The TEDMED Research Scholars are a carefully selected group of passionate and objective individuals whose expertise spans the biomedical, public health, and emerging technology spectrums. Every year, Research Scholars help us to vet the science and timeliness of our TEDMED Speaker nominations, allowing us to better examine the diverse nominations we receive.

This year, we have selected 50 Research Scholars with unique backgrounds and areas of expertise. The TEDMED 2020 Research Scholars represent organizations and institutions including the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Johns Hopkins University, UnitedHealth Group, University of Toronto, Humana, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and so much more, including Massive Science.

We’re excited to once again partner with Massive, a digital science media publication that brings together scientists and the science-curious public, and tap into their pool of first-rate researchers to help us evaluate this year’s nominations. The TEDMED-Massive Scholars are members of TEDMED’s 2020 Research Scholars Program, and they are denoted by an asterisk in the list below.

We are honored to announce this year’s TEDMED Research Scholars, and we thank them for their generous contribution of time and expertise. Many will join us at TEDMED 2020 and we hope you will meet them there. As a reminder, early bird registration is still open, so register for TEDMED 2020 today!

TEDMED 2020 RESEARCH SCHOLARS:


*TEDMED-Massive Scholar
Learn more about Massive at massivesci.com/

Abe Janis, MS
Regenerative Medicine, Medical Devices, Skin Injury & Healing

Alex Lopez, MS, MD
Healthcare, Medical Technology, Basic & Clinical Research, Augmented Reality, Education

Alexandrea K. Ramnarine, BS
Infectious Diseases, Nanotechnology, Regenerative Medicine

*Alyssa Shepard, PhD Candidate
Cancer Biology, Molecular Biology

Andrew Chou, MD,
Orthopaedics, Biodesign, Medical Devices, Education

Beth Taylor Mack, PhD
Health and Wellness Innovation

Bhanu Ghantasala, MSc
AI / Emerging Technologies, Digital Health Entrepreneurship, Patient-Centric Innovation

Biodun Awosusi, MD, MSc
Health Economics, Health System Innovation, Digital Health

Brendan Brbich, MSc
Public Health (Health Economics)

*Brittney G. Borowiec, PhD Candidate
Comparative Physiology, Zoology, Science Writing

Daniel Bu, MD/MSc Candidate
Behavioral Economics, Global Health, Health Care Delivery

Darren Saunders, PhD
Molecular Oncology, Neurodegeneration

*Devang Mehta, PhD
Genomics and Genetic Engineering of Plants

Elena Minenko, MS
Pharmaceutical Industry, Neuroscience, Health Informatics

Elizabeth W. Mwashuma, MSc, PhD Candidate
Public Health Informatics, Implementation Research

Evan Yates, DO, MBA, MSc
Osteopathic Medicine/ Genetics

Fahima Dossa, BSc, MD, PhD Candidate
Clinical Epidemiology, Health Services Research

Fidaul Alam, MD
Medical Education, Clinical Research, Health Advocacy, Neuroscience

Frank Qian, MPH, MD Candidate
Cardiovascular Medicine, Cancer Epidemiology, Population Health

Jessica Dale, BSHM, MSN, CCFP, CTP DNP
Compassion, Compassion Fatigue, Burnout, Grief, Care Delivery

*Jiwandeep Kohli, PhD Candidate
Neuroscience and Clinical Psychology

*Joshua Peters, PhD Candidate
Bioengineering, Genomics, Infectious Disease, Immunology

Kaitlyn N. Sadtler, PhD
Immunology & Regenerative Medicine

Kanupriya Agarwal, MD, MBBS
Physician Entrepreneur, Digital Health, Precision Oncology

Kelly Jamieson Thomas, MS, PhD
Cancer Prevention, Wellness Education

Kyle Isaacson, PhD
Bioengineering

*Lauren White, Post-doc, PhD
Disease ecology

Mari Teitelbaum, MHA
Maternal-child health, Health information Systems, Strategic Perspectives, Health Outcomes, Innovation

Martin Jensen, PhD
Bioengineering, Emphasis in Biomaterials

Meg Barron, MBA
Digital Health, Healthcare Innovation

*Monica Javidnia, PhD
Neuroscience, Neurodegenerative Disease, Pharmacology

Nicholas A. Giordano, PhD, RN, AM, MS, BSN
Pain Science

Oyuka Byambasuren, MD, MMedRes
Digital Health, mHealth, Primary Care, Health Apps

*Pallavi Pant, PhD
Air Pollution, Environmental Health, Science Communication

Paul Lindberg, JD
Public Health, Community Health

Peter A. DePergola II, PhD, MTS
Clinical Bioethics and Medical Humanities

Pooja Chandrashekar, MD Candidate
Healthcare Delivery, Digital Health, Population Health

Rachel Rizal, MD
Healthcare Innovation, Digital Health, Entrepreneurship, Health Education

