From the very first meeting that was organized by Dr. Jesse Summers and Dr. Harold Varmus in 1985 and held at Cold Spring Harbor, New York, to this year’s meeting, the International Meeting on the Molecular Biology of Hepatitis B Viruses has provided an essential forum for researchers to share their discoveries, questions and insights in a highly interactive environment. After more than 20 years, it continues to be the definitive international scientific meeting focused exclusively on the hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis D (HDV) viruses. The durability of this meeting reflects in large measure to the complex, fascinating, yet elusive hepatitis B virus.
As with any enduring meeting such as this, there is always an interesting story behind its creation. Dr. Jesse Summers, one of the co-founders of this meeting, was asked to share his memories about how the meeting was started.
"The first meeting was modeled around the tumor virus meetings and others that had been held there for many years. There was no stated purpose or mission but prior to this meeting there was no forum for the discussion of the molecular virology of hepatitis B viruses other than as an adjunct workshop to the “International Symposium on Viral Hepatitis”, a large meeting of physicians and epidemiologists that was held every four years in expensive venues."
These meetings were too infrequent, and did not lend themselves to allowing many students to make presentations about their work. Student (or PI) presentations of unpublished projects in 10 to 15 minute talks are the most important aspect of the meeting in my opinion, because this format helps to maintain a concise and dynamic presentation of the most "working" information possible from diverse groups.
Harold Varmus and I organized the first meeting; Pierre Tiollais and I organized the second; and Bill Mason and Hans Will organized the third, all at Cold Spring Harbor. At the first meeting the attendees voted to hold the meeting yearly, and that is the last time that that attendees voted on anything I think.
Several years into the meeting it was decided (negotiated) to hold the meeting in Europe once every three years. Recently it was decided to hold it in Europe every other year.
At each meeting past organizers have met over lunch to elect the organizers for the meeting to be held in two years. This is an informal process, loosely chaired by one of the current organizers and the rules for nominating the candidates are not clear. This process is totally ad hoc and is not written as official procedure to my knowledge.
For the first few years, the organizers were responsible for reading all of the abstracts, assembling a program, and then getting people to chair the sessions. This format has been used most years I think, but one or more past organizers have chosen to delegate the responsibility of selecting abstracts for oral presentation to a pre-selected group of people who then chair the session for their selected talks.”
Although the original organizers could not have anticipated the success of this meeting, it has continued to attract scientists who are interested in all aspects of the biology of hepatitis B viruses, including biochemistry, molecular biology, traditional virology, immunology, pathogenesis, HBV-induced cancer, and the latest therapeutic advances against HBV and HDV.
What distinguishes the International Meeting on the Molecular Biology of Hepatitis B Viruses from other scientific meetings is that, first and foremost, it is a small and focused gathering that encourages informal interaction among researchers at all stages of their careers. Second, it emphasizes work-in-progress by limiting presentations to unpublished data. Finally, it provides an important training venue for graduate students and post-doctoral scholars. The large majority of oral presentations have traditionally been given by post-doctoral scholars and graduate students, which is a major strength of the meeting, and almost all poster presentations are given by trainees.
The aim of the International Meeting on the Molecular Biology of Hepatitis B Viruses is to bring together international scientists studying diverse aspects of hepatitis B and D viruses, related animal model viruses, and hepatitis B-induced hepatocellular carcinoma. The meeting provides extensive opportunities for both junior and senior scientists to engage in joint discussions of the latest conceptual and technical advances regarding these viral pathogens and related diseases.