The History of the WMS

Before the World Muscle Society (WMS) existed, the only established global platform for people working in the field of neuromuscular disorders (NMDs) was the four-yearly congresses arranged by the World Federation of Neurology.

Victor Dubowitz started talking to colleagues from around the world early in 1995 to discuss the need for an alternative organisation that brought people together more frequently to discuss the latest developments and advances in the science of NMDs.

Victor and his collaborators set a date of 4 June 1995 for the founding meeting of the new Society and wrote to 60 potential founding members, outlining the purpose of the new WMS to provide a multidisciplinary forum for advances in neuromuscular disorders.

The letter asked two questions: do you think there is a need for a new international muscle society to arrange more frequent interdisciplinary meetings; and would you be able to attend a foundation meeting of the new society in London on Sunday 4th June 1995? All but two answered positively to the first question and 15 agreed to travel to London for the first meeting.

That first meeting included foundation members from all over the world. Two were from Japan, one from the USA, one from South Africa, and the remainder from various European countries, with three local people from the UK.

The attendees at the first WMS meeting were: Corrado Angelini [Italy], Victor Dubowitz [UK], Laszlo Dux [Hungary], Lars Edstrom [Sweden], Robert Griggs [USA], Hyam Isaacs [South Africa], Jean-Claude Kaplan [France], Luciano Merlini [Italy], Giovanni Nigro [Italy], Eijiro Ozawa [Japan], Georges Serratrice [France], Hideo Sugita [Japan], Michael Swash [UK], Fernando Tome´ [France], and Greta Vrbova [UK].

A black and white photo from 1996 of the attendees of the first meeting of the World Muscle Society

By 6pm the group had completed its business. It had agreed the name: World Muscle Society; its purpose: An international multidisciplinary society for the promotion and dissemination of knowledge in the neuromuscular field for the benefit of patients; and a charter. An Executive Board was elected, and Neuromuscular Disorders was adopted as the official journal.

It also agreed that the first annual congress of the WMS would be held in London in September 1996 and elected an international advisory board of some 68 clinical and basic scientists worldwide, who had expressed interest in the formation of the society.

That first Congress created many of the foundational precedents the WMS maintains today. The ticket price was set to be inclusive; the networking dinner was an intrinsic element and included in the ticket price to facilitate social interaction between members; the congress would cover three main topics and be directed at active young researchers.

From the first Congress in 1996, membership of the WMS grew to 500 by the turn of the millennium. Now nearing 700 members, the WMS continues to adapt to the needs of the NMDs community around the world.

Jane Miller recounts tales of Congresses past in her wonderful 2021 article in the Neuromuscular Disorders journal.  

Banner of three images from previous WMS Congresses. Picture 1, taken in Brazil, shows a  group of people posing for a photo in front of the waterfalls. Picture 2, taken in Japan shows four people on stage during a Japanese drumming display. Picture 3, taken in Brighton, shows a group of people in discussion at a poster board.

Delegates at the 10th annual Congress at Iguassu Falls, Brazil in 2005, on stage at the 15th annual Congress in Kumamoto, Japan and in the poster hall at the 20th annual Congress in Brighton

The annual Congress remains the flagship event. During the pandemic, the Congress moved to a virtual platform, providing online access to more than 3,000 myologists from around the world. It now exists as a virtual and in-person event, enabling wider audiences from across the globe access to the news and networking.

With its sights firmly on the next generation of specialists in the field, the WMS has taken significant steps in recent years to support early career researchers and clinicians. Membership grants for people working in low- and middle-income countries ensure finances aren’t a barrier to access and reduced Congress and membership fees for young people and new entrants to the field ensure the audience represents the diversity of age and experience present.

In 2023, the WMS extended its fellowship programme to support more members with the cost of in-person attendance. Increasing the maximum fellowship value to £2,000 and broadening the eligibility criteria resulted in the award of 79 travel fellowships for the 2023 Congress.

A highlight of the annual Congress is the prizegiving ceremony. The legacy of prizegiving can be attributed to WMS founder, Victor Dubowitz, as this article by Gina Ravenscroft and Edoardo Malfatti, testifies.

The WMS is also working hard to reflect society as a whole. In 2022, new Sustainability and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committees were created. A focus on members in the early stages of their careers has led to the creation of inclusive pricing structures for both membership and congress attendance as well as caregiver grants and a new, regular networking platform – the Myology Café.

The WMS is pursuing internationally consistent educational standards for people entering the neuromuscular disorders field and maintains a strong network of partner organisations from other membership/learned societies and academic institutions.

To read the article written by Victor Dubowitz describing the formation of the WMS in NMD, please click here. Please be aware, this article was written in 2005 and features some attitudes that we might not find acceptable today.

Last updated October 2023

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