Ria Rungta, MPH Candidate
Epidemiology, Global Health, Chronic Diseases, Genetics, Health Technology

Sara Jiayang Li, BS
Autoimmune Skin Disease, Clinical Research

sj Miller, PhD
Gender Identity in Schooling Contexts

*Sophie Okolo, Ms, MPH
Aging, Health Technology, Bioinformatics, Science Communication

Stephen Chen, MD, PhD
Surgery, Genomics, Oncology, Biotech & Life Sciences

*Tara Fernandez, PhD
Cell & Gene Therapies

Tareq Al Saadi, MD
Medicine, Epidemiology, Public Health, Cardiology

Toyosi Okurounmu, MD, MPH, MBA
Health System Transformation

Victor Ekuta, BA, MD Candidate
Neuroscience, Neurodegenerative Disease, Neuroimaging

Vivian Ho, MBA
Global Health, Medical Innovation, Neuroscience

*Xinwen Zhu, PhD Candidate
Biotechnology, Systems Cell Biology

Xiya Ma, MSc, MD Candidate
Global Health, Biomedical Research, Innovation

Jason Shepherd on Scientific Discovery

Taking on the major challenge of understanding how experience shapes neural networks and how circuits are modified by proteins/genes,  Jason Shepherd has garnered worldwide recognition through the research in his lab, Shepherd Lab at the University of Utah School of Medicine. At TEDMED 2018, Jason shared why we might have viruses to thank for the biology behind memory storage and encoding. Watch his Talk “How an ancient virus spread the ability to remember” and read his about his journey through Scientific Discovery below. 


What goes into scientific discoveries? Movies will have you think that discoveries are made by lone geniuses in moments of inspiration. The reality is that this is rarely the case, scientific discovery is a long and often tedious process that requires a team of people. In my own research lab, we recently made a surprising connection between two seemingly unrelated topics; viruses and memory. 

This connection was made through observation, rather than through inspiration. We study a gene called Arc, which is essential for making long-lasting memories in the brain. A focus of my lab is to understand how and why this gene is so important for information storage. A technician in the lab, Nate Yoder, wanted to study the biochemistry of Arc protein. To do this, we engineered bacteria to produce a ton of Arc protein that we could purify. Nate found, however, that Arc protein behaved strangely. It seemed like it was much bigger than predicted and this was probably because single Arc proteins were clumping or aggregating. Perhaps we were just unable to purify Arc properly. Still, Nate was curious to know what the protein looked like so with the help of Adam Frost he took some images of Arc protein using an electron microscope. This allowed him to resolve Arc protein at very high magnification. Strikingly, instead of clumps of protein, we saw these beautiful “soccer ball” structures (image 1). 

This observation led us down a rabbit hole of unique biology. Turns out these soccer ball structures look just like the protein shells or capsids that viruses make. Why would a neuronal protein form something that looks like a virus capsid?! We are still trying to understand this surprising discovery, but Arc seems to have retained many properties of viruses. Oh yes, and we think that this gene evolved from an ancient ancestor of the retroviruses, like HIV, called retrotransposons. These rogue elements, along with ancient viral infections have left us with bloated genomes comprising of up to 50% of our own human DNA. In some cases, it seems, evolution has used these sequences and repurposed them to create new genes. Wild! 

Back to the process of doing science. Another common fallacy is that science results in black and white answers. In biology, this is rare. Scientists can be wrong in their interpretation of the data. They can be wrong in how they designed an experiment and the results can be messy. The key is replication and figuring out many different ways to get at the answer. For example, another lab headed by Vivian Budnik and work led by her postdoctoral fellow Travis Thomson independently found that a gene that looked like Arc in the fly, also seemed to behave like a virus. When we purified the fly Arc protein, we also saw that it could form capsids. So here we have two examples of different genes having retained the ability to form virus-like capsids! Even more surprising, we think that the fly Arc gene is actually unrelated to the mammalian gene; evolution repurposed a similar kind of retrotransposon in the fly lineage 100s of millions of years after the mammalian Arc gene.

If it happened twice, it probably happened many times more. We and others are on the hunt to find other genes that may have similar properties. Most important for my own research, we want to understand why you need a virus-like protein to make long-term memories. All of this reinforces, to me, the intricate and complicated path evolution has taken that has led to the amazing structure of the human brain. We hope that this science will not only lead to understanding how the brain works, but potentially to applications like gene therapy. Currently, we rely on modified viruses to get gene therapy into human cells but these still elicit an immune response and are often not very efficient. What if we could use proteins that look like viruses but are already made in our bodies? Nature often has the best solutions to hard problems; we just have to figure out how. It takes a team of dedicated people and a little bit of luck to reveal Nature’s secrets. 


