Minutes of the 22nd Meeting of the CIA
The 22nd meeting of the Collegium International Allergologicum was held from September 11-16, 1998, on the island of Corfu in Greece. As with all previous CIA meetings, the members and guests enjoyed good science and fine living in an impressive natural setting. However, certain unique events will long be remembered as characteristic of this particular gathering of the CIA family.
Perhaps the most distressing of these "special" aspects of the 22nd meeting was the affliction of more than half of the attendees with the gastrointestinal disorder that has been dubbed by your scribe as "the Kiss of Corfu". Barry Kay (who was one of the first to be afflicted) attributed the problem to storms on the island that wreaked havoc with the water and sewer systems. However, when I inquired at the hotel desk about the origin of the disorder, the young woman responded with a straight face that there was nothing wrong with the food or water on Corfu, but that a group of Italian tourists had brought to the island a virus that was affecting some of the other guests.
It was curious that, despite having over a hundred physicians in attendance, some of them specifically trained in infectious diseases, there was apparently no consensus as to the origin of the illness that struck down so many of our members. In addition to the "Italian virus theory", E. coli or food toxins each had its supporters. And perhaps the most imaginative theory was proposed by Professor André Capron, who announced, unequivocally, that the problem was associated with smoked fish.
In the spirit of the saying: "every cloud has a silver ring", it is important to list one benefit of this minor inconvenience to the CIA membership. For the first time in memory, an unexpected storm resulted in the complete cancellation of the regularly scheduled boat trip. Considering the proportion of the membership that was dealing with various gastrointestinal symptoms, this disappointment, for some, was more than tolerable.
As usual, the scientific presentations were superb and punctuated with moments of humor. The outgoing president, Larry Lichtenstein, delivered the Kallos Memorial Lecture on "The role of basophil cytokines in human allergic disease". The speaker's thesis seemed to be that basophils were largely responsible for all significant aspects of the symptoms and pathology associated with human allergic disease. This view was met with skepticism by some of the members, who claimed never to have even seen a basophil in any example of a human allergic disease.
Dietrich Kraft gave an outstanding Carl Prausnitz Memorial Lecture on "The importance of recombinant allergens for diagnosis and therapy of IgE-mediated allergies". The theme of recombinant allergens was revisited in the presentation by Reto Crameri of Switzerland. Dr. Crameri noted that IgE antibodies directed against superoxide dismutase of fungal origin can sometimes cross-react with human superoxide dismutase, resulting in the potential for IgE-dependent "autoimmune reactions". Dr. Crameri, a candidate for membership in the CIA, apparently was confused as to which CIA he had been put up for membership in since he went on to comment that, in patients with such antibodies, one could simply inject purified recombinant human superoxide dismutase and have a rather effective and perhaps "undetectable" mechanism for eliminating an unwanted spouse. It should be noted, in this regard, that Dr. Crameri revealed himself to be a man of the nineties in commenting that this unwanted spouse could be of either gender. By contrast, Dietrich Kraft, was more "traditional", in that he chose to show at the end of his lecture a slide of a nude woman without availing himself of the opportunity, which would have been particularly appropriate in this Grecian setting, also to show a slide of a nude male.
This meeting also saw the inauguration of a new memorial symposium, in memory of a long term and beloved member of the CIA, David Marsh, who recently succumbed to brain cancer. The symposium, which was entitled "Candidate genes and gene regulation in allergic disease" featured six contributions by some of the leading scientists in this rea. The upshot of these presentations, to someone not doing this kind of work, was the following: 1. There seem to be lots of genes which potentially might be involved in the pathogenesis of allergic diseases; 2. Its pretty hard to figure out how important these genes really are; 3. This is particularly true since experts can't agree on how to define specific allergic diseases or how to identify people who have these disorders; and 4. For someone who is looking for steady work, this seems to be a good field.
This symposium was followed by the CIA general membership meeting. I can't tell you much about this meeting, because I arrived a few minutes late to find out that the meeting was over and that it was "the shortest general membership meeting ever held by the CIA". Presumably, it was decided that the society should continue to exist, since, here we are again. Also, all dead members were removed from the membership list. There was animated discussion at Council as to which members were really dead or simply non-contributory, but that is another story.
The general membership meeting was followed directly by a fascinating lecture by the well known speaker, author, and acadenician, Peter Jones, entitled "What you always wanted to know about the ancient Greeks but never dared to ask". Professor Jones began by indicating he knew well to whom he was speaking, inviting all of those who wished to sleep during his presentations to go right ahead and enjoy themselves. He then went on to tell us a number of fascinating facts about Corfu and the Greeks, including his theory, illustrated with explicit slides, that the Greek name for Corfu, Kerkyra, was derived from the Greek word for penis, presumably because someone thought that the shape of the island resembled that organ. He then proceeded to show additional "X-rated" slides, consisting of depictions of ancient Greek pottery, but in one case, according to Professor Jones, illustrating activities that had recently taken place in the White House.
