care, as well as seeking solutions for the disparities of care that unfortunately exist in the US and elsewhere. We are also staging the next interventions to find answers to questions like: Do we go for smaller vessels further down the vessel tree? Are we closing patent foramen ovale more often than we should, or not often enough?”

Which are some of the other presentations that you would like to draw our attention to?

“I am very proud of our plenary line-up. Take the session 'Frontiers in neuroscience', very specifically targeting some of the most cutting-edge neuroscience. This is meant to challenge general neurologists; to show them that there are incredible developments in neuroscience, which we neurologists can by no means imagine to be applicable to general practice. But that is also how e.g. optogenetics started, or precision neuro-immunotherapy, etc. -with applications that we could not have imagined 20 years ago. And on the last afternoon of the meeting there is a session on neuroimaging that spans across multiple subspecialties, in a true sense of neurology as a community, and a perfect way to conclude the annual meeting.”

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