TEDMED & Massive Science: TEDMED boasts a proud partnership with Massive Science, a digital science media publication that brings together scientists and the science-curious public. The team at Massive joined us onsite at TEDMED 2018, and by various speakers including Jason Shepherd. Check out their coverage of Jason’s TEDMED 2018 talk: “A protein in your brain behaves like a virus, infecting your cells with memories.

Massive Science on Lydia Bourouiba

TEDMED is proud to partner with Massive Science, a digital science media publication that brings together scientists and the science-curious public. The team at Massive joined us onsite at TEDMED 2018, and covered talks by various speakers including Lydia Bourouiba. Check out their coverage of Lydia’s TEDMED 2018 talk below.


In 1934, Williams Wells was the first scientist to convincingly describe airborne transmission of diseases in the context of tuberculosis. He introduced the notion of  two main routes of pathogens spread: large droplets, which fall due to gravity, and small droplets, which waft through the air as they evaporate. It is believed that pathogens like Tuberculosis are transmitted through large droplets, whereas diseases like measles could through small ones, although evidence remain controversial and debated. 

It may surprise you that for more than 80 years—despite new diseases, new means of travel, and new technology—our understanding of these basic routes haven’t changed much. Not until recently, when Lydia Bourouiba, associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and director of the Fluid Dynamics of Disease Transmission Laboratory, began to revisit these fundamentals and redefine how we think about respiratory disease transmission—literally from the ground up.

Bourouiba began her career by studying the mathematics of how fluids flow, specifically looking at fluids with turbulent or chaotic dynamics/motion. When she moved to Toronto shortly after the SARS epidemic, she realized that similar mathematical principles could be useful in modeling how diseases spread. That’s when she began to use mathematics in epidemiology, and in particular, the limitations of top-down modeling with mechanistic understanding of the fundamental mechanisms governing the patterns observed. “I started seeing these gaps in understanding transmission in particular, and [seeing] that fluid dynamics could help fill such gaps,” explains Bourouiba.

Traditionally, scientists have created epidemiological models by developing equations, based on a variety of parameters that describe how diseases are transmitted between people and populations. However, many of these parameters are fitted to data and not based on physical principles—like how sneezing actually transmits disease, or what factors influence how far sneeze droplets may travel or persist. 

Bourouiba thinks that improving the accuracy of these parameters and framework of modeling would greatly improve predictive power and intervention strategies. “If one doesn’t have a mechanism to rationalize [the parameters] down to something we can directly measure, validate, and control, one ends up fitting data to models,” says Bourouiba, rather than designing models that incorporate underlaying physics. “One loses predictability power and ability to control.”

So Bourouiba moved to MIT as an NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow and Applied Mathematics Instructor, and then as faculty, and began to try to explain how diseases are transmitted globally based on how they are transmitted between you and your neighbor. Equipped with a range of experimental optical and biophysics methods, including, direct visualization and measurements, such as with high-speed imaging, microscopy, fluid flow models, and patients, Bourouiba and her team are now answering fundamental questions about the mechanisms of respiratory disease transmission.

During TEDMED, Bourouiba showed how the physics of turbulent puff cloud of air emitted during exhalations, suspending and trapping drops within them, radically  change the range of pathogen deposition and contamination, thus, shifting the paradigm away from the small versus large droplet framework of Wells into the mechanistic description of exhalations including information of time and space, needed for monitoring, infection control and prevention,  and risk assessments. 

The next step is understanding how a exhalations coupled with ambient environment and patient physiology in infection, including when infected with flu, can inform early detection and intervention.  Her broad findings have already identified suggestions for disease control that can be implemented, influencing a variety of public health protocols and policies.

But she still has further questions—like how the size of droplets can impact our susceptibility to disease. “The properties that exhalations and their payload influence also efficacy of infection upon exposure, for example influencing,  their deposition in the lungs,” says Bourouiba. “We are working at elucidating the whole process, accounting for coupled physiology, immunology, microbiology, and fluid processes, to construct the full picture of those  that have particularly high abilities to transmit certain respiratory diseases effectively.”

This could inform how we manage numerous high impact pathogens. Take tuberculosis, a disease that infects up to a third of the world’s population. Researchers know its symptoms begin deep in the lungs, but further characterizations of when, how, and why people produce infectious droplets could improve how we handle patient care and research.

Bourouiba is excited about the multi-year study she’s leading with a diverse collaborations she put in place to  include clinicians, infection control specialists, microbiologists, immunologists, and virologists, for the study of transmission of influenza. Pioneering work in this interdisciplinary field isn’t easy. But Bourouiba says that ten to twenty years of this kind of research could lead to dramatic, tangible results, useful for a variety of pathogens. Considering the long and often uncertain process of developing new vaccines and diagnostics for infectious diseases, her approach to defining evidence-based prevention strategies is a vital piece of the puzzle. “You have to be doing both [prevention and treatment research].” It’s also becoming ever more important. Because of rising antibiotic resistance and increase in connectivity, and emergence and re-emergence of pathogens, she explains, “We might be going into an era [similiar] to pre-antibiotic times, which is extremely concerning.”

