By Tim Austin, Local Organising Committee Convenor and APS Treasurer
Well, what a tremendous Sydney Annual Scientific Meeting! The overwhelming vibe of the conference was positive. During the meeting, many people commented that this was the best ASM ever.
The scene was set on Sunday with what can only be described as lively pre-conference workshops, with a record number of participants. Pete Moore’s Pain Toolkit was a unique addition to the array of workshops, and his energy was certainly the spark that kick-started the conference. APS members are encouraged to keep abreast of the Pain Toolkit as it develops. Also, check out Pete’s videos from the conference: https://www.paintoolkit.org/news/article/live-videos-i-made-at-the-2018-australian-pain-society-38th-and-new-zealand-pain-society-conjoint-annual-scientific-meeting.
After a stunning Welcome to Country, it was a true honour for the conference to be opened
officially by Prof Fiona Blyth AM. Our International Speakers had so much to live up to, and they did not at all disappoint! Their talks throughout the conference were excellently prepared, and covered so much detail in the time allowed. Frank Huygen broke the most difficult topic of CRPS down into a
meaningful current mechanistic understanding. On the back of jet-lag, and speaking in English, he also managed to say Isosorbidedinitrate 3 times in 20 seconds without stumbling once! Stephen McMahon presented two plenaries (including the Pat Wall lecture) on the challenge of understanding why certain individuals appear predisposed to developing pain. He covered genetics, epigenetics, gender differences, environmental
and immune factors and more, always attempting to give mechanistic answers to the many contributors.
Liesbet Goubert and Tonya Palermo each presented two plenary lectures around their specialty areas. Liesbet delivered the Sunderland Lecture on the topic of resilience in pain management. Her second lecture on the interpersonal dynamics of pain outlined the theoretical basis for and therapeutic meaning of variables such as stigmatising and
solicitous behaviour. Tonya’s talks covered paediatric pain, firstly looking at the complexity of the numerous relationships involved in children with pain, and secondly, exploring the challenge of addressing sleep in an adolescent population (as if adolescents don’t have enough problems with sleep before you add chronic pain into the mix!).
The local (Australian and New Zealand) plenary lectures covered an equally large variety of topics. Greta Palmer’s plenary fitted so well with those of Tonya Palermo, as it discussed the challenges of accumulating data around the assessment and management of paediatric pain. In the Tess Cramond lecture, Damien Finniss gave a delightful synopsis of the current understandings of the placebo effect, covering
Pavlovian theory, the opioid and cannabinoid systems, interpersonal dynamics, expectations and more. Listeners were challenged to consider to what degree their clinical practice might helpfully harness placebo effects. Simon Brookes debunked the myth that basic science lectures have to be boring! He discussed the differences between somatic and gut nociceptors, highlighting the need for a different research approach and clinical management.
Possibly the most riveting plenary of the week was provided by Leinani Aiono-le Tagaloa.
Titled “The road less travelled”, Leinani told her own story of growing up in Samoa and then moving to and studying in New Zealand, most extraordinarily tying in her experiences with those of the many chronic pain patients that we treat. She said that initially “being a doctor took away my soul”, but then her journey into pain medicine allowed her to be a true physician once more. APS members can listen to all the plenary lectures from this conference via the Members Only area of our website; do not miss Leinani’s talk!
Later in the conference, Tony Fernando from Auckland provided a frank assessment of the co-morbid challenge of sleep and pain. He implored clinicians to take active steps to encourage change in sleep in their patients. Rachelle Buchbinder and Peter O’Sullivan provided beautifully polar views of musculoskeletal pain; Rachelle describing a systems-based approach to collecting and disseminating research data, and Peter looking at the micro view of the patient and the practitioner engaging in treatment approaches that are more strongly evidence-based.
The scientific meeting also provides the opportunity for the “next generation” of pain
researchers to be involved. It was abundantly clear why Flavia Di Pietro won the 2018 Rising Star Award. Her brief plenary talk covered her current and proposed research interests in topics such as trans-hemispheric and other brain interactions, delightfully showing her skill in deriving research projects from clinical conundrums. Also included in the plenary programme, James Kang and Audrey Wang, completing and recently completed APS/APRA
PhD scholars, gave updates on their work, both in brain mechanisms. Current PhD scholar, Sherelle Casey, updated us on her research into
cannabis and neuropathic pain and we were delighted to hear from Dr Adrienne Harvey, our first Cops for Kids Clinical Research Grant awardee who shared her findings on the use of gabapentin for managing pain in children with dystonic cerebral palsy. A further innovation in this Sydney
conference was a “Trainee” session, which enabled junior researchers to get together with more experienced colleagues, as a way of networking and mentoring. Now in their 10th year, the Rapid Communications are still a hit with the delegates, enabling selected poster presenters with 90 seconds to spruik their research.
The scientific meetings also provide the opportunity to acknowledge the outstanding contributions of established members. Given his birthplace of New Zealand, and extensive clinical, research and education career in Australia, it was most felicitous that this year Professor Michael Nicholas was awarded the APS Distinguished Member award.
The Topical Workshops and Free Paper sessions set a new benchmark in quality and delivery. They covered so many topics, synthesised the relevant research, and always had an eye on clinical outcomes. Even more than usual, delegates “complained” about the challenge of choosing which sessions they would attend, as there was usually more than one concurrent session that held attraction.
Special mention should be made of the prize winners from the conference; Joshua Pate for the best Free Paper (a child’s concept pain), Sin-Ki Ng for the best Rapid Communication (neural activity during emotional regulation in LBP), and Phil Austin for the best Poster (a self-report measure of central sensitisation).
The social programme at the ASM was innervating to say the least! The Welcome Reception set the scene for a most collegial conference, and enabled delegates and sponsor/exhibitors to converse in a most convivial atmosphere. First time Welcome Sponsor, the TAC, is to be most heartedly thanked for facilitating this event, and delegates enjoyed wonderful food and some draughts and ales from local Sydney Inner West brewers. The welcome function also provided the opportunity for the APS to launch the much-awaited 2nd edition of the Pain in Residential Aged Care Facilities: Management Strategies book (have you purchased your copy yet?).
On Monday evening, the charming Shelbourne Hotel provided delegates with a chance to chat informally, but there did seem to be some serious networking going on as well! But the “pièce de résistance” of the ASM is always the Conference Dinner, this year at the nearby Doltone House. As usual,
dessert (delicious as it looked) was bypassed, as delegates “hit the dance floor” while the band was still warming up! The mood of the night was epitomised by the score or so of dancers still strutting their stuff to the recorded music that was playing whilst the band packed up! Our delightful APS President, Fiona Hodson, revived the tambourine, and if that is not a metaphor, I don’t know what is!
To bring the conference to an end, 17 delegates joined a cruise and tour to Cockatoo Island on Sydney Harbour. Our knowledgeable guide provided a most instructive tour of the Island, highlighting the convict heritage through to the more recent naval boat-building. There was also the opportunity to explore some of the Sydney Biennale installations in such a unique setting.
There are so many people to be acknowledged with regards to delivering such a special conference. Our sponsors and exhibitors are essential, and delegates are reminded to continue to interact with them. The scientific programming committee under the guidance of Kevin Keay thoughtfully brought together the speakers, sessions, timings and more. The local organising committee gave the conference a truly Sydney flavour. A special thanks goes to the staff of DC Conferences
and Alex Robertson, who successfully organised and sustained the conference just days before the birth of her second child! And finally, YOU, the membership! You turned up, delivered workshops, and provided the energy for our collective learning. THANK YOU and see you all on the Gold Coast in 2019.