TEDMED Blog

Why we should listen to nurses

Written and submitted by Carolyn Jones

This guest blog post is by Carolyn Jones, best known for her socially proactive photographs and documentary films. Carolyn spoke on the TEDMED stage in 2016, and you can watch her talk here.


I always thought a nurse was a “just a nurse.” They take your temperature, they take your blood pressure and…that’s it. I even went through an elaborate dance with breast cancer and attributed my surviving the miserable, balding, nauseating chemo to the skill of a gifted nurse. And yet, I still had no idea what nurses were capable of, and how well they understood how we tick.

Director Carolyn Jones with nurse Joanne Staha, who helped her through chemotherapy, from the book “The American Nurse: Photographs and Interviews by Carolyn Jones.”

In 2011, I was asked to make a book to celebrate nurses. I thought I would make the book and move on. But when I finished it, I realized that I had only just begun to see nurses’ unique way of looking at the world. I wanted to learn more and dig deeper. So I decided to follow five nurses over the threshold into patients’ rooms and witness what they really do. That journey was nothing like what I expected. Nurses deal with life and death intimately every day. They help people in a way that is so personal, they see us naked, both emotionally and physically, and they guide us out of the depths of pain. They touch us, they comfort us, they care for us. And it doesn’t matter what color we are, what religion we practice or what political party we are affiliated with—nurses care for everyone.

Nurse Colleen Lemoine with her patient at LSU Interim Hospital.

One of the books that I cherish the most is Man’s Search for Meaning. In that book Viktor Frankl survives Auschwitz by identifying purpose. He gets through the horror by discovering what’s personally meaningful in his life. It’s a powerful message. It came to mind as I met nurses—they deal with what matters most in life every day as they usher patients and their families through complicated times.

Nurses throughout history have had an interesting and unique perspective on just about everything you can think of: poverty, war, school lunches, aging, home health, the prison system, hospital efficiency, coal mining, disaster relief, alcoholism, the end-of-life. They understand how these things affect our bodies and our minds.

Tonia works with her patients, inmates in the hospital ward at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.

Seeing the country through the lens of nurses has been a transformative journey for me. After 6 years of looking at issues through their non-judgmental, non-political perspective, I have discovered that we are really missing the boat if we aren’t reaching out to nurses on a regular basis about…well…everything. At least for my part, from now on, I want to consult them and hear their opinions.

Health is weird, we don’t really think about our own health until we feel sick. Then all of a sudden there is an urgency to get answers, to get things solved, but also for someone to take care of us. If we’re lucky, that person is a nurse. The skills required to care for another person are profoundly meaningful when we are hurting and quickly forgotten—like pain—as soon as we feel better. We remember the names of our doctors, but we often don’t remember the names of our nurses.

I’m not sure why we don’t place a higher value on the qualities that nurses embody. When we’re sick and we need help, nothing is more important than having someone there to care for us. Often, that’s a nurse.

Jason cares for his patient Jeff in his home in Appalachia.

Six months into The American Nurse book project, I was interviewing a nurse who uttered this tidbit of wisdom. She said, “Americans think that death is optional.” That idea propelled me to dig deeper into end-of-life issues in our country. I spent two years making a new documentary about the decisions we have to make as life-saving technologies advance even further and our choices become more numerous and infinitely more complicated.

Sister Stephen kisses the forehead of a dying resident, moments after she and the entire nursing staff came together to sing to her.

The making of this new film, Defining HOPE, took me on a journey to discover what makes life worth living. We’re in new territory. How are we supposed to know what to do—for ourselves and our loved ones—as we get closer to the end of life? If you were to ask 100 people how they define “quality of life” you would get 100 completely unique answers. What’s important to each of us is so individualized. But there’s one thing that is universal: no matter how we define it, research shows that we all hope for quality at the end of life. Nurses are in a unique position to help us figure out what that means for ourselves and our loved ones, and to take action by starting the conversation.

Nina Marrero sings with her children at Calvary Hospital in Bronx, NY.

Defining HOPE wants to jumpstart these critical conservations, and we hope that you’ll join us: www.HOPE.film.

