It is a great honor for me to be the President of ASIP in the upcoming academic year, and I am taking this opportunity to welcome all members, new and old (figuratively speaking...), and all those who think about joining this wonderful Society. I have been a member of ASIP (and all its prior naming acronyms) for more than 40 years and I have found my membership to be the most useful participation for my career and intellectual development, from the time I was a Pathology resident and a graduate student.
The value of our Society is that it has closely followed the explosive growth of biologic sciences and stewarded the implications and applications that resulted to all aspects of tissue biology, from regenerative medicine to pathobiology, from identifying cell populations to identifying genes and proteins involved in disease, and now extending to big genomic data and the microbiome. ASIP is dedicated to researchers who investigate the science underlying diagnostics and therapeutics at the tissue, cellular and molecular level.
As such, ASIP is in the scientific grid that links many other societies that are more dedicated to diseases of specific organs or systems. In fact, many ASIP members also belong to other societies with a specific focus along organ-specific lines. The uniqueness of ASIP, however, is in its integrative function, in creating an environment of thought and discussion where organ specific discoveries are looked at against the spectrum of all other tissues, and parallel paradigms highlight the generality of the findings. I cannot think of another society with such a broad integrative mission.
The term "Pathology" covers a field that evolved in the 1800s and early 1900s from discoveries based originally on tissue microscopy and microbiology. It subsequently grew based on better understanding of biochemistry and enzymatic mechanisms, which led to design of tests of laboratory medicine. More capabilities came by identification of biomarkers through immunologic approaches, leading to immunohistochemistry, ELISA, radioimmunoassays, etc. We are now witnessing an explosive growth of the cognitive space of "Pathology" since the decipherment of the human genome and the establishment of the relatively new field of molecular genomic pathology. The discoveries made in this area are affecting every aspect of research in oncology, heritable diseases, and inflammatory diseases. There is not a single human disease whose content of knowledge has not been affected by the Human Genome Project. The new paradigms have affected everybody connected with Pathology (medical, veterinary, forensic, private laboratories, etc.). They have also, however, affected all scientists involved in "Tissue Biology." Gone is the time when tissues were viewed as something semi-static, in which something abnormal eventually happens. We now understand that under the appearance of tissue stability, there are slow but massive cell migrations, reservoirs of stem cells, transdifferentiation pathways with one cell system salvaging another, plasticity of function and growth, etc. In many ways, in all of this, oncology may be the "low hanging fruit" as comparisons between normal and neoplastic tissues reveal differences that eventually get connected to identifiable genomic abnormalities. Degenerative and inflammatory disorders are increasingly based on understanding of altered patterns of gene expression, an infinitely more complex cybernetic space. This is a domain of actions determined by complex interactions of transcription factors with specific DNA regions. These in turn are regulated by the ionic environment of the nucleus and by interactions with a host of other proteins, affecting their binding on DNA sites that may be proximal or very distant. The emergence of miRNAs and LncRNAs has further complicated the cybernetics of gene expression at the levels of transcription and translation. The interactions of the proteins with each other (the even more complex space of the "proteome") is a field still in its infancy. It is interesting that despite many on-going programs to model specific organ or cell types, there is not a single complete model of function of any unique gene expression. In the next 10-20 years, nothing will be as "simple" as we know it today. The complexity that will emerge will be defining for diagnostics, regenerative medicine, generation of artificial organs, preparation of new tissues, immunotherapies (cancer and transplantation), etc.
In this rapidly changing world of medicine and biology, ASIP has a very significant role to play. Organ-based societies (including some to which I belong), or societies with a purely diagnostic focus, are effective in presenting new discoveries in their domain of interest, but unavoidably create a silo whose walls make it difficult to see the general picture. ASIP provides the vantage point for integration of new discoveries across many tissue platforms and disease etiologies. This is highly important. The new generation of scientists and diagnostic pathologists will have to systematically understand the generalities of pathogenesis and the laws of normal tissue function. ASIP has created a platform for such a mission and its members understand the the importance of being a part of this systematic organization of the new knowledge.
