TEDMED 2012 Recap – Part 2

Mark Hyman

E.O. Wilson

This is part 2 of our previous post. Take a look at part 1 here.

Session 6: “You Get What You Select For”

Frances Arnold a professor of chemical engineering, bioengineering and biochemistry at CalTech amazed us by explaining how she is evolving proteins by making them “have sex” (these TEDMED talks really spice things up). She accelerates the evolution process to come up with better genomic sequences that produce more efficient proteins. We interviewed Frances and will post about it in the next few days.

One of the greatest talks of all the conference came from world-renowned biologist and Harvard’s Professor Emeritus E.O. Wilson. He started by geting rid of formalities taking of his tie and gaining the sympathy of all the audience. Every delegate got a TEDMED bag with many goodies on it, including E.O. Wilson’s new book titled “The Social Conquest of Earth” (can’t wait to read it). He called for all young scientists to be part of the search for knowledge by inspiring us with his principles. He said it is important to study across disciplines (it is amazing how this principle is present and strong among many of the TEDMED speakers and delegates), to drift away from conflict and violence (“march away from guns” in his exact words), to know that for every problem there is a specific entity that serves to solve it so find out about it, and finally to know that imagination is more important than technical ability.


Session 7: “Our Machines, Ourselves”

Boston Children’s Hospital urologist Hiep Nguyen was an invited speaker to TEDMED, however he didn’t need to be physically at the Kennedy Center, in stead he sent the VGo robot and controlled it from Germany. VGo (aka “Gary”) is an R2D2-like robot who post-op kids can take home and help them with their transition from the hospital. Next came former fighter pilot Mary “Missy” Cummings who now is putting to use her experience from the Navy at MIT. She advocates that computers and robotics can be more skillful and accurate in performing some tasks that required dexterity (like landing a plane or aiming), and she imagines that this could likewise happen in surgery. The session wrapped up with another MedCrunch interviewee Sandeep Kishore, a post-doctoral M.D. student at Cornell who, like Jacob Scott, advocates for more creativity or “lateral-thinking” in med schools.

“Our medical education is locked into a paradigm that is 100 years old” – Sandeep Kishore

From the Methodist Institute for Technology, Innovation and Education (MITIE) in Texas, Dr. Barbara Bass explained how surgeons don’t have do-overs, they just have one shot at what they do, so she introduced us to her lab where you can see surgeons operate in a virtual amphitheater, then rehearse in a lab with anatomy models and/or cadavers, while having your stress levels analyzed by thermal imaging.


Glass and Boulis representation

Session 8: “The Choices We Make”

Another important figure in the health sphere started this session, Gail McGovern, head of the American Red Cross suffered from breast cancer… Twice! She spoke about how she took two opposite approaches while dealing with her disease and how the multiple support she received helped her in numerous ways. Next up, Emory neurosurgeons Jonathan Glass and Nick Boulis offered a unique way to present how the patient, FDA and biotech companies each play a role in the advance of stem cell research for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) which is a terrible disease that affects the spinal cord. After them, Otis Brawley who is the Chief Medical Officer of the American Cancer Society focused again in the importance of prevention and healthy lifestyle in stead of treatment of disease for fighting cancer. Jon Cohen from Quest Diagnostics followed with a great appreciation about how we – as patients and healthcare professionals – must stop looking at healthcare like consumers. He argued that patients like to use service as a measurement of a physician’s quality in stead of his judgement and expertise.


Session 9: “Focusing on the Unseen”

Ben Goldacre uncovered the unbelievable truths behind scientific publications when he explained that most negative results of scientific research are never published and we are mislead by those that actually made it out there. The day concluded by the splendid appearance of two great and famous personalities – Katie Couric interviewing Billie Jean King. Couric’s story about how she is actively supporting cancer research after losing her husband to colon cancer set the stage for Billie Jean’s story about success in a male-based sport and society (I was lucky enough to hop on the same trolly Billie Jean did on her way back to her hotel and shared some thoughts with her). See a review Franz did on Couric’s book “The Best Advice I Ever Got” for MedCrunch.

Billie Jean and Katie


Session 10: “Rethinking Assumptions, Reimagining Possibilities”

The last day in TEDMED was initiated by Dr. Bud Frazier and Dr. Billy Cohn from the Texas Heart Institute. They invented a pump to replace a human heart that uses an electromagnet to drive the blood through the body. However, there is a caveat: patients using this pump would not have a pulse although blood will be still running through their arteries. Next in the lineup was Franziska Michor a professor of computational biology from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute – and who shares a common origin with our founders Franz and Lukas (Vienna, Austria) – explained that we could speed clinical trials with a computational and mathematical modeling framework to predict dosing strategy. We learned from Dan Perry, CEO of Alliance for Aging Research that we are able to control our own aging and if we slow aging, we would be able to delay or prevent all the pathologies that we see with aging.


Session 11: “We’re All In This Together”Mark Hyman

How anxious felt everyone knowing that they’ve just returned from their last break at the social hub as the last session started. Leslie Saxon was the highlight of the moment as she proposed an ambitious plan to record the heartbeats of every person in normal or rest conditions and not to wait until they suffer from a heart attach or arrhythmia. Everyheartbeat.org hopes to start this process by the end of next year when the technology is widely spread and available. Advocating for the power of society over health, Mark Hyman coined the term “Diabesity” as to illustrate the strong relationship between diabetes and obesity. He said that the genetic threads that connect us may be less important than the social threads when dealing with health.


The conference concluded with Jay Walker and the whole TEDMED team thanking all the people responsible of bringing us this awesome event, the sponsors, speakers and delegates. Walker gave us some previews about next years conference (applications already open!) such as the goal of getting simulcast to reach all continents of the world and the promise of continuing the talks on the Great Challenges Program.

We at MedCrunch are very thankful for having the opportunity to cover this event and spreading the ideas of innovation, imagination and inspiration that will make us push forward and shape the future of healthcare.


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