Food can fix it! – A non-foodie´s journey to save the world, starting at the plate

Written and submitted by Gunhild Stordalen

This guest blog post is by Gunhild Stordalen, co-founder of The Stordalen Foundation and initiator of the Eat Forum. Gunhild spoke on the TEDMED stage in 2016, and you can watch her talk here.


I am an environmentalist at heart, but a medical doctor by education. Life takes some strange turns sometimes, and in 2009 I found myself serving on the board of one of Scandinavia´s largest hotel companies. There, I started looking for ways to reduce the hotel´s environmental impact as well as to improve the health of guests and employees. Quickly, my eyes focused on food.

Photo credit: Linus Sundahl-Djerf
Gunhild and EAT have hosted several events during the UN General Assembly. In 2016 they led a discussion on urban food systems. Learn more here.

In an average hotel, food and drinks account for as much as 70% of the environmental footprint. Additionally, what we put on hotel restaurant menus can have a huge impact on human health. My question was therefore: “What food could we serve that would be healthier for people, better for the climate and better for the environment?”

I searched the literature, read reports and called experts everywhere. I found lots of papers published on health and nutrition, climate-smart agriculture, organic food and biodiversity. But I found literally nothing that could answer my simple question: “What types of food are both healthy and environmentally sustainable?”

Not being able to find a healthy and sustainable menu solution for some 190 Nordic hotels was quite frustrating. But the fact that no one had the answer for how to sustainably feed a healthy diet to our growing population was straight up shocking!

What we eat and how we produce it is already causing some of our greatest health and environmental challenges. While almost 800 million people are getting too little food, more than 2 billion are getting too much, which causes them to become either overweight or obese. Another 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. Increasingly, poor diets are posing a bigger threat to global health than tobacco, alcohol and drugs.

At the same time, the agricultural sector is the single biggest driver of both climate change and environmental degradation. It causes more than 30% of the planet’s loss in biodiversity and consumes 70% of the world´s fresh water. The meat industry alone is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all the world´s cars, planes and ships combined. And, around one third of all food we produce is either lost or wasted.

Today, we produce enough calories to feed everyone, but those calories are unequally distributed and hugely inefficient. With business as usual, current population growth and diets trend toward more meat and animal-sourced foods; feeding the world’s population will mean increasing food production 50% by 2050.

There is no way we will reach the Paris Climate Agreement or the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals without a radical shift in the way we eat and produce our food. Getting it right on food is our great opportunity to get a lot right for both the health of people and the planet.

In 2013, I founded the EAT initiative with professor Johan Rockstrom and the Stockholm Resilience Center as our main academic partner. Last year, British research charity Wellcome Trust joined us, and together we established EAT Foundation. Gathering international leaders from science, politics, business and civil society, EAT is a global platform that aims to help speed up food systems transformation. Through our partnerships and collaborations, we create pathways and measures to make healthy and sustainable food choices accessible, affordable and convenient—for everybody, everywhere.

Photo credit: Linus Sundahl Djer
The EAT Stockholm Food Forum gathers leaders from science, business, politics and civil society, including chefs and activists. At last year´s conference, Jamie Oliver and Gunhild joined forces to get more food professionals involved in a healthy and sustainable food revolution.

I am a hard-core optimist. Even more so after seeing the rapidly growing awareness on the interlinkages between food, health and sustainability challenges in just these four years since I started EAT. I meet business leaders, investors, politicians, UN agencies and consumer organizations that are all ready for change, and I am thrilled to see healthy, green initiatives and innovations popping up everywhere!

Together, we can fix the food system! Of course, significant work still remains, from setting science-based targets to creating coherent policies, and in implementing new business models that are “all good” and not only “less bad”. But right now, the bottlenecks are not lack of evidence, lack of political will or lack of technology. The main obstacles are lack of collaboration and co-creation. I started EAT to connect the dots. That’s why I am proud to work with leaders and game-changers that work together for a healthier, happier and more prosperous future for all.