Bourouiba’s work is an important step toward redefining disease transmission, and infection control and prevention, moving the fundamentals from descriptions to measurable and quantifiable mechanisms. Truly understanding how people get each other sick will help us design protocols, policies, and tools to help people stay healthy and prevent epidemics and pandemics.


About the author:  Joshua Peters is a PhD student in Biological Engineering at MIT. Around two billion people in the world are infected with a microscopic bug called Mycobacterium Tuberculosis. Despite this, only a fraction develop tuberculosis. And a fraction of those infected – almost 5,000 a day – die. Joshua puts on Stranger Things-esque protection equipment and probes these bacteria to ask, what allows them bacteria to win this tug-of-war? To understand this variation, he looks at how both human and bacteria cells change on a genetic level in response to each other, as a member of the Blainey Lab, located in the Broad Institute, and Bryson Lab, located in the Ragon Institute and MIT.  

Q&A with Elizabeth Howell

TEDMED: In your TEDMED 2018 talk, you mentioned that one way for hospitals to improve the quality of care around childbirth is to implement a bundle program as advised by the Alliance for Innovation on Mental Health. What infrastructural resources are needed to adopt such a program, and who at the hospital should be driving this change? 

Elizabeth Howell: Some of the Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health patient safety bundles are easier to implement than others and some require little infrastructure or resources. All require sponsorship from individuals within the hospital or healthcare settings. Leadership can come from nursing, physicians, midwives, or hospital administration.

TM: While social determinants of health contribute to racial and ethnic disparities, there remains a component of racial bias in health care. What are some steps that we can take to dismantle providers’ racial bias? Does this happen during medical education or elsewhere?

EH: Addressing providers’ racial bias is important and some medical schools have begun implicit bias trainings for faculty and staff. However, a complex web of factors contributes to disparities. I suggest we tackle disparities brick by brick:

1.  Measure racial disparities in pregnancy outcomes and address them through quality improvement activities in hospitals.

2. Hold hospitals and healthcare organizations accountable for their performance on outcomes.

3. Teach medical students and trainees patient-centered communication strategies, shared decision-making skills, and actions to address implicit bias.

4. Address who institutions are admitting into medical schools and residency programs in an effort to diversify the workforce.

5. Ask how healthcare systems compensate and reward physicians within the system. Make compensation linked to performance on reducing and addressing disparities.

6. Challenge institutions to continually ask themselves whether they are doing everything they can to reduce disparities.

TM: How aware are pregnant women and new mothers of the risks and signs of maternal mortality or morbidity? What is the best way to educate these women on the risks that they face, so that they can take informed steps to protect their health?

EH: Women with obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses are at higher risk for complications during pregnancy.  It is important for all reproductive age women, especially for women with chronic illness and these risk factors, to seek healthcare before they become pregnant and receive education about the best steps to protect their health.

TM: If every hospital across the country adopted the highest quality of standard care around childbirth and maternal health, do you think we would still see racial disparities in maternal morbidity and mortality, or do you think that disparities would remain due to other uncontrolled factors?

EH: I believe a meaningful portion of the disparity gap can be closed by improving quality of care across the care continuum and improving standards across all hospitals.  While addressing the larger societal issues that drive racism is important work for scholars from every field, it is not an excuse for delayed action on these tangible steps.

TM: What was the TEDMED experience like for you?

EH: The experience crystallized for me the importance of storytelling in communicating important truths. As a scientist we frequently communicate through tables, data, and graphs but the emotional connection to the problem is often what motivates action.

TM: At TEDMED, we like to think about each talk as having a “gift” –  that thing that reveals new perspectives and profoundly influences our own, or our collective, health. What is the gift you’d like people to receive when watching your TEDMED Talk?

EH: We can save the lives of thousands of women who die or experience severe complications from childbirth every year if we raise standards in EVERY hospital and provide high quality healthcare for ALL women before, during, and after pregnancy.

TM: What was the highlight of your TEDMED experience?

EH: A highlight for me was being introduced by Michael Painter from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as a “nice radical… For Liz, there is no division between her passion and her compassion.”

How I Harnessed My Own Cancer Diagnosis to Help Kids with Cancer and Their Parents


By Hernâni Oliveira

This TEDMED Partner Blog Post comes to you from TEDMED 2020 Partner Astellas and Hernâni Oliveira. TEDMED is excited to partner with Astellas specifically around their Astellas Oncology C³ (Changing Cancer Care) Prize, which sparks new, innovative ways of caring for cancer patients and their caregivers. Hernâni Oliveira is the 2017 Grand Prize winner of the C³ Prize. His winning idea was a two-part virtual reality app to help solve common issues faced by children with cancer and their parents around education and physical engagement. Learn more about his award-winning idea here.

