Game-changers in health and medicine, circa 2012

From a starter map of our body’s microbes, to mobile apps that monitor critical health measures,  2012 was a banner year for  innovation in health and medicine — even if some breakthroughs and events revealed how far we have to go. We asked our community on Facebook and Twitter for nominations on the top game-changers last year. Here are a few:

The top game-changer in 2012 is AliveCor produce going mainstream. – Mahek Shah.

Similarly, Kieran Hannon Tweeted about Dr. David Albert’s work in developing the AliveCor ECG app. Leslie Saxon wowed TEDMED Delegates with her talk on the lifesaving potential of smartphone apps – watch her talk here.


Completing the first phase of the Human Microbiome Project.  As Jonathan Eisen explained in his TEDMED 2012 talk, microbial critters are essential to keeping our bodies functioning well.  His goal: To provide an encylopedia of the bacteria, viruses and other organisms living in and on us.  The first results of the five-year project were published last year, with some surprising results; namely, some bugs previously thought to be deadly can apparently hitchhike quite comfortable, including Staphylococcus aureus, which has been linked to MRSA infections.


The biggest innovation is the progression of the “tricorder” technology and the emergence if the “quantified self”. This will make a significant change in health and wellness. Scanadu is my bet to lead the charge. — John Nosta


The Affordable Health Care Act mandated. — John Tang

Also in policy and business developments, by Kevin McDermott: Medicaid increasing pay for primary care physicians, and how that will affect the physician landscape. Honorable mention: The introduction of ACOs, and the continued trend of physicians leaving private practice and merging with hospitals and health care organizations


The effort to end PSA screening by USPSTF. – Bert Gold

In other wise-use news, in April the American Board of Internal Medicine launched its Choosing Wisely campaign to help avoid duplicative treatments or harmful over-treatment, and to support evidence-based medicine. Otis Brawley chimed in with book, How We Do Harm. (Watch his TEDMED 2012 talk here.)


The Global Burden of Disease Study.  Christopher Murray, a health economist at the University of Washington, drove data-gathering in the largest systemic effort to identify the major causes of death and disease around the globe. The results are about what you would expect:  We’re living longer, yet have more chronic disease; we’re reducing childhood deaths, but not nearly fast enough, or to the best of our capabilities.


15-year-old Jack Andraka invents pancreatic cancer test. – Amy Sharpe


At least 4 major NYC medical centers were closed due to the effects of Superstorm Sandy. Labs filled with years of research were destroyed. Do we need to examine this to fend off future service shortages and losses? – Mindy Schwartz Brown

Katherine Ellington also said of Sandy, via Facebook:

“It offered an opportunity to rethink the power of healing. Consider the use of technology, the remedy of social media crowdsourcing where human connection and communication was a life saving strategy allowing first responder as well as national calls for all kinds of help. This catastrophe is also reshaping the future of medicine.”


Ben Goldacre’s book, Bad Pharma. – Jafri Ali

Goldacre’s muckraking book chronicles what he calls, “the misuse of data by the pharmaceutical industry.”  He gave a spirited talk at TEDMED about publication bias and missing data that previewed the book, in part.

Great Challenges: Live event Thursday, Dec. 20th at 2 PM ET to discuss managing chronic diseases better

The TEDMED Great Challenges Program will host another Google Hangout tomorrow at 2 pm ET. Multidisciplinary thought leaders will share their views and respond to viewer questions on the Managing Chronic Diseases Better.

Team members:

Viewers can watch the live video chat on or on the TEDMED Google+ Page, and weigh on those pages or by following by submitting questions on Twitter @TEDMED, tag #GreatChallenges.

Scalpel-free surgery gains ground as treatment for Parkinson’s symptoms

Non-invasive focused ultrasound surgery, which can be performed as a non-anesthetic outpatient procedure — with much less pain and shorter recovery time for patients — is gaining ground as an effective and highly beneficial treatment for the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders.

As Medgadget reports, InSightec, makers of an MR-guided interventional ultrasound system, received approval in Europe for its ExAblate Neuro system, which is designed to treat Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor and neuropathic pain.

