WSPHA founders portraits. An interview with Professor Vallerie McLaughlin

Professor McLaughlin, please introduce yourself:

My name is Vallerie McLaughlin, I’m a professor of medicine and director of the Pulmonary Hypertension Program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

What is the role of World Symposia in Pulmonary Hypertension studies?

So, the World Symposium of Pulmonary Hypertension has occurred many times and has made many unique contributions. The first Symposium was in 1973 and we did not have another Symposium then for 25 years until 1998.
Over the past two decades we have had more than a dozen therapies approved for Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension and these Symposium have led to experts getting together and discussing how we should study these medications, how we should treat patients, where the gaps are, what additional knowledge we need, how to spread the word about specific treatments or specific situations that need to be addressed: genetics, treatments, clinical trial design and many others.
We have founded this Association for the World Symposium of Pulmonary Hypertension to keep these meetings going and contributing. Each of our meetings have made important contributions. I remember the meeting that we had in Dana Point, California where the task force on clinical trial design, really talked about how we need to move this state forward, how we need to move from just six minutes hall walk trials to larger and point-driven trials, that have more clinically meaningful endpoints to patients these days.
And after that meeting trial design changed. It was a huge contribution that was made by the World Symposium and we need to keep that going.
This Association will form the bases of us continuing to have these meetings to talk about important topics in Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension and continue to make these contributions every five years, really in perpetuity.


How did you get involved in the previous editions of the World Symposia?

I have been so fortunate to be involved in the World Symposium since 1998 edition in Evian. I was a very junior faculty then, just presenting some of my initial research but over the years, I have had the opportunity to be much more involved, to be a task force chairman and now to even be one of the steering committee members.

I think my contributions include really discussing what content there needs to be pushing the envelope. I’ve chaired symposia task forces on goals and that’s something that’s involved immensely over the years, and in fact we’ve learned that achieving certain goals will improve a patient prognosis and at most recent Word Symposium in 2018 we had a whole section of a chapter about achieving treatment goals and I think this is really evolving how we treat patients.

Professor Rubin, Galiè and Simonneau are with you as founding partners of the World Symposia on Pulmonary Hypertension Association.
How would you describe your colleagues? What is their heritage in PH studies?

I feel so privileged to be working with Professor Rubin, Galiè and Simonneau on this Association. They’re all really legends in their field.
Dr. Rubin, he’s been a mentor of mine for many many years. He is really one of the fathers of Pulmonary Hypertension. He was writing papers about calcium channel blockers when he was still in training, many decades ago, and he has really seen this path from beginning to where we are currently.

Dr. Simonneau… Oh my God! He’s the leader of the French group and the French group has made so many important contributions to Pulmonary Hypertension over the years. They have this incredible database that has produced so many observations, so much literature that has affected how we treat patients.

Every day when I see patients in clinic and I think about: are they doing well? Are they optimized on therapy? I think about a paper that was written by Dr. Simonneau and his colleagues in the French group and that helps guide me in making my decisions. They have clearly made incredible contributions to the field.

And Dr. Galiè, he’s just the leader in the field, he’s a giant! He has coordinated the ERS/ESC guidelines over the past couple of rotations that have made really important contributions to help people understand how to best treat Pulmonary Hypertension.

What would you say are your most important contributions in PH studies?

I really feel I have made a lot of contribution to Pulmonary Hypertension over the years, some in terms of observations papers that I have written, some in terms of steering committees that I’ve been on, that have led to currently available therapies becoming approved and available for patients. I think one other event that I would like to highlight is the role that I’ve had in what we call the “Pulmonary Hypertension Breakthrough Initiative” which is an important initiative to try to advance the basic science of this disease. We don’t have any good animal models for this disease and this initiative tries to take explanted lungs from patients with the disease at the time of transplantation, and process that tissue and give that into the hands of scientists, so that they could study the basic mechanisms of the disease in human tissue, rather than animal tissue, and  we are so hopeful that this may make important breakthroughs over the coming years. So we’ve made so many advancements we have now more than a dozen therapies that work in three different ways and we are starting to understand how to best use those therapies but Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension has many more mechanisms than that, those three pathways are just the tip of the iceberg and we need therapies that target new mechanisms, new pathways so that we can add-on to the current therapies that we have.

How will this new Association impact on the Pulmonary Hypertension world?

The World Symposia on Pulmonary Hypertension Association is the base for continuing this meeting but there are lots of other participants that are critical.
The physicians, the scientists, the researchers, they really form the bases of the meetings that we had and will continue to form the bases of the content and future directions, the things that we discussed at the meetings, the recommendations that are made. I think it’s really critical for those who are as passionate about Pulmonary Hypertension as we all are, to really join in our initiative here, to continue the momentum that we have going.
I’m passionate about the patients, I’ve been very involved in the Pulmonary Hypertension Association in the US at all level and bringing the patients association in, and the patients in, and the caregivers in is really critical. We had a great example of that in 2018 meeting when we had that first task force on the patient perspective. And there’s so much room to grow there as well, and those individuals, the patients, the caregivers, the patient associations, may also have ideas that are important to incorporate into subsequent meetings.
I feel so fortunate to be starting this Association, with Lew, Gerald and Nazzareno, but that’s just the start, there are so many professionals, physicians, researchers, allied health professionals that are passionate in Pulmonary Hypertension and want to be involved, want to make a difference, want to see this Congress grow, want to see our meetings grow and take on directions that need to be taken on as we make progress as science evolves, and people getting involved in contributing, and hoping to direct the future of the meetings, it’s is really what this Association is all about!