Like children who were suddenly forced to go home after spending three and a half days in Disney World, the delegates slowly made their ways towards the exit of the J.F. Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts as one of the greatest conferences for healthcare innovation concluded. Following the format of the original TED Talks, TEDMED featured “21 women, 45 men, 1 monster, 32 performers up on stage” – actual tweet from @TEDMED. Imagination, innovation and inspiration are the three words used to describe the mission of this community of passionate, leading-edge thinkers who come from every discipline within the fields of health and medicine, as well as from business, government, technology, academia, media and the arts. This mixture provides a very unique way of learning across disciplines towards a common goal.
For all of you who couldn’t come or who couldn’t catch any of the simulcast spots spread around the US, we provide you with a summarized recap of the most interesting presentations we saw. The TEDMED team will start to upload the official videos in 3-4 weeks, they’ll go up in batches of 5-6, once every week.
Session 1: “Embracing the Unconventional”
An astonishing act by the Traces acrobats set the pace for the first group of speakers, starting with Bryan Stevenson the executive director of Equal Justice Initiative, who explained the importance of creating an identity that resonates in an honest way, as a way of trying to prepare us for the upcoming talks by opening our eyes and minds in order to determine who are all these new technologies and advancements intended to benefit – those with wealth or those without. Later on, Rebecca Onie followed with an inspiring talk about Health Leads an organization which provides a system where doctors are able to prescribe not drugs to manage disease, but solutions that improve health, helping patients to access basic resources needed for healthy lifestyles. As an example, she asked why prescribe antihistamines to an allergic kid who will return to a house full of allergens? in-stead, why not also prescribe removing the allergens from the house in the first place? So simple, yet no one ever thought about it, or did something.
The next day kicked-off with a great surprise, the Director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins rocking his blues guitar (which had a cool design of the DNA double helix on its fretboard) along with Jill Sobule singing “Disease don’t care.” Collins then put down his guitar and switched to the “serious stuff” giving us one of the best talks of the conference. The NIH is focusing part of their efforts in making the new drug discovery process faster. He invited to stage an inspiring 15-year old boy who suffers from progeria and he shared his experience and feelings about participating in clinical trials and offered his opinion on the role he is playing to help find new treatments and a cure. Collins then continued with an idea about how some drugs that were originally discovered for one disease can be rescued and used for other diseases. At the end he called for more resources, new partnerships and the commitment of young professionals (count me in!).
Session 3: “The Missing Ingredients”
The Director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Thomas Frieden spoke about the importance of prevention and the importance of focusing on what makes a difference locally, beyond statistics.
“You diagnose many patients… but how many do you actually cure?” – Thomas Frieden, MD. Director of CDC.
Then Dr. Ivan Oransky from Reuters Health stepped up to the stage holding a baseball and presented an interesting analogy using the recent Moneyball movie in how doctors trying to predict patients outcomes is similar to scouts predicting young baseball players’ performance on the big leagues. Next, Todd Park the US Chief Technology Officer, gave his first of two talks about how electronic medical records implementation have shown beneficial results. After him came one of our favorite talks of all, Dr. Jacob Scott was introduced with an impressive background of having been an astrophysicist, a Navy submarine nuclear reactor operator, earned his M.D., became a radiation oncologist and is now earning a PhD in math at Oxford. He explained how all this process from astrophysics through medicine and to math was driven by his creative desire. He criticized how med schools systematically discourage creativity among their candidates even before selecting them (MedCrunch published a post on Creativity). His talk really shook the ground and received a standing ovation an also some reaction from the AAMC. We interviewed him and got to know him throughout the conference sharing more insights about the importance of changing medical education for the physician that the future needs (we will publish the interview in the next couple of days).
Session 4: “The Shape of Things”
As a way of showing us all how the shape and morphology of things (such as the human body) can generate the most important creations, the dancers Momix impressed everyone with a magnificent performance. Albert-Lázló Barabási from the Center for Complex Network Research of the Northeastern University used a map of Manhattan to illustrate the networks that make the biological processes of cells work. He told us to forget about the physical aspect of diseases and to start thinking about the connections that form a network, a system that manifests as a disease. Another MedCrunch favorite followed, Seth Cooper from the University of Washington and one of the creators of FoldIt spoke about how the power of play and gamification can solve real world problems, such as how players have helped scientists design new synthetic proteins that are more efficient than native ones (MedCrunch interviewed him, you can see it here).
The NYU team stepped in and spoke about a whole new way of learning anatomy. Marc Triola, MD and John Qualter are the creators of Biodigital Human, a fascinating 3D model of the whole human body anatomy that is not only easy to use but also web based and free. We had the chance to interview them and demo the technology (they always looked cool with the 3D glasses on their booth). The program allows for recreation of different pathologies such as a heart attack and also medical procedures like an appendectomy.
David Icke amazed the crowd with his presentation about pliable electronics, wich could be worn on the skin and measure vitals or register many other kinds of biological data and deliver it wirelessly to your smartphone or directly to your physician on real time. Finally, and what a way to drastically shake everyone off their seats! Diane Kelly shared her results (and very explicit pictures) of her research about mammalian penises… yep we said penises.
Session 5: “Matters of the Mind”
Session 5 highlight came from Virginia Breen who is the mother of Elizabeth Bonker, a 14-year old autistic child who has struggled with the desire to comunicate and not being able to. Elizabeth story opened the minds and hearts of the audience and taught us that sometimes established and trusted systems (such as an IQ test) are not always a reflection of the truth. The day concluded with Miguel Nicolelis from the Duke Center of Neuroengineering, who showed everyone how monkeys played video games controlling cursors using brain waves (look mama-monkey no hands!). As if that wasn’t enough, they showed another monkey that was in North Carolina and who controlled a robot that was 6 times bigger and heavier that was all the way across the world in Japan.
Continue to part 2 of the TEDMED recap here.