The procedure uses sound waves to target affected areas of the brain. Compared to the current prevalent surgical therapy of deep brain stimulation, which involves drilling into the skull and implanting a pacemaker-like device, the minimally invasive ultrasound procedure poses much less risk to surrounding brain areas.

ExAblate is as yet unapproved in the US to treat Parkinsons, but is in clinical trial at the University of Virginia. A first round showed promising results in controlling Parkinson’s related tremors.

Yoav Medan, vice president and chief systems architect of InSightec, described how the surgery works at TEDMED 2011. Watch his talk:

When is an aspirin a day good public health policy?

Should physicians be mandated to prescribe a daily aspirin as preventive care?

In an op-ed in today’s New York Times, two-time TEDMED speaker David Agus talks about when, if ever, encouraging proven preventive behavior should be made public policy, similar to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s restrictions on trans fats and soda sizes.

Why not aspirin? The 2,000-hear-old drug, he posits, has shown great benefit in reducing cardiovascular risks and cancer in recent studies as well as, of course, being an effective pain reliever. As we are all essentially paying for one another’s medical bills via Medicare, Medicaid and other taxpayer-financed health programs, it should be public policy for middle-aged people without adverse risk factors to use it. As he says:

The data are screaming out to us. Aspirin, one of the oldest remedies on the planet, helps prevent heart disease through what is likely to be a variety of mechanisms, including keeping blood clots from forming. And experts believe it helps prevent cancer, in part, by dampening an immune response called inflammation.

So the question remains: given the evidence we have, why is it merely voluntary for physicians to inform their patients about a health care intervention that could not only help them, but also save untold billions in taxpayer dollars each year?

Read the entire piece here.

And below is Agus’s speech at TEDMED 2011, in which he talks about the latest research on what works to prevent most major diseases.

Great Challenges: Sharing ideas on how to cope with the obesity crisis

Can we come to terms with our national obesity crisis? And what can individuals, communities and governments do about it?

Six thought leaders on the topic responded to audience questions yesterday in one of a series of online live conversations. Watch it here:

Follow @TEDMED #greatchallenges on Twitter, our Facebook page and our Google Plus page for updates on when and how to join the next Great CHallenges live online event.

Beyond willpower: Three TEDMED talks on how to fight obesity

What’s the best way to combat our national obesity epidemic?

To preview the issues behind our live online Great Challenges conversation about obesity this Thursday at 1 PM EST, we’ve collated three recent talks on the topic, a running theme of which is: It is immensely difficult for any single person to tackle the health issue of obesity alone.

How can America lose weight?
The CEO of Weight Watchers, David Kirchhoff, says America’s obesity crisis isn’t about people eating too much; it’s about our “obesogenic” environment. Beating it will involve lots of collective willpower.

Why can’t America “weight” any longer?
John Hoffman, vice president of HBO documentary films, and Judith Salerno, executive officer of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, talk about the HBO documentary The Weight of the Nation, why obesity is indeed a health crisis, and why it demands action on a national scale.

If we can’t cure the patient, can the community do it?
Mark Hyman, MD, best-selling author and chairman of the Institute of Functional Medicine, relates a story of how a stringy chicken in Haiti led to a revelation about using social networks to combat chronic health issues, one community at a time.

Great Challenges live online event Thursday: Can we manage our obesity crisis?


This week’s Great Challenge conversation: Can we manage our obesity crisis?

Join the Challenge Team at 1 PM EST on Thursday, December 6 to watch a Google+ Hangout, share your thoughts with other viewers, and ask questions of Team members that they’ll answer in real time.

They are:


James Zervios – Director of Communications, Obesity Action Coalition


John M. Auerbach – Director of the Institute on Urban Health Research and Distinguished Professor of Practice at the Bouve College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University


Christine Ferguson – Strategic Initiatives Advisor, STOP Obesity Alliance; Professor, The GWU School of Public Health and Health Services


Rebecca Puhl – Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University


Maya Rockeymoore PhD – President and CEO, Global Policy Solutions


Dan Callahan – Senior Research Scholar and President Emeritus, Hastings Center


Scott Kahan, MD, MPH – Director, STOP Obesity Alliance


To get started, follow the TEDMED Google+ Page or @TEDMED #greatchallenges on Twitter.