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“Not just talk about bringing younger people in”

Prof. Albers transitions from Scientific Congress Office to Policy Office

Prof. Peter Albers (DE) is stepping down as Chair of the Scientific Congress Office (SCO) following EAU24, at the end of his first four-year term. He will be replaced by Ass. Prof. Maarten Albersen (BE), who has been a member of the SCO since 2017. Prof. Albers will take on a new role, supporting the activities of the EAU’s Policy Office as Vice-Chair.

Reflecting on his decision not to seek a second term, Prof. Albers wants to practice what he preaches: “At the EAU we work in terms, and you serve the Association, not your ego. I could have chosen to stay for a second term, but at the end of it I would have been 64 or 65. People would say that I was always talking about bringing in a next generation of urologists, but sticking to my own chair. With Maarten Albersen taking over, we are bringing in someone who is 18 years younger than I am and I am very happy with this development.”

Maarten Albersen is an Associate Professor in Urology at the KU Leuven, with a clinical interest in uro-oncology (kidney, penile, testis) and andrology. He is also a researcher in penile cancer. Albersen is the 2019 winner of the EAU Crystal Matula Award for a promising young European urologist. In addition to his position in the SCO, he sits on the board of the EAU Section of Oncological Urology and serves as associate editor of European Urology, covering basic-translational research, andrology, paediatric urology and prostate cancer diagnosis. He will start as SCO Chair following EAU24.

Shifting roles
Beyond concerns about age, Prof. Albers has additional motivations for not seeking a second term: “Over the last decade, I have gradually changed my scientific focus. My entire scientific life before then was related to testis cancer, but since 2013 I have been leading PROBASE, one of the largest randomised controlled trials for PCa screening. This is now mainly my research focus and takes a lot of time.”

“I am becoming more and more involved in early detection of PCa, also on a national level at the German Cancer Research Center. Since last year, I’ve also been nominated by the German Federal Ministry of Health to develop screening strategy on a European level, with the European Commission. I am now a board member of the European Cancer Organisation. This has also been influencing my ideas on how we should manage screening and early detection at the EAU.”

“All of this ties into the activities of the EAU Policy Office, especially PRAISE-U, and indeed I have been working more closely with them in recent months. I even think that I can serve the EAU even better as part of that office than I could as SCO Chair.”

From EAU24 onwards, Prof. Albers will be working closely with Profs. Van Poppel (BE) and Van Kerrebroeck (BE) not only on PCa-related matters but also the Urge to Act continence initiative, the use of health data, patient advocacy and regulatory affairs.

SCO Experiences
The first period of Prof. Albers’s term was marked by COVID-19 and the rapid improvisation necessary to come up with new formats for the Annual Congress.

“We developed some interesting alternative formats, but we have to admit that two years on, not many things from that period remain. Having a multi-day virtual congress is just too boring. Having said that, in the future it will be more challenging to bring people to in-person meetings, for ecological or financial reasons. We really have to offer added value on top of reading journals, video calls or webinars or people will really stop turning up.”

“We’ve started defining what some of those elements are, and I think panel discussions of the best abstracts, or discussions on the implications of new research are important. This kind of format involves the audience and is based on things that happened only minutes ago. They’re hard to replicate online.”

“Shifting the Annual Congress to the weekend was also good idea, because many people have to work and cannot spare many weekdays. The length of the meeting and the kinds of sessions we offer are always up for discussion. It’s up to the new chairman to further explore the possibilities and he has definitely come up with good suggestions in the past. Maarten is the right man for the job.”

“He can rely on The EAU’s Central Office, which is so professional. The management there does a great job at bringing in talented and motivated people who pick up the job very quickly and do a great job in assisting the Scientific Congress Office. I can’t thank the team enough.”

Where is urology heading?
Prof. Albers has spent many years leading an Office that brings the latest urological developments to Congress delegates, and hence he can offer some perspective on the current and future state of the field.

“First I should mention that there is still a lot of bread and butter for urologists: stones and BPH. We don’t have medication for this, agents that help us treat these diseases other than surgically. This will certainly remain so in coming years, and research is not much focused on these diseases.”

“However, what will change tremendously is oncological urology, especially in our ‘blockbuster indications’. For instance, the indication to perform a radical prostatectomy will dramatically decrease. We have learned from the ProtecT trial and other investigations that PCa is not an aggressive disease, and we will shift to living with cancer instead of cutting it out. This will also be the case for bladder cancer. New drugs out of the immunological and antibody drug conjugates area have shown such tremendous breakthrough results, this is like a paradigm shift.”

“So you really can ask the question: will we perform cystectomies in the magnitude that we are used to? Surgical oncology will change, it will be just one of the puzzle pieces to treat cancer. This is a tremendous change which not everyone has realised. Innovations in surgery and robotics can only go so far.”

“As urologists we can view this positively, that we are involved in delivering care to the patients in many different forms. It’s not enough to learn how to do surgery. You have to be involved in perioperative treatment. Otherwise we will be only the mechanic, and we have to avoid that. We have to understand the disease and the biology, this is highly intellectual. Surgical training is a necessity but it’s not enough.”