Dr. Athena Poppas is chair of the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session, which occurs this year in San Diego March 14-16. The annual event features thousand of presentations and posters about the latest in cardiovascular research.

As thousands of cardiologists meet in San Diego March 14-16 for the American College of Cardiology’s 64th Annual Scientific Session and Expo, they will take in a massive program of thousands of presentations on the cutting edge of heart medicine and research. Dr. Athena Poppas, associate professor of medicine at the Alpert Medical School and a Lifespan cardiologist, oversees it all as the session chair.

Poppas answered questions from David Orenstein about the highlights of the conference, what the event means to the field and what it takes to make it happen.

What excites you most about the ACC.15 scientific program?

This year, we accepted 22 late-breaking clinical trials for presentation at ACC.15. Several very exciting clinical trials are being presented that should be impactful with respect to new knowledge and possible change in medical practice. I look forward to seeing what late-breaking clinical trials have attendees talking.

Dr. Abraham Verghese will address the Opening Showcase session. He has a special way of speaking about patient engagement that can potentially have an impact on every practitioner who hears him. With all the technological advances, in the end it is still about the interaction with the patient, the physician, and other members of the cardiovascular team.

A new addition this year is the 13 sessions designed to look at the future of cardiovascular medicine. The ACC is fortunate to have many cardiologists who are at the top of their areas of expertise, so we asked some of them to lead sessions talking about what cardiology will look like in 2020. We have some oral abstracts being presented on 3-D printing of valves and how it may change surgery. Other sessions will examine how mobile technology is affecting cardiovascular health care and the use of social media for our patients. As the ACC is a leader in data registries, one of the sessions focuses on big data and how it’s used for research and patient advances. Another topic that is being discussed across all of health care right now is precision medicine, which is included in the future of cardiovascular medicine track. Since everything comes back to patient care, our experts will also be looking at the future of population and global health.

Are there some important new trends in the field evident in the research that colleagues will be presenting — in diagnostics or emerging approaches to treatment, for example?

Diagnostics will be perhaps the most important trend in the research featured at ACC.15. During our Opening Showcase, the results of the PROMISE trial are being presented. This is really the first-ever randomized controlled trial comparing the outcomes of patients receiving functional stress testing or CT scans to check for cardiovascular disease. This trial will provide the first data to help inform clinical guidelines on the use of these tests. Right now, the selection of which tests to use on patients reporting symptoms like chest pain or shortness of breath is largely left to physician and patient preference. Another study, being presented on Sunday, was done in Scotland that also looks at using CT scans to more accurately diagnose and inform treatment for coronary artery disease in patients presenting with chest pain.

What do you hope the cardiology community will take away from the conference when it's over?

I hope each member — cardiology team and cardiology researchers — comes away refreshed after having had a chance to interact with their colleagues and with information they can put to work in practice or in future research.

Why are conferences like this so important to a medical field like cardiology?

Until you go in-person to a cardiology conference, you don’t realize the benefits available to you. It’s so important for everyone, but especially physicians, to see people thinking differently than how you do or your institution does. It’s important to clinicians to get information about the latest research and to learn from colleagues in a way that may positively impact how they treat patients and help us stay up-to-date on all the different approaches we might take in patient care.

What are the biggest challenges of planning a major conference scientific program like this?

The biggest challenge is choosing what science will be presented during the meeting — from oral abstracts in the poster hall to the late-breaking clinical trials featured in the main tent. After that, I think we spent a lot of time looking for new ways to present the studies, presentations, international meetings, and working to make it more engaging and interactive with the audience. Obviously, everyone learns differently and we wanted to make sure everyone had the opportunity to find the sessions that interested them most and be able to take away as much as possible from them. When everything is said and done, I hope we find the cardiology community feels that ACC.15 challenged and interested them during every session they attended.