We know that the TEDMED Community is filled with patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals, each with ideas that have the power to improve the lives of those impacted by cancer. We encourage you to submit your idea and apply to the C³ Prize by July 15. The winners will join us at TEDMED 2020, March 2-4 in Boston, MA.


My cancer journey started when I was diagnosed with lymphoma at the age of 27. Like most people, I was shocked to hear the infamous three words—“You have cancer”— but having studied cancer as a molecular oncologist, it struck me as ironic and terrifying that now, I would experience this disease as a patient, too.

I’ve never been the type to sulk about unfortunate events. I’ve always enjoyed taking on challenges, learning about subjects unfamiliar to me, and helping others understand it as well through effective communication. So, when I saw people who struggled to find accurate information about cancer, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in health education to help people gain access to and understand healthcare information. It was during my second year of studies that I was diagnosed with cancer.

I was fierce, like all who are battling cancer and those who are caring for their loved ones with cancer. Every day brought a different challenge, but I focused all of my time and energy in between the treatments on developing an idea that I had been working on during my studies that I hadn’t yet had time to bring to life: an app to help children with cancer and their parents.

My idea was a two-part virtual reality app to help solve common issues faced by children with cancer and their parents around education and physical engagement. For the children, I wanted to create a video game for mobile devices that tells the story of a child who fights cancer as a superhero and educates the children about cancer, as well as promoting exercise and reducing anxiety during medical examinations. For the parents and caregivers, I wanted to create an educational tool so they could learn more about cancer and ways to support their children.

While working on my idea in 2017, I learned about the Astellas Oncology  Prize—an opportunity that came to change my life. The annual challenge was created in 2016 by Astellas to find and fund the best non-treatment ideas to improve cancer care for patients, caregivers, and their loved ones. I was so glad to find the  Prize because I felt like it empowered the public by widening the access to knowledge and tools to help those affected by cancer. It also helped solidify my belief that as a society, we need to look beyond treatments to truly care for people impacted by cancer.

I wholeheartedly believed—and still do—in my project, fittingly titled “HOPE,” and the impact it could have on so many lives touched by cancer. Still, I was surprised to find out I was the Grand Prize winner of the 2017  Prize. It was humbling and awe-inspiring all in one. What means the most to me is that winning the  Prize has fueled my idea and allowed me to have a real impact on people living with cancer.

Since winning the  Prize, I’ve developed a second prototype for the video game for children with cancer and validated the application for parents and caregivers in hospitals. Thanks to the  Prize and the countless hours of hard work, the final product will be available to the Portuguese public by the end of 2019. I’m also hoping to launch the application internationally and increase its impact on a global scale.

Beyond the funds I was awarded from the  Prize, I have had the opportunity to connect with a new network of people passionate about improving healthcare and am now in the process of working to bring educational programs into schools worldwide. With the support of the local community in Porto, Portugal, I’m developing an educational project to help improve cancer survivors’ reintegration process at schools. Thus far, more than 1,300 children and teachers have been trained, and we have won the best presentation award at the 4th European Health Literacy Conference.

Additionally, I was able to help establish a partnership between Astellas Portugal and University of Porto through the  Prize, which led to the creation of a national think tank focused on health literacy and innovation. The organization successfully hosted an event in May with 60 healthcare and communications professionals, patients, and caregivers, who worked together to find innovative solutions to create and foster health literate ecosystems.

Now in its fourth year, the Astellas Oncology  Prize is a truly amazing platform for anyone to showcase their idea to change cancer care and build meaningful relationships with innovators from all over the U.S. and the world. This year, the  Prize is looking for emerging and established ideas in the following categories: Cancer Care Journey, Cancer Health Disparities, and Cancer Survivorship. It will award up to $200,000 in total grants and resources, including a chance to connect with other healthcare innovators at TEDMED 2020.

I am so grateful to have been involved with the program as a winner in 2017 and now, as a judge, for the second year in a row. The beauty of the  Prize is that anyone with an idea to improve cancer care can apply—the idea can be big or small, emerging or established. What’s important is the ideas’ feasibility, originality, creativity, potential impact, and the applicant’s vision for how to reach people who might benefit from their idea—because innovative and informative healthcare tools are just as impactful for the cancer journey.

So, I encourage anyone—whether you’re a cancer patient, survivor or caregiver; a researcher, inventor or entrepreneur; a teacher, communicator, or even a musician—with an idea that could have an impact on cancer care to submit their ideas today at www.C3Prize.com. Applications are open until July 15.

Hernâni Oliveira is the founder and CEO of healthcare marketing agency BRIGHT. Previously, Hernâni was a molecular oncologist and researcher.

