As BBMT Becomes TCT, A Look Back At the Beginning of Our Journal

A primary component of ASTCT is the Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation (BBMT) journal. It’s been a cornerstone for the society since its inception and has served to establish ASTCT as a thought leader in the field of blood and marrow transplantation.

In January 2021, the journal will propel itself forward once more. Now known as TCT, the journal will now be inclusive of all areas of transplantation and cellular therapy. This new designation will broaden the focus of the journal and expand the important research it offers to our readers.

But how exactly did this journal come about?

When the society was formed in the early 1990s, the founding members had experience in the content that would eventually be included in the journal, but they were lacking in knowledge about the actual aspects of publishing and running a publication. To that end, ASTCT felt it was best to bring in outside vendors and experts to help with the actual business of running a scientific journal. ASTCT founding member Keith Sullivan, M.D., took the lead in in identifying a publisher, and the entire group worked to negotiate a contract that would work for the society in terms of their subject-matter and financial needs.

“It was clear that societies formed a natural home for a scientific journal,” Sullivan said in a commemorative video on the society’s beginnings. “At the time, we really felt there wasn’t one for hematopoietic stem cells. With that, the question was: Do you go to a publishing house? Do you do self-publication? Many of us had sat on other editorial boards where these discussions were evolving… In some ways we were neophytes in the business aspects of setting up a journal and thus brought in vendors to make presentations and look at the business aspects.”

Once a publisher was identified, the real work began. The next obstacle was to decide who should actually lead the editorial content for the publication, deciding what would and would not be included. The group settled on having Richard O’Reilly, M.D., and Karl Blume, M.D., serve as co-editors for the journal. “It was really a consensus and brilliant that we had complementary strengths of having co-editors with O’Reilly and Blume,” Sullivan said. “That really saved us because it spoke to the quality of the publication and the quality of the papers.”

One of the primary obstacles was to get people to submit important, relevant research and clinical trials to the BBMT journal as opposed to other, (at the time) more established outlets. O’Reilly noted that they really were trying to bring together both basic and clinical science in the journal to foster communication between the two in terms of translational work. “We agreed to a very high bar — that was a difficult thing to pull off early on in a journal in terms of getting papers that were good,” he said. “We’d get several papers that we just didn’t feel were good enough, and we were sort of held to that [standard].”

For both original co-editors, establishing an editorial board was a critical component at the outset. Blume and O’Reilly met and put together a list of all the people they wanted on the editorial board, described as a “selection of the best people in the field.” And when they reached out to each person to be a part of the journal in some capacity, everyone agreed and accepted the offer. This also helped establish a higher standard for journal content at the outset of the project.

However, things weren’t all that rosy right away. Blume said they were successful in getting all issues of the journal out in the first year, and the second year was good as well, but there were some issues come year three when they only produced 2-3 issues. “That had all the flavor of a dying journal,” Blume said. “And then somehow, we stuck to our policy that we would only take things that were worth the paper we printed on, and a few very good articles came in, and that turned it around.” The journal increased production in coming years up to 6 issues, and eventually it became monthly, as it is now.

What has been truly remarkable about the journal is that it was established during a time when many other scientific and trade journals were losing subscriptions or going out of print entirely. ASTCT attributes their success to setting high standards at the beginning and sticking to them even when it was difficult. “I have been absolutely astounded at how [they] held the line through the thin years when there weren’t very many papers and not filling it with trash,” said ASTCT founding member, Mary Horowitz, M.D. “It became a really good journal that is a real contribution to the field.”

It is interesting discussing the origins of the very journal in which this article is printed, but it just shows that 25 years later, it is still a primary resource for researchers and clinicians in the blood and marrow transplantation field.

Comments in this article originally appeared in a short documentary on the beginnings of ASBMT, “ASBMT The First 10 Years,” which was produced and distributed in 2003.