I´ve never been a foodie. To be honest, I can hardly cook. But I love food because it represents the closest thing we will get to a silver bullet for healthy people on a healthy planet. Whether you are the most powerful man in the world, sit on the board of a hotel chain or you simply prepare dinners for your family and friends, we all have a role to play. What better way to bring people together for a better world than over great food!

The Hovalin: A real-time synesthesia translator

Written and submitted by Kaitlyn Hova

This guest blog post is by Kaitlyn Hova. Kaitlyn is a professional violinist, composer, full stack web developer, designer, neuroscientist, and core team member of Women Who Code. She is also a synesthete—which means her sensory perception is quite different from what most people experience. Kaitlyn spoke on the TEDMED stage in 2016, and you can watch her talk here.


Most people don’t expect their understanding of the senses to drastically change beyond what we learn in grade school: sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. I was 21 years old when I made the jarring discovery that none of my fellow students experienced vivid colors and shapes when they heard musical notes. At first, my classmates called this ability “weird”. Actually, I later learned the official term: “synesthesia”! Finding out that you physically experience the world in such a fundamentally different way can feel isolating. However, it turns out that 1 out of 23 people have some type of synesthesia. What if the study of this ability that was once thought to be “strange” is actually the study of the diversity of the average human sensory experience?

Matt and Kaitlyn Hova, co-founders of Hova Labs

I had always wanted to find a way to accurately convey my experience of seeing sound. I believed that if people could see a simulation of my synesthesia in real time they would be able to make the jump to understanding the nature of it. With this idea in mind, my husband Matt and I co-founded Hova Labs three years ago. One of our first projects was creating a real-time sound → color synesthesia translator violin. Imagine a guitar tuner, but instead of the tuner showing the note “C” it shows what I see when I hear the note “C”, which is the color red. Further, imagine that the brightness of the color is driven by the volume of the instrument being played. (I should be clear, the colors that I experience when I hear notes of music are an experience that is unique to me. If we both hear the note “C” and you see blue but I see red, neither of us is “wrong”, we simply have different associations in our brain.)

Creating a synesthesia-translating violin wasn’t easy—it took us a year and a half of prototyping. We could have easily just strapped LEDs on any violin but we had a VISION: a synesthesia translator glowing violin. First, in order to figure out how to drive the lights inside of our violin, I created a color-coded map of a piano. Additionally, we knew we wanted the violin holding the synesthesia-driven lights inside of it to be translucent, yet at the time (2014), such an instrument didn’t exist (or if it did, it was probably way too expensive). Determined to make our vision a reality, we decided to take our concept a step further. We created The Hovalin: our 3D printable acoustic violin.

Piano keys through the eyes and ears of synesthete Kaitlyn Hova

In October of 2015, we released the Hovalin, and we made it available for anyone to download online along with a short shopping list of materials and “how-to” build instructions. Since the launch, we’ve continued to improve the design. You can see me playing our v3.1 design in my TEDMED talk!

After launching the Hovalin, we soon realized that our project had the potential to be a lot larger than we originally thought. Though today’s music education programs are systematically underfunded, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) grants are introducing 3D printers to kids at these same schools. We saw this as an opportunity: why not 3D print your music program?

Creating instruments with 3D printers is a solution that has never existed before. Today, all of the files are available to download for free at hovalin.com. If you have access to a consumer-level 3D printer, the total cost (including plastic, tuning pegs, strings, and bow) is $65. And this is just for one violin. With bulk purchases, we believe that this cost could be reduced drastically.

We already have a pilot program in Oakland, California, and we hope to expand to more schools around the country and the world. We believe that STEM programs can empower kids to solve their problems creatively while supporting the often under-funded music education programs in schools. We attribute our diverse backgrounds in music and tech to creating the Hovalin, and who knows what other great projects will come from kids that are given the chance to think creatively with STEM programs.

If you’re interested in learning more about Synesthesia, I encourage you to check out The Synesthesia Network. Also, you can check out more nerdy violin electronics in this blog post at Hova Labs.

The 21 Million

Written and submitted by Emtithal Mahmoud

This guest blog post is by Emtithal “Emi” Mahmoud, the reigning 2015 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion and 2016 Woman of the World Co-champion. Emi spoke on the TEDMED stage in 2016, and you can watch her talk here.


