One more day of unlocking imagination here at TEDMED. While most conferences tend to slow down and peter out in their last day, TEDMED’s final sessions promised to continue serving up a rich assortment of speakers and topics.
Learning from our environments and using that information in ways that improve care was the topic of the day’s first session hosted by Nassim Assefi, “Human Nature Inside and Out.” We began by considering two common stimuli: sound and light. Julian Treasure, chairman of The Sound Agency, discussed the need for a four-pronged attack to bring acoustic healing into mainstream medicine. His plan includes researching therapeutic sound solutions, auditing the sound character of existing healthcare facilities, designing sound-conscious spaces, and training patients and providers on the important role sounds play in being healthy.
Mariana Figueiro, a Director at the Lighting Research Center talked about the how, in addition to improving sleep and mood, the medical applications of light therapy include reducing agitation for Alzheimer’s patients and shifting the timing of biological clocks to allow patients to receive treatments at the right time. New research is also beginning to show the benefit of light to oncology, something Mariana believes we can look forward to seeing in the future as part of cancer treatment. Speaking of getting the right amount of light, checkout our upcoming Hive Highlights for more info on SunSprite, a wearable brightness and UV light sensor.
Showing us the benefit of stealing from nature, Jeffrey Karp, Co-Director of the Center for Regenerative Therapeutics, showed us some of his recent work, including bio-inspired wound staples with tips designed like porcupine spines to improve insertion and reduce the risk of infection. Jeffrey believes one of the most important aspects of using solutions in nature is the ability to creatively adapt what we find to meet human needs.
Following Jeff was Emery Brown, an anesthesiologist, statistician, and computational neuroscientist at MIT who brought us an appreciation of what it means to be anesthetized and the challenge an anesthesiologist faces in maintaining patients in an altered brain state. Emery conveyed that, contrary to expectations, neuroscience has shown that the anesthetized brain is in a much different neurological state than the sleeping brain. This has helped neuroscientists better understand the brain itself while improving our handle on what is effectively a controlled coma.
Uma Samadani, Chief of Neurosurgery at New York Harbor Health Care System, represented one of the Hive companies, Oculogica, whose eye-tracking neurodiagnostic can be used to detect concussions and brain injuries, all while the patient is watching TV. Be sure to check out our upcoming Hive Highlights for more details. Closing the session on a light note was writer and former hospital chaplain Debra Jarvis. Debra was firm in her criticism of patients who survive medical hardships that cling to the challenges they faced. Debra encouraged these patients to take firm charge of their experiences and move forward beyond simply being a survivor.
David Sengeh returned to host a session packed with novel ideas and curious concepts, “Weird and Wonderful.” Mounting the stage in a pink tutu, professional photographer Bob Carey revealed how his wife’s diagnosis and fight with breast cancer led him to approach his work as an outlet for expression and happiness. The result was the Tutu Project, a breast cancer awareness effort around pictures of Bob in visually stimulating settings wearing nothing more than his tutu. Bob shared some of his work like the image you see above.
The TEDMED stage was next graced by Marc Abraham, founder of the Ig Nobel Awards, probably the highest honor for all things weird and wonderful in science. Marc created the parody with the goal to honor achievements that make people think and laugh. While many projects, on the surface, are indeed weird, many are actually based on or generated novel insights. For examples, a study entitled “Injuries due to falling coconuts” revealed variations in separated cultures in Papa New Guinea, only some of which live near coconut trees and are aware of the dangers of falling fruit.
Taking a more serious turn, Eric Chen, winner of the Google Science Fair spoke about his experiences entering science at the age of 15 at UC San Diego. Eric encouraged students with a passion for science to be proactive, reach out to mentors, and find opportunities to make a difference at any age. “Asking the right questions can be the key to getting you through the right doors.”
Getting us to think about our insides, John Cryan, principal investigator of the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Center, spoke about his work looking into how bacteria in the gut can impact the entire body, including our brain. He believes that the neurological dependence on the gut microbiome can lead to psychobiotic treatments for neurological diseases. Another of John’s compelling insights was that newborns delivered by Caesarean section get most of their bacteria at birth from the hospital environment rather than their mothers.
