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Genesis of the American Contact Dermatitis Society

Although a young society, the roots of the American Contact Dermatitis Society (ACDS) go back five decades to the post-World War II era. During World War II, the importance of patch testing to occupational dermatology became fully appreciated. Following the war, clinics devoted to the study of contact dermatitis began appearing throughout Europe. Among the first was that at St. John's Hospital for Skin Diseases in London, England where, in 1953, Calnan, Cronin and Meara established their world-renowned patch testing clinic. The subsequent development of other clinics both in Europe and the United States furthered the extensive research in allergic contact dermatitis that had already taken place during the first half of the twentieth century.

One of the key problems that became apparent as patch testing proliferated was that different investigators were using different concentrations, vehicles and, in some cases, chemicals to detect a given allergy. Furthermore, the validity of these testing materials remained to be established. In recognition of the need to standardize patch testing, the Scandinavian Committee for Standardization of Routine Patch Testing was created in 1962. In 1967, the International Contact Dermatitis Research Group (ICDRG) was formed as an amalgamation of the numerous national European groups interested in contact dermatitis. Shortly thereafter, Howard Maibach enlisted Marion Sulzberger, Ernst Epstein, Alex Fisher and others to help found the North American Contact Dermatitis Group (NACDG), which was modeled after the ICDRG, of which Howard was a member. Throughout its infancy and adolescence, the NACDG remained an informal club whose membership was by invitation only. Nonetheless, the NACDG routinely hosted a half-day meeting, organized by Howard Maibach, in association with the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology. Anyone interested in contact dermatitis was welcome to participate in this meeting (called "Short Reports") for the price of a brief presentation.

In the mid-1980's, this informal, "club-like" atmosphere of the NACDG and its "Short Reports" radically changed as a result of the Federal Drug Administration's (FDA's) decision to ban the further production and sale of patch test allergens in the United States pending validated efficacy studies. For much of the 1980's, the NACDG operated as a committee under Dermatology Services, Inc. (DSI). During this time, the principal mission of the NACDG was to perform the requisite research required for FDA's approval of Hermal/Trolab's twenty-allergen patch test kit. Meanwhile, in the absence of readily available allergens, interest in contact dermatitis was waning among American dermatologists. Worse yet, those few who remained committed to patch testing, but who were not members of the NACDG, were left with few outlets for the exchange of their ideas: short reports were difficult to generate when stripped of access to allergens. It was under these circumstances, in the late 1980's, that Bob Adams began to lobby within, and without, the NACDG for the creation of an open society to promote, stimulate, support, develop and publish information about contact dermatitis and occupational skin disease.

Founding of the ACDS

ACDS Founder, Robert Adams, MD

ACDS Founder,
Dr. Robert Adams

Although he encountered many naysayers who felt that neither an additional organization nor an additional publication was required in a specialty as small as dermatology, Dr. Adams persevered in his efforts to found the ACDS. Plans for the creation of the society began to crystallize during a Symposium on Contact Dermatitis, organized by Bob Adams and held May 20 - 23, 1988 in San Diego, CA. During the annual meeting of the NACDG on December 2, 1988, the launching of a new society became imminent when the research-oriented NACDG agreed to support a patch testing society geared to education. Critical backing to the society's founding soon came from the Committee on Contact Dermatitis of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), which was chaired by Bob Rietschel.

When it met on December 5, 1988, the AAD's Committee on Contact Dermatitis, under Dr. Rietschel's direction, finalized plans for what originally was to be called the "American Society for Contact Dermatitis". It was determined that Larry Rosenthal of DSI would develop guidelines for dues and that Bob Rietschel and Ron Brancaccio would solicit funds from industry to cover the costs of starting the society. The drafting of the society's bylaws was assigned to Jim Taylor, Art Daily and Bob Adams. The society's logo, which had been designed by the medical illustrator at the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans, was approved. The program committee for the first annual meeting was appointed and consisted of Ron Brancaccio, Bob Rietschel, Beth Sherertz and Steve Tucker. Various other committees within the society were organized and included the Industrial Liaison Committee headed by Jim Taylor and the Fisher Lecture Committee headed by Ron Brancaccio. Finally, the founding Board of the Society was appointed: Bob Adams (President), Toby Mathias (Vice President), Bob Rietschel (Secretary-Treasurer), Don Belsito, Ron Brancaccio, Art Daily, Ron Goldner, Dan Hogan, Howard Maibach, Beth Sherertz, Ed Shmunes, Jim Taylor and Steve Tucker.

On June 16, 1989, during the NACDG's and AAD's summer meeting in San Diego, CA, Bob Adams outlined the final plans for the society's inaugural meeting in San Francisco, CA later that Fall. In addition, it was confirmed that the society's name would be the American Contact Dermatitis Society (ACDS) rather than the American Society for Contact Dermatitis (ASCD, which was thought to be difficult to say and to potentially imply that the Society existed to foster contact dermatitis). Finally, Bob Adams and Carol Wolfe of W. B. Saunders Co. presented the operational plans for the American Journal of Contact Dermatitis, headed by founding editor, Bob Adams.

First Annual Meeting

After years of hard work and preparation by many, the first Annual Meeting of the ACDS was called to order by Bob Rietschel at 9:00 A.M. (PST) on December 1, 1989. The venue was the Marriott San Francisco Hotel, which fortunately had survived the quake (7.1 on the Richter scale) that had occurred just 6 weeks prior to our meeting and had devastated some parts of the city. The inaugural meeting, which the founding board had elected to organize itself in order to save costs, will long be remembered by those board members and their nurses who scrambled throughout the day to register participants, resolve audiovisual problems, co-ordinate beverage service, etc, etc. Despite this "cataclysmic" first meeting, the ACDS has grown over the past decade to include not only North American members from academia, industry and the private practice of medicine, but also colleagues from throughout the world.

During the 90's, the society's members have worked diligently to bring the collective visions of Bob Adams and its many other contributors to fruition. Programs such as the Fisher Resident Award (spearheaded by Fran Storrs), the Maibach Traveling Scholar Award (in honor of Howard's international focus) and the Nethercott Memorial Research Grant (which honors our deceased colleague James R. Nethercott, MD) are vital to the development of our subspecialty. The dissemination of knowledge at our meetings and through the American Journal of Contact Dermatitis (which, due to the tenacity of former editor Walt Larsen, is now abstracted by the Index Medicus) has spurred a renewed interest in contact and other occupational dermatitides. In recognition of the vital educational role it plays, the ACDS was awarded the AAD's Excellence in Education Award in 1994 and the Gold Triangle Award in 2006.

To paraphrase Rudy Baer, the first Alexander A. Fisher, M.D. lecturer for the ACDS: 

Whither dermatology when so many fail to appreciate the complexity of contact dermatitis. 

Fortunately, the ACDS is changing that!



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