1 March 2019

The road ahead for APLAR and the ARA

AHPRA The Hill

Many Australian rheumatologists are not really aware of the Asia Pacific League of Associations for Rheumatology (APLAR), the annual conference which is being held in conjunction with the ARA Annual Scientific Meeting in Brisbane from April 8-11 (https://aplar2019.com/).  

Traditionally Australian rheumatology has engaged most closely with our colleagues in North America and Europe.  But as long ago as the early 1960s, forward thinking Australian and New Zealand rheumatologists led in particular by Dr Ken Muirden recognised our key role in Asian rheumatology, and established the forerunner of APLAR, the South East Asia and Pacific Area League (SEAPAL).   

At that time, rheumatology, even in Australia, was in its infancy, and was non-existent in most parts of Asia. SEAPAL, and now APLAR, have played major roles in establishing the profession in our region, and thereby improved the lives of an extremely large number of arthritis-affected people.   Despite our formative role in APLAR, the APLAR annual meeting has only once previously been held in Australia, in 1996 in Melbourne.

Now though, Asian rheumatology is booming both in clinical practice and research.   

APLAR countries are home to around 4.5 billion people, more than six times the population or Europe and approximately 14 times the population of the United States.  I personally work in cancer genomics and rheumatology research in a hospital in Wenzhou, China (First Affiliated Hospital, Wenzhou Medical University) that serves a regional population almost the size of the whole of Australia.  

Considering research, China alone has a larger science and technology research workforce than even the United States, files more life sciences patents than either the United States or Europe, and its investment in biomedical research is rapidly increasing and is expected to surpass that of the United States this decade.1  Other APLAR countries are also global leaders in biomedical research, and many have been longstanding close collaborators with the Australian scientific community.  

Australia’s own population also has strong Asian links. In the 2016 Australian census, 16% of responders who indicated their ethnicity were of Asian descent.   

The joint meeting of APLAR and the ARA this year is therefore very timely, giving us a chance to showcase our clinical and research capabilities, as well as providing opportunities for engagement bilaterally.  

APLAR itself has gone through some major organisational change, something our own Professor Kevin Pile was instrumental in, and is set to become a major global leader in rheumatology professional and scientific matters.   

The APLAR ASM is going to be a really high quality meeting, enabling us to put on a program that the ARA alone could not match.  

The conference is preceded by two days of pre-congress workshops (on Sunday 7th – Monday 8th April) covering basic science (Immunology) and clinical aspects. There are imaging and ultrasound workshops, scleroderma skin training workshops, a combined APLAR-Young Rheumatologist and ARA-preceptorship program, and a Translational Practice Workshop run by the Rheumatology Health Professionals Association.  

Each day there will be four concurrent sessions running during non-plenary sections. There are joint sessions with EULAR and ACR who are sending outstanding speakers to represent those organisations.   

Nore than 600 abstracts were received for presentations either as short oral or poster presentations.   Close to 50 special interest group and other professional meetings are being held alongside the scientific program.  On the final day, in addition to the traditional “Grand Rounds” presentation, there will be “Year in Review” and “Year in Preview” sessions, covering both clinical and research domains.   

And befitting the gender ratio of our profession, there will be gender equality among speakers and session chairs, making this, we believe, the first international rheumatology conference to achieve this. Additionally, there will be onsite child-minding facilities enabling parents with childcare responsibilities to attend.

We look forward to hosting as many ARA, NZRA and RHPA member at APLAR-ARA 2019 as can attend, and hope that from this meeting there will be both a long lasting legacy of our rejuvenated engagement with Asian rheumatology, and great memories for those that attend about the meeting itself.

Matt Brown is Director of Genomics at Queensland University of Technology

Reference: 

1. The anatomy of medical research: US and international comparisons. Moses H 3rd, Matheson DH, Cairns-Smith S, George BP, Palisch C, Dorsey ER. JAMA. 2015 Jan 13;313(2):174-89.