We’re here. TEDMED 2010. If you remember last year’s coverage, we ran a summary post at the end of each day. We think it’s the best way to truly capture the full day at TEDMED, but keep in mind that we’ll also be running individual posts on the technologies, innovations, and ideas we found to be the most fascinating. So stayed tuned over the coming days as our complete coverage unfolds.
TEDMED kicked off yesterday at 5pm with an exceptionally moving talk by Charity Tilleman-Dick. Charity is an opera singer… an opera singer who one year ago woke up from a coma after undergoing a double lung transplant. The conference started with Charity singing a beautiful post-transplant aria which nearly all of her doctors told her she’d never be able to do. The story of her complications from idiopathic pulmonary hypertension highlighted her courage as well as the medical advances that kept her alive (and singing) after what her surgeon described as "one of the most difficult transplants he had ever performed."
Aptly, the second talk was Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, who described his lab’s technology to keep lungs alive outside of the body through nutrient rich perfusion and inflation. Why would doctors want to do this? Dr. Keshavjee explained that often lungs harvested for transplant have problems such as pneumonia and the current standard of care is to either not use them, or, transplant them without truly knowing how they’ll work. If a physician is able to cure, fix, or enhance the set of donor lungs outside the body, it theoretically could lead to higher quality lungs for patients and thus, better transplant outcomes. Not only that, but they’re working on genetically modifying the lungs through adenoviral vectors with a gene for Interleukin 10 (IL-10), an anti-inflammatory cytokine. This protein helps prevent some of the immunologically triggered inflammation responses that lead to organ rejection.
During his talk, Dr. Keshavjee surprised the audience by bringing out a huge machine with a set of live pig lungs, held in suspension on a tray of sorts, being actively inflated and perfused. Members of the TEDMED audience were allowed to come up on stage and give the lungs a squeeze, leading to one of the most memorable moments of the day: Martha Stewart giving a set of living, breathing pig lungs a grab.
Up next was a short talk by Rick Smolan, a photographer famous for his "A Day in the Life" series that tells stories through vivid pictures that he collected and curated. His latest project, "Medicine’s Great Journey," uses pictures to showcase just how recent the medical advances we currently take for granted are. He walked us through a quick set of medically related images ranging from a treatment center filled with iron lungs to a modern day operating room.
Nathan Myhrvold, former CTO of Microsoft and founder of Intellectual Ventures jumped on stage next for an extended talk (TEDMED is breaking outside the traditional 18 minute format this time around) on a few ideas his firm has thought up in the medical technology space. His medical ideas, though only in the prototype stage, were quite interesting.
First he discussed a coating of sorts that might be integrated into hospital surfaces or devices that, through total internal reflection (trapping between two surfaces) of UV light, would automatically disinfect themselves. It’s a compelling idea because UV light kills bacteria, but really, you only want it to disinfect things that are touching the surface itself, like bacteria. Shining UV light on on the whole surface doesn’t work because it would end up giving everyone a tan (or skin cancer), but locking the UV light up inside of the surface and only allowing it to penetrate when bacteria is indeed present just might.
Intellectual Venture’s second idea is about preventing pressure ulcers, a $20-25 billion complication of being either bedridden or wheelchair confined, through the use of a light activated nitric oxide bandage that would kill infection causing bacteria, and might improve local perfusion through vasodilation.
Third, and perhaps most interestingly, was Intellectual Venture’s idea of using x-ray back-scattering to improve medical imaging. The current paradigm in x-ray technology is that x-rays are allowed to pass through the body, and because certain tissues absorb x-rays better than others, we’re able to visualize different tissue types and thus, biological structures. However, this requires, almost by definition, high powered x-rays because they need to go all the way through the body. However, x-rays also bounce off their targets and, it turns out, that they bounce off different targets in different ways. For instance, x-rays bounce off calcium and iron atoms much more than other atoms. Defining these subtleties just might lead to a 1" low powered x-ray, in which a practicing surgeon would be able to constantly and safely see what’s 1" below the surface of the tissue he’s currently operating on. It could be x-ray vision, made real.
After Nathan Myhrvoid, Dr. Nathan Wolfe, self proclaimed ‘virus hunter’ and head of the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative, spoke in detail on the genetic diversity of viruses and the various historical interaction opportunities viruses have had to infect between and across species. The number of interactions that lead to viral spread have increased over human history. Hunting, for instance, allowed the mixing of blood and tissues between animal and man, facilitating the spread of viruses. And the development of transportation networks, naturally, contribute to viral spread. So, in an increasingly connected world to do, what are we to do? Dr. Wolfe suggests that social data from sites such as Facebook will be used in the future to predict and manage viral spread. If a Facebook user were to, say, update their status saying they were sick, we might easily predict how the virus might spread by looking at the user’s location and friends.
The day closed with a performance my magician Erik Mead, a tour of some medically related pieces from Jay Walker’s (founder of Priceline.com) personal “Library of Human Imagination,” and a witty and comical performance by TEDMED veteran singer-songwriter Jill Sobule on, yes, the tragedy of today’s slutty Halloween Costumes.
One day over, three more to go!