A Message From Your New AST President
Dear AST Members,
It is my honor to serve as your President for the year 2021-22.
I want to express my gratitude to Rich Formica for his leadership of the Society during this past year. Under Rich’s leadership, the Society continued to grow and evolve despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and I am truly fortunate for Rich’s guidance, vision, and positivity. Rich’s term was remarkable for many reasons, including the first entirely virtual presidency and for the passage of the Comprehensive Immunosuppressive Drug Coverage for Kidney Transplant Patients Act (Immuno-Bill), which has been a focus of AST advocacy efforts for over two decades. I also wish to acknowledge the contributions and service of our outgoing Board members, Howie Gebel, Lisa Potter, Jonathan Maltzman, and Emily Blumberg. It is with mixed emotions that I say good-bye to these dear colleagues and welcome our new Board Members Deepali Kumar, President-elect, Jon Kobashigawa, Secretary, as well as, Councilors-at-Large, Marie Chisholm-Burns, Mandy Ford, and Vineeta Kumar. I look forward to working closely with all of our Board Members and AST Staff to advance AST’s mission during the upcoming year. I also wish to extend a warm welcome to all new and continuing Community of Practice (COP) and Committee chairs and co-chairs and to thank our outgoing leaders. I express my gratitude to all who stood for leadership roles this year. Finally, I wish to thank our partners for their steadfast support.
As the AST’s 40th President and first to practice in Canada, I am humbled and inspired by our history and diversity. My predecessors had the vision to create a broadly inclusive Society that provided a home for the multiple disciplines that are essential to the field of organ transplantation. Today, our sixteen COPs are the lifeblood of the Society providing unparalleled opportunities for member engagement. Inclusivity has always been a core AST value, and I am proud that we have formalized our commitment to these principles by establishing the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (to Life) [IDEAL] task force as a standing committee of the AST. The initial focus has been to establish and revise our internal policies and provide member education. I look forward to the Committee’s work to advance new initiatives to minimize discrimination and improve equity in access to transplantation for our patients.
Transplantation has never been a field for the timid. Our pioneers had a bold vision that they pursued with vigor and tenacity. As we emerge from the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must renew our conviction to advance the field, starting with a commitment to science. In 2020-2021, AST awarded $625,000 in research funding and is expected to fund $1.1 million next year. While laudable, we must increase our advocacy for research support from NIH and other governmental and non-governmental sources for basic, translational, and clinical research. We have become too dependent on industry to lead clinical trial development, and we have not successfully engaged with regulatory bodies to accelerate development of new therapeutics. We must reinvigorate our efforts to improve current therapeutics which fail to provide our patients with the quality and quantity of life they deserve by challenging regulatory bodies to accept more relevant outcomes for clinical trials. We must advance investigator-led clinical trial networks and leverage existing resources to increase the number and reduce the cost of trials. As a first step, the Society will be hosting our first in-person meeting since the start of the pandemic, The Future of Transplantation, in November 2021.
AST has always facilitated respectful academic dialogue and debate on the key challenges in the field. As a community, we have the skills and knowledge to advance policies and practices that balance the complexities of transplant practice and we should be concerned with the perception that we are losing the ability to address these challenges from within. In addition to enhancing opportunities for member input into UNOS/OPTN policies through our COPs, and continuing our advocacy efforts in Washington D.C., the Society will take an increasingly proactive role in informing issues through our public policy committee. The inclusion of the patient perspective will strengthen our policy development and advocacy efforts and is reflected in the evolution of the Transplant Community Advisory Council to patient leadership and patient representation on the Public Policy Committee. While the Society must be responsive to rapidly evolving issues, it is imperative that we also establish a broadly informed advocacy strategy that reflects our community priorities. The 2022 CEOT Meeting planned for February 17-19, 2022 in Scottsdale, AZ will be an important opportunity for members to engage on the topic of defining success in organ transplantation.
The AST is acting to eliminate disincentives for living donors through our advocacy in support of the Living Donor Protection Act and the AST Living Donor Circle of Excellence. “The Circle” is a corporate recognition program that celebrates employers who support the lost wages of living donors. Since its launch in October 2020, The Circle has met with widespread acceptance and over one million employed persons will now receive coverage for lost wages in the event they choose to be a living organ donor. With the support of our Living Donor COP, we aim to spread awareness of The Circle to all living donor programs in the U.S. and Canada such that prospective donors may approach their employers for support. I would ask all AST members to consider sharing information about Circle membership with their institutions and businesses that they frequent.
As I ponder the coming year and reflect on the year that has been, I am reminded of the lyrics of the song, “Feeling Good.”
Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Breeze driftin' on by you know how I feel.
It's a new dawn,
it's a new day,
it's a new life for me….
And I'm feeling good
The power of our Society lies in our shared commitment to do the best for our patients through research, advocacy, and education. I am feeling good because of the talent, expertise, passion, dedication, and strength of our Society. We were drawn to transplantation by its potential to dramatically relieve human suffering. As we emerge stronger from the pandemic, I ask you to recall why this Society is important to you, how the camaraderie, fellowship, and knowledge acquired through your membership has enriched your professional life, and I ask you to be engaged in our efforts to advance this field, which we love, as there is much to do.