My grandmother, Nammah, never learned to read or write—where we came from, girls were forbidden from doing so. In May of 2016 I, her granddaughter, surrounded by friends and family, graduated from Yale University and closed the ceremony with something I, a woman, had written. But a number of factors had to fall in place before my family was able to reach that point.

Nearly 19 years before then, my mother, father, younger sister, and I had boarded a plane in Yemen, green cards in hand, after having left Sudan for safety well before. At the time, my father, a surgeon, and my mother, a medical lab technician, were exactly the kind of people history likes to laud as proof that immigrants are capable of incredible things—testaments to the triumph of humanity in the face of adversity. However, this valuing inherently comes at a cost, as if achievements represent human worth.

2 IDP women

Photo credit: Afaq Mahmoud, 2017
Two internationally displaced people speaking on women’s rights and how the war affects women, specifically focusing on the importance of education. Many women in the camps understand the necessity of their role in finding a way forward. Their names have been excluded for protection.

Today especially, with more than 65 million people displaced worldwide, 21 million of whom have become refugees, we often point to the attractive accomplishments of a select few as proof that refugees are worth saving and reduce the rest to a series of numbers.

What this focus on value or inherent worth suggests: in today’s world, if I and my grandmother were both contemporaries seeking refuge, I would be deemed worth the humanity, and she, a woman ultimately responsible for my entire existence, would not. What’s more, with recent policies, my family and I—even with the credentials that once could save us—would have been turned away once for Sudan, the country we were born in, and again for Yemen, the country in which we initially sought refuge. Together, our entire family would be seen as another component of the 21 million.

Loss is deeply personal, and yet we see it on a global scale almost every day. When this happens we become desensitized. Reversing that process and putting people back in front of the numbers is incredibly difficult, but incredibly necessary. This is precisely why I and we must speak of the individuals entrenched in the conflicts front and center in our world and not of their future success or earning potential. The most valuable thing we will miss is human life. There’s still so much to be done for all my sisters who will not have the same opportunity to prosper, or on even the most basic level, to survive.

Young student at Zamzam refugee camp school

Photo credit: Afaq Mahmoud, 2017
A young student at Zamzam refugee camp school in Northern Darfur. The photo was taken two weeks after an attack on Zamzam camp in 2015. In the absence of resources, the school depends solely on the work of volunteers, and its students and teachers live in constant fear of impending attacks.

I am often asked how it is that I stand by my identity and why I write and speak with conviction, despite the ramifications that may come with being a young, black, American, Afro-Arab, Muslim, woman. I often answer that it is because of my grandmother and the sacrifices that she and people like her have made and continue to make. I speak because my grandmother did not get the chance to and I am not alone. Earlier this year I joined the How to Do Good speaking tour with a series of incredible philanthropists and activists (including Fredi Kanouté, former West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur and Sevilla striker and founder of Sakina Children’s Village, and Dr. Rouba Mhaissen, an economist and activist featured in Forbes 2017 30 Under 30, and the founder of SAWA) and we’ve made it our mission to inspire positive action. This initiative, and so many like it, is exactly what we need to reignite empathy in a world that seems to have lost it.

Infant receiving medical treatment

Photo credit: Afaq Mahmoud, 2017
An infant receiving treatment at Zamzam refugee camp in Northern Darfur. The medicine she requires isn’t readily available in the remote region.

I believe that when we are spoken to politically, we are compelled to respond politically, when we are spoken to academically, we are compelled to respond academically, when we are spoken to with hate, we are compelled to respond with hate; but when we are spoken to as human beings, we are compelled to respond with our humanity. In this global moment with endless pressing questions and not many daring to answer them, my challenge to you is to respond with your own humanity.

Visit Emi on Facebook to learn more about her latest work.

TEDMED 2017 Speaker Artist Contest

Art and design are an important part of what we do at TEDMED, because they are powerful tools for exploring complex ideas and abstract thoughts. This point is driven home by the many artists who take our stage every year. Last year Emtithal “Emi” Mahmoud exhibited the power of poetry to communicate experiences and inspire empathy and action. In 2015, Melissa Walker shared the power that art can have to heal suffering minds. And in 2014, Sophie de Oliveira Barata showed how adding a personalized, artistic twist to prosthetics can empower the people who use them.

