The ASLMS meeting was a decidedly mixed bag this year — the scientific program was quite good, the accompanying vendor/exhibit hall was quiet as a field full of crickets at dusk, and the venue could have been more carefully chosen. I enjoyed it, however, for the most part. After the “mega trade show” experience of this year’s AAD, which was the event I attended prior to the ASLMS, I was ready for a smaller group among whom I could easily locate and mingle with industry movers and shakers.

The American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery meeting was held at the Phoenix Convention Center in that city’s downtown area April 15-18, 2010. Several scientific sessions focused on forward-thinking aspects of laser- and light-based therapies — technologies that ranged from tried-and-true, thoroughly tested and FDA-sanctioned to some fairly outre approaches. Sessions tended to highlight and explore hot topics, such as the viability of handheld treatments in the home as a future market; laser treatments of people of color; legal issues confronting physicians and institutions today; the use of laser systems to deliver medicine; lipolysis and body contouring; etc.

Scientific session titles included the following:

    * Imaging Brain Tumors Using Wide-field, High-resolution Optical System
    * Targeted Delivery of Gold-Coated Plasmon Resonant Liposomes to Cancer Cells
    * The Effect of Methylene Blue Photodynamic Therapy on Human Melanocyte Viability
    * Next-Generation IPL Optimized for Treatment of Vascular Lesions
    * Micro-Focused Ultrasound for Brow Lift and Improvement of Facial Skin Laxity and Texture
    * Effects of Low Level Laser Therapy on Stem Cell from the Heart and Bone Marrow
    * Repigmentation of Hypopigmented Scars
    * An Evaluation of Optical Approaches to Oral Cancer Screening and Diagnosis
    * Low Level Laser Light Therapy as a Potential Treatment of Diabetes and for Reducing Low Density Lipoprotein Levels
    * New Technologies for Non-Invasive Fat Removal
    * Development and Preclinical Trial of Photoactivated Antimicrobial Collagen for Wound Care in a Murine Model
    * Circumferential Vaporization Of Posterior and Anterior Urethral Strictures: Long Term Results

It was a wide-ranging list and many accolades were handed out to deserving scientists and specialists. It impressed me that so many of the laser companies continue to fund the next wave of research — Cutera, Cynosure, Palomar, just to name a few.

A few session highlights for me:

A large block of session time was devoted to the study and application of cryolipolysis, including panel discussions positing that cooling or freezing fat cells is clearly a safe alternative to standard lipolysis methods.

A study of complications resulting from ablatve fractional laser resurfacing. This subject never seems to get stale at these meetings.

Numerous discussions of how CO2-based lasers have been pushed to be used for means of drug delivery, clinical use of traditional CO2 lasers for single treatments, and descriptions of treatments performed at a variety of wavelengths.

Low-level light therapies made their way into the program in a big way, suggesting new techniques for this “mature” tech.

A full day’s surgical session lineup covered labiaplasty, “laser tunnels” created by specialized wavelengths, and the aptly titled “Regression of recalcitrant peripapillary choroidal neovascularization after ICG assisted oscillating transpupillary thermotherpay and anti-VEGFs.”

I was also impressed with a “luminaries” panel, which covered topics such as how well is laser medicine being taught these days (not well, apparently), are published clincial studies not complete enough (clearly not), unsolved biomedical problems, the process of inventing “useful products,” and a lively debate on the future of consumer-use devices (they are a major trend in the making, most panelists agreed).

Throughout the sessions, there were several “regular cast members” of the ASLMS who made appearances at the podium, including Rox Anderson, Jay Burns, Robert Weiss, Chris Zachary, Jennifer Barton, Dieter Manstein, and Matthew Avram. Barton and Avram created the compelling session program.

A special recognition award was given to Charles H. Townes, PhD. Townes was the guy who pioneered “masers” earlier in the 20th Century, leading up to the application of light-based science in medicine. He is widely known as the guy who invented the laser. His lecture, entitled “How Do New Things Happen? Origins of the Laser,” was presented on Friday, April 16. Townes first demonstrated the “maser” in 1954 and later published the theoretical principles of the laser, earning him the Nobel Prize in physics in 1964.

The keynote speaker, Howard Schlossberg, PhD, a world leader in the development of the laser technologies, talked about his experiences in shaping the industry in a presentation titled, “A Personal History of Lasers and Laser Based Medicine.” It was a trip down memory lane with someone who accelerated the use of laser technology in the military.

On the exhibit floor, things were not as exciting. Sales by vendors were considered “tough going” by some I spoke with, and once the doctors who wanted to make the rounds in the exhibit hall were finished there was not much for exhibitors to do except for talk amongst themselves. There were a few attempts by meeting organizers to liven up things, including a silent auction, e-poster displays, and an “Experts in the Exhibit Hall” talk by scientific presenters. However, the $8 per glass of wine charged to attendees on opening night was a bit of a shock to the wallet. The lunch possibilities were served by “Metro Bistro” vendors who, among other things, charged $9 for crappy chicken sandwiches and $3 for a medium-sized Starbucks coffee.

This leads me to the ASLMS 2010 meeting’s biggest handicap — the venue. The downtown Phoenix Convention Center did not seem a good place to hold such an intimate meeting (with estimates of 600 to 700 attendees). Sessions were spread out across North and West buildings; ancillary lecture rooms, ready rooms, and the press room were located in distant corners of the cavernous building array. Such a meeting deserves a more close-knit venue. In addition, aside from hotels, the Chase Field baseball park, and a smattering of decent restaurants, downtown Phoenix is surrounded on all sides by a slum. This made any trips to Nordstroms or Radio Shack for emergency clothing, electronics, or other gear a fairly time-consuming highway ride to the suburbs. The Convention Center, though, is close to the airport.