Considering the Moral Motivations for Whistle-Blowing

Psychologist Adam Waytz is dedicated to uncovering how opposing sides of moral conflicts understand and misunderstand each other’s motives. Adam studies the causes and consequences of perceiving mental states in other entities and investigates processes related to social influence, social connection, meaning-making, morality, and ethics. His ongoing work explores questions with direct application to politics, society, and current events; for example, studying how people establish trust with autonomous vehicles. At Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University where Adam is an associate professor, his classes focus on how to resolve difficult ethical dilemmas and how to lead through values and ethical appeals rather than through traditional means. Adam was a Speaker at TEDMED 2018, and you can watch his Talk here.


Last week I attended the fifth annual conference of the Behavioral Science and Policy Association, which showcased how behavioral science can help create better public policies. Topics included how to improve financial decision-making, how to get people to increase vaccination uptake, and how to reduce single-occupancy vehicle commuting (to reduce carbon dioxide emissions). As I listened to the talks, it struck me that current governmental and organizational policies surrounding whistle-blowing are sorely lacking in incorporating insights from behavioral science.

The theme of my 2018 TEDMED Talk is that whistle-blowers, people who expose unethical conduct to outsiders, tend to be motivated by moral incentives. Whistle-blowers report wrongdoing out of a sense of justice and altruism as our research has shown, yet the dominant whistle-blower protection program in the United States centers on more self-serving incentives. The Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Program offers monetary rewards to people who report financial misconduct to the Security and Exchange Commissions (SEC) provided that the reporting results in successful prosecution and $1 million or more in sanctions.

Although reporting has increased under the program, its effectiveness in curbing financial misconduct is unclear (only 62 awards have been granted, amidst thousands of complaints since 2012). Furthermore, some research suggests that offering financial incentives can backfire. One set of studies shows that when whistleblower rewards are present but a potential whistle-blower is ineligible for the reward (because the fraud uncovered fell under the $1 million threshold), people assume the whistle-blower would be less willing to come forward compared to when no incentive is present at all. Other work suggests that although financial incentives for reporting organizational misconduct externally (i.e., to the SEC) can increase external reporting, it can simultaneously discourage people’s willingness to report misconduct internally to their companies.

So how do we build policies to encourage whistle-blowing that incorporate people’s moral motivations? Perhaps organizations could start by destigmatizing whistle-blowers as traitors or tattle-tales, communicating the message that what it means to be a good organizational citizen is calling out the company when it gets things wrong. One radical approach at the governmental level could be changing the nature of the financial incentive to be prosocial rather than self-serving, stating that if a whistle-blower uncovers misconduct, monetary rewards will be paid to the victims of that misconduct rather than to the whistle-blower. Reforming our whistle-blower policies will require bold action, and we can start by incorporating the lessons of social science to these efforts.   

Q&A with Kate Bowler

After being diagnosed with Stage IV cancer at age 35, Duke tenured professor and author Kate Bowler launched a national conversation about why it feels so difficult to speak frankly about suffering. She delves into how we live and cope with pain and suffering in Everything Happens for a Reason (and other lies I’ve loved), a NYT bestselling memoir, and in her popular podcast, Everything Happens. She is also the author of Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, which received widespread media and academic attention as the first history of a movement based on divine promises of health, wealth, and happiness. She has appeared on NPR and The TODAY Show, Amanpour & CO, as well as in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and TIME Magazine. Her work has also been praised by a wide variety of religious and political publications, from liberal print media to conservative talk radio. You can watch her 2018 TEDMED Talk here.


TEDMED: In your TEDMED talk, you describe how people often try to find a reason for why you were diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer, assuring you and your husband that, “everything happens for a reason.” Given your experience, what would you encourage people to say or do when someone in their life experiences a difficult diagnosis?

Kate Bowler: It’s so tough because there usually isn’t much to say that will help–but the desire to say something is so strong! We have an intense desire to love the suffering person but usually it devolves into burdensome attempts to relate (“When my aunt had cancer…”) Luckily, the easiest approach is also the best one: trust that your loving presence is enough. Be useful and available, but ask for little. John Green recently told me something that his mentor in hospital chaplaincy taught him: “Don’t just do something! Stand there.” It’s wonderfully counter-intuitive and absolutely true.

TM: In the past, you’ve talked about how removing the need for a reason that bad things happen, and accepting your cancer has, in small ways, made you able to see and enjoy things more fully, and perhaps in a way you hadn’t before. Do any of these experiences stand out that you can share?

KB: Oh, wow, I immediately think of parenting. I had been on the superhighway of achievement, or at least I liked to think so. And now I am fiercely determined to keep my focus on my deepest loves, especially my five-year old human. There is usually a moment every day that I would have missed in my own rush to conquer the day. Today it was my son climbing up on my lap in his jammies while I was taking a call, solemnly looking into my eyes and whispering: “Can we talk about lizards now?” He was right. The sun was bright and the breeze was dreamy and it was exactly the right time to talk about lizards.

TM: Through your TEDMED talk, and the online community you have cultivated, you spark conversations about both the beauty and the difficulty of life – as you say: “Life is so beautiful and life is so hard.” How has your work been impacted by this online community and the conversations they engage in about the chaos and the clarity that comes with being human? Are there any stories that have been shared with you that you have found particularly inspiring?