The work of these and other artists tell stories – a specific example of artistic storytelling was integrated into the TEDMED experience last year. Ted Meyer brought his “Scarred for Life” exhibit to TEDMED, and each piece explored a deeply personal story about the subject’s scars.

Whatever the medium, storytelling as an art form is central to our program at TEDMED. Each speaker carefully crafts their talk to share their unique gift with the TEDMED community, and each talk is therefore a piece of art they share with us.

And to celebrate the influence art plays at TEDMED, each year, we select an artist to create portraits of the speakers in our stage program. In the past, we’ve had the honor of working with internationally acclaimed combat artist Victor Juhasz, faculty and students from the Rhode Island School of Design, and internationally acclaimed Israeli author and illustrator Hanoch Piven. Each has brought personal vision and flair to the work, resulting in wildly different yet captivating illustrations. Their exceptional work was featured in TEDMED event and promotional materials, and was also incorporated into various elements of the event design to foster a creative, collaborative setting.

In 2015 and 2016, we turned inward to work with artists from the TEDMED community. We put out a call for artists, resulting in the privilege of working with talented artists Lauren Hess and Gabriel Gutierrez. This year, we’re doing it again. As we gear up for TEDMED 2017, we’re excited to recommence our search for an artist who can help us bring our speaker portraits to life. Our chosen artist will receive recognition on our website and in printed materials, and will be invited to attend TEDMED 2017 as our guest (travel and accommodations included).

If you’re interested, or know someone who might be, read on!

ABOUT THE PROJECT
The artist will need to produce roughly 50+ portraits in a 6-8 week timeframe. Illustrations will be based on reference photos that will be provided. Final portraits will need to be delivered as high res digital files based on our specifications.

ELIGIBILITY AND TIME FRAME
This call is open to amateur and professional artists, and all art mediums will be considered. While not required, the artist would ideally have a close tie to health and medicine. This could take form in the following ways:

Experience in the medical community
Experience working with patients
A personal story connecting the artist to health and medicine

The work will take place between May – July 2017.

HOW TO APPLY
To apply (or nominate an artist), please send an email to art@tedmed.com. Be sure to include a work sample, a brief bio, any relevant links, and details about the best way to get in touch (email, cell, etc.). If the artist is a good fit, someone from our team will reach out.

Application deadline: Midnight, April 15, 2017.

Announcing the TEDMED 2017 Research Scholars

Over the years, we’ve found that the curation of a powerful and compelling Stage Program relies on one secret ingredient: the TEDMED Community. From our Editorial Advisory Board and Research Scholars to our Partners and volunteers, the TEDMED Community is composed of all of the individuals and organizations that provide us with the insight and expertise to help identify the topics, themes, and Speakers that appear at the annual TEDMED event.

After completing the first half of our Editorial Advisory Board meetings on both the East and West Coasts, we are now bursting with captivating Speaker nominations for the TEDMED 2017 Stage Program. To ensure that each Speaker on the TEDMED stage represents high-quality and scientifically credible ideas in health and medicine, we rely on a group of carefully selected Research Scholars to help us vet each nomination.

TEDMED’s Research Scholars are a diverse group of experts from across the globe who specialize in a wide range of subjects, such as biophysics, health policy, neuroscience, immunology, bioinformatics, nutritional and metabolic biology, public health, and epidemiology. Regardless of their field, each Research Scholar is passionate about the future of health and medicine and has graciously invested their time and expertise to help shape the TEDMED 2017 Stage Program.

As we welcome the TEDMED 2017 Research Scholar class, we’d like to thank the TEDMED 2016 Frontline Scholars and volunteers for their hard work and support last year.

TEDMED’s 2017 Research Scholars represent organizations including the National Cancer Institute, The University of Chicago Medicine, the YMCA of the USA, The Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Stanford University School of Medicine, The World Health Organization, the Dell Medical School, and many more.

