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5 Things to Watch for at the ATS 2021 International Conference


Vaping and other key respiratory issues, such as asthma, COPD, and new biologics, join COVID-19 on the ATS 2021 International Conference agenda.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, as the American Thoracic Society (ATS) was planning its annual international conference for 2020, the hot topic was set to be vaping.

The pandemic forced the cancellation of the Philadelphia gathering as medical meetings tried to adapt to a virtual world in the first half of the year.

This year, vaping and other key respiratory issues join COVID-19 on the agenda for the ATS 2021 International Conference.

“Vaping really fell under the radar. And I actually think it would be worth mentioning that it hasn't gone away,” said Andrew J. Halayko, PhD, ATSF, FCAHS, professor of physiology and pathophysiology and internal medicine at the University of Manitoba, in Canada, and chair of the international conference.

The conference begins Friday, May 14, formally opening with a keynote address on Saturday from Anthony Fauci, MD, titled, “COVID-19 in 2021: Lessons Learned and Remaining Challenges.” Fauci is President Joe Biden's medical adviser and head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

In an interview with The American Journal of Managed Care®, Halayko gave a broad overview of what attendees can expect to hear during the meeting.

Asthma management guidelines

This session, called “Three in One: Updates on Asthma Management From 3 Guidelines Committees,” was postponed from last year, Halayko said, to ensure that it received due attention. It will highlight the most recent recommendations from the US National Asthma Education and Prevention Program and the Global Initiative for Asthma, as well as guidelines from the European Respiratory Society and the ATS.

Biologics and biomarkers

A number of presentations and posters will focus on various aspects of biologics and biomarkers for severe asthma, which affects about 10% of patients.

“What we're learning is that a really good antibody therapy for asthma doesn't fit all, and it's really important to endotype or phenotype the patient,” Halayko said. Given the expense of newer therapies, it’s vital to know which subset of patients they will help the most, he added.


Every talk in the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) section is starred as a “hot topic,” Halayko said, partly in recognition of the fact that “it's time to move forward with a better understanding of disease pathology, but also therapies where we really have not made significant progress. And we are starting to get to the point where precision medicine and large data studies, omics studies, are coming forward.”

Vaping and cannabis

There are more than 2 dozen posters on vaping and cannabis, the long-term pulmonary effects of which are not known. Previous studies have linked vaping to more severe effects from COVID-19. The 2019 e-cigarette– or vaping-associated lung injury epidemic is continuing, and various presentations and posters will discuss the types of injuries seen, the chemicals involved, recovery trajectories, and more.

Racism and health equity

The president of ATS, Juan C. Celedón, MD, DrPH, division director, Pulmonology; the Niels K. Jerne Professor of Pediatrics; and professor of medicine, epidemiology, and human genetics, chairs a symposium asking if racial and ethnic disparities in respiratory health can be eliminated. Social determinants of health, universal health care, improving access to lung cancer screening, and other areas are up for discussion by the panel.

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