Meeting Review

The 12th International Symposium on Pediatric Pain

By Neil Schechter, MD
Director, Chronic Pain Clinic
Senior Associate, Pain Medicine
Department of Anesthesiology, Critical Care and Pain Medicine
Boston Children’s Hospital
Associate Professor of Anesthesiology,
Harvard Medical School

The 12th International Symposium on Pediatric Pain (ISPP) was held in Basel, Switzerland on June 16-20, 2019, and provided a multidisciplinary forum where physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers, physical therapists and other clinicians, as well as basic scientists, met to discuss advances in pain management in children.  The ISPP is the educational arm of the Special Interest Group on Pain in Childhood of the International Association for the Study of Pain, and holds bi-annual meetings. 

The theme of the meeting was “Children and Families as Partners in Pain Management.”   Gary Walco, chair of the Scientific Committee, and Eva Cignaccio, chair of local arrangements committee, organized a superb meeting attended by 681 individuals from 41 countries.  The site was the city of Basel, a lovely example of Swiss harmony blending the old and the new, where the trams run exactly on time. 

The initial welcome prior to the meeting provided the opportunity to reconnect with old friends while being serenaded by a costumed group of Swiss yodelers. The scientific program offered a mixture of research informing clinical practice and emerging basic science.  The initial plenary lecture by Dr. Elliot Krane offered a nuanced discussion on opioid use, identifying benefit as well as potential for harm, a perspective which unfortunately is not often heard amidst the current obsession with opioid misuse. Topics addressed by the other 11 plenary talks included placebo and pain, trauma and pain, neonatal pharmacology, pain treatment in developing countries, and communicating with families about pain.  Prior to each day’s scientific program, there was a lecture on some aspect of the intersection of art and pain.  There were 24 workshops representing a wide variety of topics which included among others, the neurobiology of developing pain pathways, brain activity imaging, individual differences in pain response, quantitative sensory testing, sex and gender effects on pain, prevention of pain chronification, mindfulness strategies, and multiple aspects of infant pain. 

Additionally, there were 230 posters presented over the three days with a predictably wide range of topics among them.   The media festival, featuring high-quality videos made at different institutions emphasizing different aspects of pain care, is always a highlight.  They are still available for viewing on YouTube (

Another highlight of the meeting was the acceptance of the Distinguished Career Award by Ruth Grunau.  Her academic career serves as a model for younger researchers - identifying an important nascent area - pain in the newborn and its impact - and pursuing it diligently for over 30 years, incorporating new research partners and newer technologies as they emerged to further deepen our understanding. Obviously, there were too many intriguing presentations over the course of meeting to mention here but clearly there was information presented that would enhance the clinical and/or research practice of anyone in any discipline whose focus is on pediatric pain. 

The next scheduled ISPP is in Auckland, New Zealand, March 25-28, 2021 and the call for abstracts opens March 2020.

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