In a visually stunning display, Sophie de Oliveira Barata showed us samples of her work as a prosthetic artist and founder of the Alternative Limb Project. Sophie’s work helps patients with limb loss regain confidence through replacements that reflect the unique personality of each patient.
Last year, TEDMED placed a significant focus on mobile health care with content like Medgadget’s Smartphone Physical. Resa Lewiss and Josh Stein gave short updates on two connected technologies. Resa, Director of Point-of-Care Ultrasound at GE, spoke about how she’s witnessed ultrasound technology increase opportunities to provide expedient intervention at the point of care. Josh, CEO of AdhereTech who presented in the Hive last year, spoke broadly about the potential for connected technologies to transform medicine. Based on companies we’ve seen in the Hive, like MobileOCT and Respi, the development of new connected devices that continue to expand the scope of what is possible on a mobile device is going strong. However, as new hardware technologies emerge, new questions arise about how these tools can integrate with each other and into existing clinical systems. Luckily, other companies in the Hive, such as Human API and Validic, are beginning to address the challenges of connectivity. We’re excited to see what the world of mobile health will look like in another year’s time.
Despite the slightly thinning crowd, Sunny Kishore returned to get the last session of this year’s TEDMED off on an energetic foot with a spirited reading of Shelter Drills by its author Heather Raffo. Heather is an Iraqi American actress and playwright who has provided great entertainment between sessions throughout the event including excerpts from her one-woman show, “The 9 Parts of Desire.”
Nadine Burke Harris, CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness, addressed the session topic, “I Was Just Thinking Too Small,” with the example of how we’ve only recently begun to recognize the detrimental effects of stress. Instead of a short-term burden, early exposure to stress and adversity is now recognized to affect brain structure, the developing immune system, hormones, DNA reading and transcription, and can increase the risk for heart disease and cancer later in life.
We then heard from Daniel Kohane, a professor at Harvard Medical School and associate at Boston Children’s Hospital, whose job is to think small about about nanoscale drug delivery. Daniel provided a technical explanation of his and his colleagues’ work developing drug delivery and release solutions. Two examples of Daniel’s work includes a hydrogel that can be placed in the ear to improve permeability and increase drug delivery directly to the inner ear without needing to be transported through the rest of the body, and drug release contact lenses that address issues of drug compliance for ocular diseases like glaucoma.
Robin Guenther, an architect and interior designer from Perkins+Will, delved deeper into the concept of health conscious environments seeded yesterday by Nora Volkow. Pointing out that healthcare workers are 40% more likely to develop asthma due to the toxic chemicals used to clean vinyl, Robin painted a picture of what she calls restorative hospitals. She believes consciously designed spaces can begin to move the needle from where we are now to green (do less harm), to sustainable (do no harm), and ultimately to regenerative (healing) spaces.
The first Native American TEDMED speaker and the last speaker of the DC event, Rebecca Adamson, is the founder of the First Nations Development Institute and First Peoples Worldwide which both advocate for the rights on indigenous peoples. Adamson spoke on her successes applying indigenous principles, like only taking as many resources as nature can replace, to sustainable financial solutions such as microloan programs.
Jay Walker, the host of the event, signed off this year’s TEDMED conference with some inspirational food for thought. Jay called to mind the concept of the amplification that takes place in the brain’s neural cascade which begins with one spark but can result in actions, sensations, and thought. TEDMED’s goal is to continuously inculcate such a spark to amplify ideas and innovation, such as those on display over the last three days, to realize real, meaningful, measurable improvements in health and medicine.
From our team at Medgadget, we want to thank and congratulate the TEDMED organizers for unlocking our imagination over the last few days with a well executed, thought provoking event. Even though the main event has come to a close, stay tuned for more coverage of Medgadget’s Hive Highlights where we’ll delve deeper into many of the technical innovations that were on showcase at this year’s TEDMED.
Photography by TEDMED.