If any doubt about the growth of rheumatology worldwide still lingered, the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) congress in Copenhagen this June should have ended it. The meeting was not just big. It was gigantic and filled the sleek new Bella Center on the outskirts of the city. On the grounds of the Bella Center sits a large wind turbine which, while generating the nice green electricity, looked as if it was blowing hoards of rheumatologists through the entrance doors, jetting them into lecture halls and exhibit areas.
The crowding magnified the impression of the meeting’s size. The wide corridors were jammed with people who seemed relentlessly hungry for knowledge. Even in the caverns of the big auditoriums, the sessions were standing room only. On more than one occasion, I had to watch a lecture on a TV monitor outside a barricaded room assiduously guarded by a security officer, albeit a pleasant young woman.
While the record number of attendees led to crowding, the weather was also a big factor keeping people inside the convention center. For the first four days I was there, rain pelted wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen and a fierce wind blasted fusillades of water across the city. We learned later that this was the wettest week in Copenhagen history and one day saw the ninth largest rain accumulation ever recorded in Denmark. People making their way from the subways arrived at the Bella Center drenched, their umbrellas blown apart in cyclonic winds.
I do not know what Danes call this weather, but in the United States, it would be a nor’ easter, although someone said it was like Katrina. With the weather preventing sightseeing and the only attraction around the Bella Center the wind turbine (and how many times can you watch it go around?), people probably logged a record number of CME hours. While standing during a session in a hot, densely packed lecture room, I turned to a friend and suggested that the best way to clear out the place would be to run down the aisle yelling, “The sun is shining, the sun is shining!” The stampede out the door would have been downright dangerous, although I would have finally gotten a seat.
Although the rain dampened the usual excitement of a meeting in a great capital of Europe— indeed, a beautiful gal of a town—I had many vivid impressions of EULAR. I anticipate that the ACR annual meeting in Philadelphia will reprise and amplify these themes.
A meeting with the climatic vicissitudes of the 2009 EULAR congress can’t help but inspire metaphors to describe the state of our specialty. I asked myself “What is the real rheumatology today?”
Plenty to Discuss for Rheumatology
Certainly, as many talks and posters demonstrated, therapy for inflammatory disease is advancing rapidly. Whether a speaker cited remission rates of 50% in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or described new agents to block diseases mediated by interleukin-1, the progress remains very impressive. As treatment moves forward, challenging questions will arise. Can patients in RA in remission stop their DMARDs (any or all)? If they stop therapy and relapse, can remission be recaptured? These are exciting new topics for inquiry that should provide a rich research agenda for the coming years.