One Event. Two Stages. In a first for TEDMED, this year’s event is simultaneously hosted in Washington, DC and in San Francisco. Follow us over the next three days as Medgadget brings you coverage from both TEDMED locations.
Over in DC, we’re back at the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts where we’re prepared to be inundated with inventions, innovations, and insights that are changing the face of healthcare. Between speakers on stage, start-ups in the Hive, and socializing with our fellow TEDsters, we’re looking forward to three days of unlocking imagination. This year, Medgadget’s coverage will cover both the action on stage and the TEDMED Hive, a social space where questions, ideas, and solutions collide. Back for a second year, the Hive is a showcase of early stage companies making waves on the med-tech scene. With two locations and two Hives, we’ll have over 80 opportunities to gleam what the future of health and medicine has in store.
Jay Walker and Jon Ellenthal got the ball rolling at TEDMED DC’s first session, “Turn It Upside Down.” Jay challenged delegates to take full advantage of the range of activities planned for the next three days while Jon reminded us of the sheer scope of talent that TEDMED brings to bear with over 80 speakers and 80 innovators between the two stages as well as around 6700 TEDMED Live affiliates participating in the event remotely around the world. Nassim Assefi, creatively labelled as TEDMED’s Curatorial Mixologist and Tour Guide, introduced some of the new features of this year’s event including a TEDMED Bookstore and Speaker Me Up, an opportunity for delegates to interact with and ask questions of the speakers in small groups between sessions. Sonia Shah, a social justice science journalist, took the stage to give the first talk of the event on her work investigation pandemic crises like malaria. Danielle Ofri, a Bellvue Hospital Physician, followed with a provocative commentary on an error she made in her first year of residency that almost led to the death of a patient. Danielle used the example to elucidate the pressure and fear that comes with the responsibility of being a physician and the constant worry about making that one critical mistake. Next, Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, a clinician at UC Davis and women’s health thought leader, shared her insights into preventative solutions for women’s health such as the importance of breastfeeding for at least the first month after childbirth as a preventative measure for type 2 diabetes in women. Eleanor shared her frustration with the lack of acceptance for this and other examples of simple, natural preventative measures that are omitted from much of Western medicine. Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard Medical School closed the session with a fascinating revelation into the science of placebo research. Ted presented results showing how placebos, and more importantly the method of administration, can result in meaningful physiological responses.
The second session, “We Just Don’t Know,” was hosted by David Sengeh, an MIT Biomechatronic Engineer and social entrepreneur. It was also the first session to feature speakers at both DC and SF locations with video feeds between the two stages. Luckily, the cross-nation videocast went off without a hitch. Jay Walker took the stage once more to delve deeper into the theme of this year’s TEDMED: unlocking imagination. Jay calls imagination the missing “superforce” that inventors need to achieve creative, tangible improvements ithat can and will lead to better health. Elizabeth Nabel, President of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, followed Jay with two messages. First, apply intellectual humility and recognize the limitations of our own knowledge. Second, use that recognition to stimulate, rather than stifle, our imagination to new heights.
Back over in SF, Jeffrey Iliff, assistant professor at Oregon Health & Science University, shared insights about how the brain cleans itself during sleep. Iliff and his team found that devoid of a lymphatic system, the brain puts off clearing away waste while awake but removes waste using CSF flowing along channels made by blood vessels while asleep. Iliff proposed that with the knowledge that amyloid beta, a protein normally cleared from the brain, contributes to Alzheimers, damage to the brain’s self-cleaning capabilities may be tied to this serious disease. Rosie King, one of the younger TEDMED speakers at age 16, spoke personally of another disease, autism. As a teenager with both autism and Asperger’s syndrome, Rosie was critical of the assumptions placed on autistic individuals and organizations that lobby to fix autism. Rosie’s work focuses on conveying the message that those suffering from autism should be accepted for who they are rather than being forced to confirm to societal norms. Daniel Webster, a gun violence activist from Johns Hopkins, moved the focus of the session from diseases to violence. Daniel proposed prohibiting gun ownership for individuals and juveniles charged with violent crimes. Additionally, Daniel outlined policies, based on existing evidence, to address many of the basic background checks, records keeping, security measures that are simply not implemented by many gun retailers. The session closed with comedian Tig Notaro who kept her commentary serious but light while revisiting some of her most personal medical experiences including her diagnosis with cancer.
Nassim returned to the stage to begin the third and final session of the day, “Flat Out Amazing” with a nod to TED Curator Chris Anderson whose TED Global 2014 event will be taking place next month in Rio de Janeiro. Gail Reed, journalist and founder of the Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC), highlighted the demand for physicians, lack of opportunities for medical education, and strain on resources experienced in low-income countries like Cuba where the need for healthcare solutions is the greatest. Next up was Elizabeth Holmes, the Stanford dropout and founder of Theranos (see our Hive coverage later this week for more details). Elizabeth discussed her motivation to redesign the paradigm of diagnosis from one where the availability of exams is based on symptoms to one where anyone anywhere can obtain actionable health information about themselves. In an unscheduled repeat performance, Francis Collins of the NIH joined Jay Walker on stage for the second year in a row for a quick interview on what’s exciting in medicine today. Francis told us he’s keeping a close eye on personalized medicine and the quantified self, initiatives to finally decode the brain as it relates to neurological diseases, and infectious diseases like Ebola where we’re finally starting to see results. Francis was followed by a second repeat talk by Diana Nyad, a marathon swimmer, who joined us at TEDMED in 2011 after her second failed attempt at a world record 110-mile swim from Cuba to Miami. Diana returns having achieved her world record a little over a year ago.
She gave a powerful dialogue on her experiences and how her drive was fostered by her parents as early as age five. Emotional, personal stories continued with National Geographic photographer Kitra Cahana who gave a moving account of her father’s stroke. The stroke left him with locked-in syndrome where the patient is aware but unable to move. The commitment to help her father regain speech and motion became a personal and spiritual journey that, after time and effort, realized results. Mark Koska returned our attention to challenges in global health beginning with a concerning video showing healthcare workers in a developing country repeatedly use the same syringe on patients with transmittable diseases including HIV. Koska’s discussed his solution, a low-cost, one-time use syringe, but had an even more exciting announcement to share from the WHO.
A video from the WHO officially announced that come the end of October, the WHO will be issuing a new global policy on safe injections. With this policy, a holistic initiative to reduce unsafe injections will be implemented over the next two years. All syringe and needle manufacturers are invited to attend the announcement of the policy next month in Geneva. In its 66 years, this is only the third ever global initiative from the WHO.
And so ended the first day of TEDMED, packed with moving personal stories and fascinating scientific insights. For the delegates in DC, the day concluded with socializing over dinner and drinks at the Library of Congress, while the San Francisco folks were entertained at the City Hall.
Photography by TEDMED.