On many occasions, our former President Alain DeWeck has reminded us that, for a true member of the CIA, the scientific aspects of the meeting are "as important, but not more important, than the social aspects". The 22nd meeting was no exception. The organizing committee, particularly Alkis Togias and Kalliopi Kontou, developed an outstanding program of special meals and interesting entertainment. The banquet was an event that will long be remembered by all those in attendance. The setting was the Achilleion Palace, which was built on a beautiful hillside, with stunning views of the ocean, by Elizabeth of Austria. Indeed, the setting was so magnificent that we agreed by acclamation with the outgoing President's comment that the Achillieon should become the official property of the CIA.
The formal program of the banquet included the presentation to Alain DeWeck of an engraved silver plate in tribute to his many outstanding contributions to the society. Alain thanked the organization for its thoughtfulness and pointed out, correctly, that the award should be shared with his wife, Christine, who also contributed tremendously to the success of his organization.
The outgoing President, Larry Lichtenstein, the incoming President, John Bienenstock, and the newly elected Vice President, Johannas Ring, then introduced the newly elected members of the CIA. It is a sign of the times that the "wives" of the new members were not invited to make amusing comments about their "husbands". Indeed at a recent meeting, a woman invited to do so replied simply "he's not my husband". Instead, each of the new members was invited to make a few remarks. Since there had been no forewarning about this requirement (at least, to most of the new inductees), the responses varied considerably. Some adopted the relatively safe course of thanking those who had nominated them for membership. Others were more original. Bruce Bochner decided to read the menu, Stephan Bishoff read the amusing original poem, and Akio Mori, in addition to thanking Professor Miyamoto for his mentorship, thanked his other mentor, Hirokazu Okudaira for, on occasion, "kicking my ass". This unexpected comment was greeted by great laughter and the remark, by Larry Lichtenstein, that "we just don't know what to expect from the Japanese any more".
We shouldn't close without noting that some events occurred which inconvenienced just a fraction of the membership. For example, those staying at the Chandris Hotel experienced a period of several hours during which there was no electricity. Remarkedly, this resulted in there being only hot water available, but not cold. In addition, a group of approximately thirty CIA members had elected to take the last flight out of Corfu on the 17th of September, an Olympic Airways flight that was scheduled to depart at 12:50 p.m. At about 12:45 p.m., after aggressive questioning by several of the waiting passengers, the Olympic Airways agent finally admitted that she wasn't sure when the plane would be arriving or even, exactly when it might leave Athens. Since many of us had only a few hours to make connections in Geneva, this represented a problem.
Over the next few hours a dreary pattern developed: individuals would inquire about the whereabouts of the flight and would be told either that "Information will be available in a few minutes" or "I can't take responsibility for providing any information about the flight". Professor Björkstén finally decided to take matters into his own hands. As self-appointed spokesperson for the passengers, he firmly but insistently persuaded the agents, under threat of a "class action law suit" to round up all the passengers on buses and take them to a local hotel for lunch. We were given free range of the hotel, including a reasonable buffet, wine and beer, and a swimming pool that was being emptied for cleaning. Rumors swept through the crowd, including the possibility that Olympic Airlines was undergoing a work slowdown and that it was virtually devoid of competent mechanics. The passengers had all been asked to get off the plane that was originally scheduled to leave Athens for Corfu and the airline was seeking to borrow a plane for Macedonian airlines (a carrier about which virtually none of us heard prior to that day). Only a single hotel phone was available for international outgoing calls.
Finally, Judah Denburg negotiated a settlement with the Olympic Airline's agent that resulted in the agreement of the passengers to return to the airport (to arrange new flights to Geneva) even before we received an official confirmation that the commandeered Macedonian Airlines jet actually had left Athens. In the end, at approximately 8:00 p.m. (just seven hours late) we boarded the Macedonian Airline flight for an uneventful flight to Geneva. I believe that few groups of passengers ever were more grateful to be leaving the beautiful island of Corfu.
All in all, Drs. Togias and Kontou and their colleagues arranged a memorable and scientifically outstanding experience for the membership in a beautiful and historically important setting. Your reporter is convinced that memories of "the Kiss of Corfu" and other minor inconveniences will quickly fade, but that the memory of the scientific sessions and, particularly, the banquet at the Achillieon Palace, will be warmly enjoyed for many years to come. The banquet ended with the resolve by the membership to meet again in May, 2000, in Hokone, Japan, for the first CIA meeting to be held in Asia.
Stephen J. Galli, M.D.