ASIP has also played an important role in creating pathways that will allow progress to occur through the complex regulatory decisions that are based on the knowledge and social/moral concepts of today, unaware of a tomorrow that is rapidly approaching. It has generated effective advocacy for logic and progress in many regulatory issues, by taking strong and clear positions to define the confining implications of decisions based on rules made by excessive emphasis on today's concerns. Biorepositories of well annotated and preserved human tissue material are of high value for all aspects of research on new biomedicine. Yet, concerns about privacy and identity protection threaten to confine this valuable material to limited use. The ASIP position has been clear on this issue, helping to guide regulations to common sense. The recent discussions on FDA regulation of genomic tests also highlighted the dangers of excessive regulation that may lead to the elimination of the creative ecosystems which have evolved in academic institutions between pathobiologists and oncologists. ASIP has again generated clear statements on this matter, aimed to protect the environment of scientific discoveries that effectively generates diagnostic panels of usefulness to the local medical teams. Advocacy for progress with reason and logic is a central part of the mission of ASIP.
With all the challenges of new biomedicine, ASIP offers advantages to scientists at all stages of their career. Trainees are offered travel awards and given the opportunity to present their research in oral or poster presentations. They are viewed as a separate and special group whose participation in the ASIP meetings (both the ASIP Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology and especially the new PISA conference) is always facilitated to enhance their emerging careers. Newly independent scientists are also viewed in the same way. Every effort is made to give them special recognition. The creation of Special Interest Groups within the organization has been a very effective way to organize groups in which scientists of all stages of their career are encouraged to participate and communicate, with the newly independent scientists having access to scientists in more advanced stages of their career for experienced advice and integration into the ladder of career growth. Scientists in advanced stages of their career (speaking from personal experience!) find in ASIP the intellectual space in which they can look beyond their narrow space of interest into the expanded paradigms from other areas of biomedicine. Working during most of my career in liver regeneration and carcinogenesis, I have gained tremendous knowledge through the years of attendance at ASIP meetings by listening to presentations on angiogenesis and signaling of extracellular matrix. Topics on regeneration in other tissues presented at ASIP meetings have also helped me understand that many if not most of such regenerative pathways are not unique to liver, while at the same time understanding that liver regeneration has unique characteristics (e.g. the obsessive-compulsive "hepatostat") not seen in other tissues and organs.
A group of academics that would most stand to benefit from membership in ASIP are the diagnostic pathologists in university departments. This is a group whose participation and membership in ASIP has decreased through the years. Part of this may be due to the unavoidable sub-specialization of diagnostic pathology as it struggles to deliver more detailed information to the clinical groups. Sub-specialization depends on highly precise and systematic presentation of tissue-based diagnostic information in a way that is understandable to the clinicians who receive it. The "rules" that now define what is systematic and precise have acquired dominance of the intellectual space of this very important field and group of pathologists. The information generated is highly important for patient care. Yet diagnostic pathology is now entering into a time of challenge, in which "new rules" are to be made for what is a fluid and rapidly changing, continually enlarging diagnostic content. This will require access to well organized cognitive material that blends tissue biology, genomic discoveries and relevance to biomedicine. ASIP and its associated journals (The American Journal of Pathology and The Journal of Molecular Diagnostics) is the only forum in which the continually emerging, relevant to Pathology scientific discoveries are presented (through its journals and meetings) in organized depth and scope. The reviews on such topics of both ASIP journals (AJP and JMD online subscriptions are included automatically as part of membership) have become my monthly pilgrimage, and I recommend it to all who may read this message.
As the new academic years starts, I again welcome all of you and look forward as the new ASIP President to listen to your voices and concerns, and to your plans and suggestions to enhance ASIP as a vibrant and intellectually active society, so that it continues its role as the fomenter of new ideas for biomedicine and new opportunities for all its members.
With best regards to all,
George Michalopoulos, MD, PhD - ASIP President