Unlike many other conferences and programs, on its final day FutureMed leaves its participants with the idea that they’ve only just begun.Day six started out with global health and disaster response expert, Dr. Eric Rasmussen, who currently serves as CEO of InSTEDD (Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases, and Disasters). Rasmussen gave an interesting presentation that touched upon the challenges that society faces brought on by phenomena such as global warming and water shortages, which happen to correlate with some of the major riots/revolutions that we’ve seen over the past years. It was a much-needed reality check because most everything up until that point was defined by overwhelming optimism (e.g. Peter Diamandis’ book is called Abundance) and it’s easy to believe that technology will be a panacea for all of society’s problems. While there is evidence that exponential growth will make this the case for problems such as energy and water scarcity (and Rasmussen provided plenty of encouraging examples such as Puralytics and Dean Kamen’s Slingshot), technology’s role in addressing other problems such as religious intolerance and gender inequality is less clear. That being said, Rassmussen did end on the positive note that the one intervention proven to do everything from reducing population growth to protecting the forests is educating women – and, as we know, there is hope in the form of massive open online courses to make headway into this arena.
The next speaker, Jose Gomez-Marques of MIT’s Little Devices Group, also focused on improving global health and gave a fascinating presentation on DIY (do-it-yourself) medical technologies. Apparently 90% of medical devices in the developing world are donated, and the vast majority of these fail within six months. As Gomez-Marques said, “this is not necessarily a problem with the devices (most are FDA approved), but rather this happens because they were designed to operate in New Jersey, not Nicaragua.” He listed a number of design parameters for global health devices, including:
- Essential parameters: safe, accurate, robust, longevity, cheap, reliable, reusable, and disposable
- Enhancing parameters: mobile, connected smart, plug ‘n play
- Long-term parameters: locally manufacturable, local innovation
With regards to this last set of parameters, Gomez-Marques’ group has visited developing nations to “look for everyday hacks that nurses and doctors in the field use to see if we can translate them into sustainable innovations.” The design strategies that they use include hybridization (e.g. microscope for analyzing blood smears + smart phone camera), context shifting (e.g. crop duster for widespread delivery of pesticides becomes scooter + nebulizer with measles vaccine for efficient large-scale vaccination), and improvisation (e.g. current metered dose inhalers for asthma cost $45, so they improvised by fashioning them out of used plastic Coca Cola bottles). It’s worth checking out the Little Devices group website to learn more about DIY innovations for global health.
That wrapped up the morning global health session. After a brief break, the participants had a closing workshop in which they subdivided into groups that were charged to come up with predictions in each of the topic areas (global health, neurotech, personalized medicine, etc) for 0-5, 5-10, 10-15, 15-20, and 20+ years. It was one of the more entertaining and enthusiastic mind-melds that we’ve seen. After that Daniel Kraft and Robin Farmanfarmaian took the stage to ask for feedback on what could be improved for future FutureMeds. The participants who spoke up unanimously agreed that the program was excellent as is, only offering small tweaks such as providing pre-recorded lectures so there would be more time for discussion with the expert faculty.
The final speaker of the morning was Singularity University’s VP of Strategy and New Venture Development, Gabriel Baldinucci, who described some of what they are working on, including setting up an SU Labs that will serve as an incubator for disruptive start-ups that aim to each improve the lives of one billion or more people, as well as creating a scholarship fund so that more of the world’s top thinkers can attend SU programs.
Following the lunch, all of the participants headed to the Computer History Museum for a well-done closing afternoon/evening event featuring workshops, exhibitions, a start-up competition, and – at the very end – a series of closing talks. This was open to the broader community so there were a few hundred people who joined the core group of 90 participants. Daniel Kraft began the closing round by giving a characteristically enthusiastic and fast-paced talk recapping what we learned during FutureMed and providing a few highlights. He was wearing the VitalConnect sensor and demoed his real-time vital signs, including a stress level of 71 (out of 100) and a heart rate of 135! Given his tone of voice during his talks, the tachycardia was most likely due to shear excitement rather than nervousness, but the audience got a good laugh out of it. Later in his talk he was joined by a Halo Drop rotorcraft, which he said could soon be used to deliver medicine and supplies to disaster relief and rural areas. In closing he ended with a series of quotes, including this famous one from Walter Gibson: “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”
Next up was Salim Ismail, SU’s founding executive director, who talked a bit about SU’s vision and made the following well-received quip about FutureMed, referring to the fundamental theme of exponential growth: “Thank you, Daniel and Robin, FutureMed gets twice as good each year so you’ve set a high bar for yourself for next year!” We found out soon thereafter that we won’t have to wait an entire year for the next FutureMed. Given that over 500 people applied for the ~90 participant spots, Daniel and Robin announced that the next FutureMed would take place November 3-6, 2013. We’ve already marked our calendars!
After Ismail, the keynote address was given by Harvard Medical School researcher Dr. Leigh Hochberg. Hochberg wowed the audience by sharing research findings and videos of the brain computer interface system, BrainGate2, that has enabled quadriplegic patients to control computer cursors and robotic arms with their minds to – for example – Google Chat or take a sip out of a drink container. After Hochberg was the CEO and Founder of Interaxon, Ariel Garten, who described her company’s 4-sensor EEG headband (the Muse) that she hopes will bring brain computer interfaces to a broader population than paralyzed patients.
The next presentation was by SU Labs’ Sandy Miller who announced the winners of “The Medy’s,” the start-up competition from earlier in the day. The “One to Watch” award was given to Modern Meadow for their futuristic vision to tissue engineer (e.g. 3D print) leather and meat products, and the “Outstanding Pitch” recognition was awarded to Vecoy Nanomedicines for their novel approach to capturing and destroying viruses. Following this presentation, the filmmaker and founder of the Webby awards Tiffany Shlain took the stage to show trailers of her fascinating medically-related films, including Let it Ripple, Connected, and Brain Power (see below):
The final speech of the night was by Intel International Science & Engineering Fair winner, and a high school sophomore, Jack Andraka. He gave an impressive presentation about his research using carbon nanotubes and antibodies to develop a cheaper and more accurate sensor to detect pancreatic cancer. Daniel Kraft chose to conclude with Andraka’s presentation because, as a 16-year old student, Andraka represents what we can expect from, and for, the future of medicine.
And with that, FutureMed 2013 (part 1) concluded. We had a tremendous week and generated enough leads and ideas for weeks, if not months, to come. And, as always, feel free to let us know what you were most impressed with from the past week’s coverage.
Previous coverage: FutureMed Day 1: The 6 “Ds” of Exponential Growth; Day 2: Data, Data, and more Data; Day 3: Garage Biotech, Surgical Disruption, and Design; Day 4: Field Trips, Kurzweil, and Entrepreneurship; Day 5: Printed Organs, Brain-Computer Interfaces, and the Future of Medical Practice