Dear members of the World Muscle Society, dear friends and colleagues,
Normally the local organisers of the upcoming WMS congress would address you with a welcome message to our Society’s annual meeting. However, who can say what is normal these days?! As you know, the 25th WMS congress would have taken place in Halifax, in Canada, at the end of September this year and the neuromuscular community was looking forward to this special anniversary meeting. Unfortunately, a single-stranded RNA virus of 50–200 nanometres in diameter that is contagious in humans has impeded our Nova Scotia get-together and the Executive Board had to come up with an alternative plan. It was felt that the WMS meeting should not just be cancelled and that the neuromuscular community wants to experience education, enjoyment and excitement – especially at a time when these activities, which reflect such important components of our congresses, are repressed by restrictive lockdown measures.
The decision is to go ahead with a virtual conference, a first for the WMS. Our congresses have been threatened in the past by major events, floods and earthquakes; they caused us to move dates and venues, but the WMS meetings always took place. The current pandemic forces us to organise an online meeting, but most importantly, the meeting will still provide a multidisciplinary scientific forum to advance and disseminate knowledge in the neuromuscular field, with opportunities for students, postdoctoral fellows and young investigators to present their research findings and for everyone to engage in discussions and to establish new collaborations.
Our programme committee has done a fantastic job to come up with an exciting scientific programme and the quality of the 400 submitted abstracts on all aspects of neuromuscular disease has been outstanding. We will enjoy panel sessions, oral lectures and poster presentations through a virtual conference centre and a range of stimulating industry symposia on a dedicated day. Everything will then be available on demand for 3 months to registered attendees to continue viewing. The WMS teaching course will also go ahead and we encourage everyone who is interested to register and participate.
We are confident that the unusual format and shortened programme of the congress will nevertheless be very engaging, cutting-edge and highly informative. We decided that registration for the congress and teaching course should be free and to reimburse all those who had already paid for their registration. One thing that we cannot avoid is the unfortunate cancellation of the social events, including the reception evening, the excursion and the gala dinner - but there is also good news: the Executive Board have agreed that the 27th WMS congress in 2022 should take place in Halifax, after next year’s congress in Prague. This means that we postpone, rather than cancel our chance to meet together in this wonderful city. I would like to take the opportunity to thank Jim Dowling, Jiri Vajsar and the entire local organising committee for the planned Halifax meeting for their fantastic efforts and their willingness to host us in person in 2 years’ time.
On a personal note, I would also like to express my gratitude to the WMS Executive Board for electing me as the Society’s new president. It is a huge honour and great privilege and I am grateful for the trust that has been placed in me. I am very much looking forward to working with Gisèle Bonne, our treasurer, Laurent Servais, our newly elected secretary, Clare Beach and her team and the Society’s Executive Board and Programme Committee in the coming years. Despite the coronavirus, these are extremely exciting times for the neuromuscular field and I am certain that we will all learn a great deal when we meet in September – online.
Volker Straub, WMS President