KB: The biggest change in my life, after cancer, has been this incredible community I’ve found through my podcast, Everything Happens. As it turns out, I am not alone in feeling constrained by this American myth of self-mastery and endless progress. We are longing for what my friend Margaret Feinberg called “the fellowship of the afflicted.” Now when I speak to someone, I assume this person is carrying something he or she did not choose. One of the recent episodes was with Jayson Greene, whose toddler was killed in a terrible accident. His rich account of grief as the language of love was so powerful to me. In reassembling our worlds after loss, it feels honest to say that our pain is also an expression of our biggest loves.

TM: You are a self described “incurable optimist”. To what do you attribute this? Have you always been an incurable optimist, or did that come later in life?

KB: I have such a love-hate relationship with positivity as a category because I am an expert in the history of positive thinking. I found that so much of what passes as happiness or positivity is weaponized against suffering people. “Oh, are you not happy? You must be failing to live your best life now!” But I have found that a deep, hard-won joy is necessary when facing down hard realities. I may have insurmountable obstacles, but I am focused on finding beauty and truth regardless. That’s why I call myself an “incurable optimist.” It is pure stubbornness.

TM: What was the TEDMED experience like for you?

KB: It was the best public experience of my life. The community there was so absurdly loving and focused on helping me share my experience honestly. The organizers even had a stage manager there to HUG ME before I went on stage. Ok, that lovely person hugged everyone, but I felt so fortunate to be loved as I attempted to do a hard, public thing.

TM: At TEDMED, we like to think about each talk as having a “gift” – that thing that reveals new perspectives and profoundly influences our own – or our collective – health. What is the gift you’d like people to receive when watching your TEDMED Talk?

KB: Life doesn’t have to be better to be beautiful. Oh, if you are hurting right now, I want you to know you are so loved. You are not a mistake.

TEDMED 2020 Theme Announced & Early Bird Registration Now Open

We’re thrilled to share the theme for TEDMED 2020: Make Way For Wonder.

With this announcement we also officially open registration for TEDMED 2020 at a special Early Bird rate!  Join our passionate and diverse community this March 2-4 at an exciting new home in Boston – and for a limited time, we’re offering a special early registration rate of $1,000 off the registration fee.

TEDMED 2020: Make Way For Wonder


“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.” — Neil Armstrong


The earliest philosophers regarded “wonder” as the foundational emotion that compels humans to explore, to learn, and to seek answers to life’s fundamental questions. Wonder – about our lives, our bodies, and our world – fuels an intense passion for learning. Indeed, “philosophia,” translated literally, means “love of wisdom.” As Plato described it: “Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.”

But, what is Wonder?

It’s the feeling we get when experiencing the beauty of new life as it’s born into the world. It’s the euphoria we feel from unlocking secrets in the intricacies of our genetic makeup, or the curiosity that provokes us to expand the capabilities of the human brain. It’s the insatiable inquisitiveness that drives a researcher toward an astonishing discovery that saves millions of lives around the world. It’s the awe felt when standing at a precipice looking down at the Grand Canyon. Or the humbling acknowledgement of our place in an incomprehensibly vast universe. Perhaps the most awe-inspiring thing of all is that this feeling of wonder is firmly grounded in solid realities.

Today, we live in a world of sudden and surprising accomplishments, an era of astonishing possibilities, and an age of ongoing achievements happening in every single field. Let’s embrace the wonder in each step that humanity takes forward.

Now is the time for us to make way for wonder. It’s time we intentionally cultivate our sense of awe and our desire for new knowledge. It’s time to celebrate all we’re discovering and all that is yet to be discovered. It’s time to revel in our innocence, our capacity for delight, joy, and amazement.

When we allow ourselves time to muse and to marvel, to be energized with wonder, great advancements will follow. When we emerge from our silos, we have the opportunity to broaden our laser-like focus. When we step back and take time to look deeper, we can see with a wider perspective.

The results can be transformative. New doors are opened. New horizons reveal themselves. New possibilities suddenly leap from wild speculation, to well-grounded theory, to working reality.

At TEDMED 2020, we will connect with an invisible force that has been propelling humanity forward for millennia. Join us as we experience the power and possibilities that come to us when we make way for wonder.

Announcing the TEDMED 2020 Editorial Advisory Board

Planning for TEDMED 2020 is well underway, and we’re excited to share even more details about the Boston gathering over the coming months. Next week begins an important step in the process: the 2020 TEDMED Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) will meet to collaborate on the design and curation of the Stage Program.

The EAB—a group of leading experts in fields spanning the spectrum of health and medicine—plays a key role in helping us to identify important and timely nominations for the TEDMED Stage. The participation of this generous group is another example of how Community is at the heart of everything we do—we truly could not do the work we do without the people who support and believe in our mission to create a healthier world.

