Roughly 20 years ago, a newly minted doctor from the University of Massachusetts Medical School roamed the halls of Scientific Sessions for the first time.

He absorbed lectures about his specialty, interventional cardiology. He befriended peers and leaders from his field and others. He enjoyed it all so much that he returned as a poster presenter – spending weeks preparing and getting multiple critiques by senior colleagues. He also gathered practical advice to carry extra glue sticks just in case his printouts started peeling from the boards.

As his career progressed – from junior investigator to senior investigator, then onto a leader in academic medicine – Robert Harrington, MD, FAHA, FACC, not only kept coming to Sessions, he became one of the planners.

This year, his first as chair of the Committee on Scientific Sessions Program, he’s proud to say that he and his colleagues have put together an event that will enhance Sessions’ reputation as the nation’s premier gathering of cardiovascular experts.

About 18,000 attendees from more than 105 countries will roam the halls of the Dallas Convention Center from Saturday through Wednesday. Another 1.5 million professional attendees are expected to be involved virtually, absorbing groundbreaking insights, lectures from prestigious speakers and thought-provoking discussions about basic, translational, clinical and population science.

“That’s what I think makes Sessions a unique meeting, that breadth of science being presented,” said Harrington, chair of the Department of Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine. “Science is moving more and more toward being a team-based activity and understanding how to connect clinical observation and apply it is facilitated by getting all these different types of scientists together.”

 The amount of science is staggering:

  • 4,176 abstracts, plus 30 late-breaking basic science abstracts
  • 758 sessions – 443 original research, 315 invited
    • Of those original research sessions, 306 are posters, 128 are oral, five are Late-Breaking Clinical Trials and four are Clinical Science Special Reports
    • 20 Late-Breaking Clinical Trials will be presented, along with 19 Special Reports

 “The quality and volume of the science offered at Scientific Sessions this year is remarkable – even by the extraordinarily high standards of this meeting,” said AHA President Mariell Jessup, MD, FAHA, and CSSP Chair in 2009 and 2010. “There is so much to hear, so many people with whom to interact and so much new information that may directly impact your day-to-day job no matter your specialty or interests. It is thrilling and relevant.”  

 With everything spread across 26 programming tracks, there is clearly plenty for everyone. 

Scientific Sessions began in 1925 – the year after the American Heart Association was founded – and has run continuously ever since, save for a hiatus during World War II. This is the eighth time Sessions has been in Dallas since 1978, but the first since 2005.

 “If you haven’t recently visited Dallas, plenty has changed,” Mayor Mike Rawlings said. “Downtown is far more vibrant, with more restaurants, shops, museums and even a park over a highway, all within walking distance of the convention center.”

The convention center has been remodeled and the new Omni Hotel is connected. The ease of access should make Sessions’ return to the American Heart Association’s hometown more comfortable.

“We want people to walk around and meet people,” Harrington said. “We’re trying to create the spirit of community, where people can not only learn about their type of science but also find colleagues and work with them.”

Relationships Harrington built and nurtured through Sessions are instrumental in this colossal undertaking being such a success. This includes the last two years he spent as CSSP vice chair under current AHA President-elect Elliott Antman, MD, FAHA, and the efforts of his own vice chair, Kenneth D. Bloch, MD, FAHA. Harrington said the support of Jessup and the entire AHA staff also was invaluable.

“It’s a huge amount of work, but sort of a labor of love,” he said.

While much of the information presented will be available online, that is only one element of the Sessions experience. It’s also about networking, socializing, hallway conversations, exchanging business cards – all the benefits of being somewhere in person.

“What you can’t get off the Web is that interaction where you bump into a colleague and say, `I just saw this. Can I ask you about it?’” Harrington said. “That’s the essence of science, those serendipitous conversations. You’ve got to interact to have those. You’ve got to shake hands.

“Let’s face it: Science is a team sport. You’ve got to interact with your teammates to do the best science.”

His career wouldn’t be the same without it.

 “The bulk of my research over the last two decades has been in collaboration with colleagues around the globe, and Sessions has been invaluable for the opportunities to meet regularly with these colleagues – to share ideas, what we’re doing and to continue building our friendship and working together.”