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300 diarrhea experts walk into a room

November 23, 2021 by Allison Clifford

Together, they make real progress developing new tools to prevent one of childhood’s biggest killers.

Karen Kotloff, MD, of the University of Maryland School of Medicine (foreground), health economist John D. Anderson, PhD, and others served as panelists at the 2018 VASE Conference in Mexico City. Photo: PATH/Victor Mier.

Karen Kotloff, MD, of the University of Maryland School of Medicine (foreground), health economist John D. Anderson, PhD, and others served as panelists at the 2018 VASE Conference in Mexico City. Photo: PATH/Victor Mier.

If you don’t work in global health, you might be surprised to hear that there are hundreds of people who are considered experts on diarrhea. It’s a topic that many find gross or embarrassing, but at PATH’s Vaccines Against Shigella and Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (VASE) Conferences, diarrhea is always the center of the conversation.

After successful in-person events in 2016 and 2018, and a Virtual Symposium in September this year, we are gearing up for our next VASE Conference on November 29 to December 1, 2022, in Washington, DC. We just announced our two keynote speakers—Celine Gounder, MD, ScM, and Kathleen Neuzil, MD, MPH—setting the stage for a groundbreaking event next year. As with all our past VASE events, there will be no registration fee to attend.

Why diarrhea?

Severe, dehydrating diarrhea and dysentery remains a leading cause of death for children younger than five years old, and millions more are hospitalized every year, mostly in low-resource settings. In addition, many more children suffer from diarrheal disease–associated malnutrition and its adverse effects on physical and cognitive development that perpetuate the cycle of poverty. While vaccines against rotavirus, the top cause of diarrheal deaths, are saving children’s lives worldwide, there are still lots of other pathogens causing diarrhea that need to be addressed.

Two bacteria—Shigella and enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC)—are among the worst offenders, and no vaccines against these pathogens exist yet. VASE is designed to spark innovation and accelerate the momentum for research and development on vaccines against these important enteric pathogens.

And for 2022, VASE is evolving to include other emerging enteric pathogens, such as Campylobacter and nontyphoidal Salmonella. We want to more intentionally include these significant, but often neglected, diarrhea-causing pathogens for which vaccines are urgently needed.

“VASE is not your everyday scientific conference.”
— Dr. Lou Bourgeois, PATH's Center for Vaccine Innovation and Access

“PATH is leading the charge by regularly convening global experts working in the field of diarrheal diseases and enteric vaccine development,” says A. Louis (Lou) Bourgeois, PhD, MPH, Science Officer for Enteric and Diarrheal Diseases in PATH’s Center for Vaccine Innovation and Access. “Planning is well underway for our 2022 VASE Conference, and we expect it will be another uniquely collaborative and interactive event. VASE is not your everyday scientific conference.”

What to expect at VASE 2022

We have three themes for VASE 2022 to shape the agenda. First, as diarrhea mortality rates in children decline, the focus must shift to including the longer-term impact of diarrhea on child growth and development. Second, new data on the burden of emerging enteric pathogens and antimicrobial resistance in these pathogens indicate that vaccines addressing a broader scope of agents will be critical to controlling diarrhea. And third, the application of innovative new tools to better define protective immunity and develop new enteric vaccine approaches will improve efficacy, delivery, and uptake.

“Despite the world’s need to focus on COVID-19, diarrheal disease has not gone away. Children are still dying and facing long-term health consequences due to diarrhea, and new interventions are still urgently needed,” continues Dr. Bourgeois. “While it’s true that some non-COVID-19 research has had to slow down, there have been some important research advancements in the field of enterics. Some of these were presented at our recent Virtual Symposium, but there’s a lot more happening that we’re eager to examine in 2022.”

With two keynote speakers recently confirmed, excitement about VASE 2022 is starting to build. Dr. Celine Gounder is a practicing infectious disease specialist and internist, epidemiologist, journalist, and filmmaker. She’s the founder of Just Human Productions, a nonprofit multimedia organization, and host and producer of American Diagnosis, a podcast on health and social justice. Dr. Gounder has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Guardian US, The Washington Post, Reuters, Quartz, Sports Illustrated, and Bloomberg View. She has also been a frequent spokesperson on COVID-19 vaccines in the global news media over the last year.

Dr. Kathleen Neuzil is an internationally recognized research scientist and advocate in the field of vaccinology. Her work has spanned dozens of low-resource countries with multiple vaccines, including influenza, rotavirus, human papillomavirus, Japanese encephalitis, typhoid conjugate vaccines, and most recently, COVID-19 vaccines. She’s currently the Myron M. Levine Professor in Vaccinology, Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, and Director of the Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Drawing on their broad and exceptional backgrounds, we expect that Drs. Gounder and Neuzil will share important learnings that VASE attendees can apply to their work on developing new enteric vaccines.

Gearing up for next year

VASE 2022 will feature even more abstract-based presentations than past convenings. And once again, we’ll have our unique VASE break-out workshop sessions on topics that benefit from more intensive discussions in smaller groups. We’ll also be offering travel grants to those who may need financial support to attend the conference. (Our call for abstracts and travel grant applications will open in early 2022.)

“VASE successfully brings together top-notch scientists, public health professionals, immunization leaders, vaccine industry representatives, donors, and other experts from around the world to share the most recent and exciting research findings in the field,” says Firdausi Qadri, PhD, of the icddr,b in Bangladesh and a member of the VASE Scientific Advisory Committee. “These conferences provide a distinctively open forum for scientific debate and exchange, in turn accelerating communication and progress across the entire discipline.”

And it’s not all work and no play—lively social gatherings are an important VASE component. Previous VASE Conferences have included some fun photo opportunities organized by PATH’s Defeat Diarrheal Disease Initiative (DefeatDD). Through the simple act of sharing a photo with social media networks or colleagues, VASE attendees demonstrated how advocacy can increase awareness of diarrheal disease and vaccine development.

PATH staff members participate in a DefeatDD photo booth at the 2018 VASE Conference in Mexico City. Photo: PATH.

PATH staff members participate in a DefeatDD photo booth at the 2018 VASE Conference in Mexico City. Photo: PATH.

“After nearly two years without in-person international meetings, I’m truly looking forward to seeing my fellow enteric vaccine researchers again,” continues Dr. Qadri. “As the premier conference for this field, VASE 2022 will offer a chance to reinvigorate partnerships and learn about the latest research in diarrheal diseases and vaccines and, likely, to have some fun at the same time.”

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