This year’s EAB represents organizations that intersect all areas of health and medicine, including technology, philanthropy, academia, medical journalism, clinical care, and much more. We are proud of the EAB’s depth and diversity of knowledge, as these are the qualities that help ensure the TEDMED Stage Program takes on its credible, multi-disciplinary, and unique perspective.

We welcome these passionate individuals to this year’s EAB, and we hope you’ll take the time get to know them below. We are both delighted and honored to announce them here:

Click here to read more about this year’s EAB and the role these individuals play in helping to shape the TEDMED 2020 Stage Program. And be sure to add your nominations for topics

TEDMED 2020 | BOSTON | March 2-4


TEDMED is excited to announce that the next convening of our diverse, multi-disciplinary community will take place March 2-4, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts at The Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel. That’s right, TEDMED 2020 will be at a brand new location and a brand new time of year!

We feel that Boston is the ideal home for TEDMED 2020. Boston is a city and community with deep roots in pioneering new ideas and pushing innovation forward—much like TEDMED. Boston boasts renowned industry-leading companies,  world-class academic institutions and scientific R&D, some of the nation’s top-ranked hospitals, the country’s highest number of arts and cultural organizations per capita, and an impressive entrepreneurial ecosystem that supports a cutting-edge health tech start-up culture.

As a city with innovation at its core, we were interested to learn that Boston also lays claim to many technological and social “firsts,” including the world’s first telephone, and the United States’ first public park, first public library, and first public secondary school. Also, America’s very first inoculations happened in Boston, way back in 1721. To this day, the city remains a hotbed for health and medical innovation.

We have hosted TEDMED in Palm Springs, CA for the last 4 years, but TEDMED has regularly migrated to fresh venues every few years for most of the past decade, enabling people from many regions to join the community and participate in person at our annual gathering.

“TEDMED has a proud history of adopting a diverse range of venues, literally from coast to coast,” says TEDMED COO and Executive Producer Shirley Bergin, adding, “We are excited for everything that Boston has to offer and can’t wait to host TEDMED 2020 in this amazing city.”

So, what can you expect to experience at TEDMED 2020?

First and foremost, we are always striving to bridge the gap between science and the public by finding and sharing stories that inform, inspire, engage, and provoke action across a broad, passionate community both inside and outside of health and medicine. At TEDMED 2020, you’ll be moved by Talks from individuals working to improve humanity’s health. As one TEDMED Delegate said:

“When you come out of a session of Talks, and you’ve changed as a person—in outlook, in perspective, in opinion—that’s the mark of a conference worth attending. And that happened several times at TEDMED.”
– Giles N.

At TEDMED 2020, you will also become a part of a truly unique community of public health leaders, clinicians, researchers, scientists, influencers, and innovators from across the landscape of health, medicine, and scientific innovation. Over the 2.5 days of TEDMED 2020, you’re bound to make unexpected connections that will last well beyond the event. Again, our Delegates explain it best:

“It was such a humbling experience to be able to connect with such inspiring and passionate people who I would never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.”
– Kittaya T.

By attending TEDMED 2020, you can expect to engage in interactive conversations hosted by TEDMED’s Partners—a dynamic group of global industry leaders, health systems, associations, research and academic institutions, foundations, and more. Our Partners not only help to make TEDMED possible, but they also enhance the program with their cutting-edge innovations, advancements in health policy, and large-scale global public health initiatives. Whether it’s a curated conversation with Partners and TEDMED Speakers about an unexpected theme that connects their work or a lively workshopping session over breakfast, there are plenty of ways to connect with other leading thinkers and doers at TEDMED.

In addition to the inspiring Talks, engaging community, and mind-expanding conversations, TEDMED 2020 offers you the chance to fully immerse yourself in various health experiences. For instance, you can choose to start your day with a mindfulness class or a heart-pumping workout. And from morning until night, we’ll provide you with nutritious meals and snacks to fuel your body and mind. Attending TEDMED 2020 offers you the space to unplug from your day-to-day routine and the opportunity to absorb new ways of thinking about the challenges we face in health and medicine today.

We hope you’ll join us in Boston for TEDMED 2020. Registration for TEDMED Alumni is open now, and early-bird registration opens soon. Stay up to date on the latest information about TEDMED 2020 by signing up for our newsletter and following us on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.


For all media inquiries, please contact Rose Mary Romano at rromano@TEDMED.com.  If you are interested in partnering with TEDMED for the 2020 convening, please contact Lucy Crawford at Lucy@TEDMED.com. And, for all other inquiries, please email contact@TEDMED.com.


TEDMED is the independent health and medicine edition of the world-famous TED conference, dedicated to “ideas worth spreading.” TEDMED Talks have been viewed online over 150 million times around the world. TEDMED is a non-profit that is wholly owned by The TEDMED Foundation, a 501(c)(3) Public Charity.