Rituals, sometimes called well-loved habits, are important for the life of individuals as well as the functioning of societies. They act as signposts in the sometimes bewildering contradictions of daily life and share, interestingly, quite some aspects with standard operating procedures; including a need for regular and critical review.
Rituals are notoriously difficult to change, but recently, EFI has broken with an old habit, the procedure of voting the members of the board. For the first time, the electoral process has been outsourced to a company and the voting was done via internet. No longer ballot papers were wrapped in two envelopes and sent to the EFI secretary via snail mail, but a link to a website was followed and selection of candidates was done by clicking the relevant boxes with the electronic mouse.
Many discussions in the board have preceded this change and being sometimes a bit old fashioned I was awaiting the new procedure with mixed feelings. In retrospect, I think it is, however, fair to say, that the voting worked fine and the process was quite well received. There were some unanticipated problems, most notably due to the fact, that some mail servers recognised the notification mail as spam and prevented them from reaching the addressees (I was assured that the text of this mail was designed to exactly make this not happen; but here we are). After discussions with the electoral company further efforts were made to ensure that all members would get the invitation for the voting. And a definitely positive outcome of the election was the participation that has reached an all-time high.
A long standing attitude of EFI that we will definitely not change is to keep good contacts with other scientific and clinical societies. In a best case scenario such contacts result in common activities. In this respect I want to thank Katharina Fleischhauer, the chair of the Scientific Committee, who took a leading role in arranging an education session by EFI at the conference of the European Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation (EBMT) in Milan this year.
The fact that the immunogenetic selection of donors in stem cell transplantation has become fairly standardised might lead to the impression that what follows in this field is just formal and routine. It is our task to make clear that there are permanently advances in immunogenetics that will probably allow in the future further improving the selection process. One example would be the new typing technologies which allow more comprehensive analyses of allelic diversity. Another example is the refinement of the definition of common and well defined alleles that should allow more precise estimations of the gene and allele frequencies and its application for clinical purposes than it is possible at present.
In addition to that: although we are so much used to see HLA in an immunological and clinical context we should remind ourselves, from time to time, that we probably see only a part of the real role of the MHC. Impressive new insight comes from the field of developmental neurobiology and is published in a recent article in Nature (doi: 10.1038/nature13154) where the group of Carla J. Shatz from Stanford, CA, showed “an MHC-class-I-mediated link between developmental synapse pruning and balanced synaptic learning rules”. This work confirming and extending earlier observations very clearly indicates, that the MHC although so well studied is still incompletely understood and will continue to provide surprises in the future.
Last but not least I want to remind you that 28th European Immunogenetics and Histocompatibility Conference will take place soon, very much in the centre of Stockholm, in the Waterfront Congress Centre; it opens on June 25 and during four days we will have the opportunity to touch on or dwell on areas that together make up the scientific branch called histocompatibility and immunogenetics. Besides the formal presentations by plenary speakers and participants there will be ample opportunities for less formal discussions with experts in the field. The Local Organising Committee together with the EFI Scientific and Education Committees, have put together an excellent programme including many exciting social events. So I look forward to see many of you in Stockholm.