We are proud to announce the 2017 class of TEDMED Research Scholars, and we are deeply grateful for their contributions. Learn more about each of them below:

Ajay Khilanani, MD – Critical Care, Global Health, Telemedicine

Alex Cressman, MD, MSc – Disease, Healthcare Delivery

Amy Faith Ho, MD – Health Policy, Medical Humanities, Medicine

Ann M. Geiger, PhD – Cancer, Disparities, Epidemiology, Healthcare

Ata Kiapour, PhD, MMSc – Medical Devices and Wearables, Sports Injuries

Beth Taylor Mack, PhD – Health and Wellness Innovation

Bridget N. Queenan, PhD – Neuroengineering, Neuroscience

Bryon Petersen, PhD – Bioengineering, Stem Cell Biology

Christina Allison Gulotta, MPH – Global Health

Cindy Greatrex – Ologies in Telehealth, Radiological Intervention

Dezmond Taylor-Douglas, PhD – Immunology, Life Sciences, Obesity

Diana Lutfi – Medical Ethics, Social Systems, Worldviews

Diego Wyszynski, MD, MHS, PhD – Drug Safety, Pharmacoepidemiology, Pregnancy Registry

Emilie Grasset, PhD – Immunology

Geetha Rao, PhD – Medical Technology Innovation

Halima Moncrieffe, PhD – Autoimmunity, Knowledge Sharing, Pharmacogenomics

Happy D. Thakkar, MD – Cardiology, Care Coordination, Health IT

Jasmin Saric, PhD – Digital Strategy and Transformation

Jeffrey L. Blackman, MBA – Corporate Innovation, Entrepreneurship

Jill J. Williams, PhD – Bioengineering, Nutrition Science, Nutritional and Metabolic Biology

Joshua Brown, PharmD, PhD – Health Economics and Outcomes Research

Kaitlin E. Sundling, MD, PhD – Pathology, Quantitative Biology

Karen Palmer, MS, MPH – Healthcare Delivery and Funding, Health Policy

Kim Kristiansen, MD – Entrepreneurship, Research

Lisa Sundahl Platt, MS – Health Systems Science and Engineering

Nicole Stone, PhD Candidate – Cardiac Reprogramming, Epigenomics

Paul Lindberg, JD – Healthy Communities

Pooja Prabhakar – Global Health

Qiming Duan, MD, PhD – Epigenetics, Medicine

Ramsey Najm, PhD Candidate – Neurodegenerative Disease, Regenerative Medicine

Ritesh Bhattacharjee, MPH – Dentistry, Oral Oncology, Public Health

Rukmani Sridharan, MSc – Immune Response, Regenerative Medicine, Stem Cells

Sandor Bekasi, MD, MSc – Mobile Health, Primary Care

Shirley Yan – Public Health

Sneha R. Aidasani, MS – Global and Public Health, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Reproductive Health

Srdjan Saso, PhD – Fertility Preservation and Restoration, Oncofertility, Ultrasounds

Sudah Yehuda Shaheb, MD – Endocrinology, Medical Anthropology

Sumudu Perera, MD candidate – Global and Public Health, Health Innovation and Technology

Tabitha Moses, MS – Bioethics, Medicine, Neuroscience, Public Health

Tej Azad, BA – Bioinformatics, Digital Health

Teresa Wilson – Alternative Medicine, Biotechnology, Healthcare, Marketing

Tony Manuel, MD, MMM – Frontline Healthcare Delivery

We’ll soon be sharing the event theme for TEDMED 2017 and the various topics that will make up the Stage Programso stay tuned! And, if you’ve been thinking about joining us in Palm Springs this November 1-3, there is no better time to register. Click here to join us.

Announcing the TEDMED 2017 Editorial Advisory Board

Blockchain in healthcare; synthetic genomics; healthcare reform; the opioid epidemic; drones for good; the effect of social determinants on health; the cost of drug innovation; the impact of climate change on health. These are just a few of the topics that we explored in our first Editorial Advisory board meeting last week in New York City. We’re looking forward to our second meeting in San Francisco this coming week as we begin to design the Stage Program for TEDMED 2017. We work hard to ensure that the most important and timely topics in health and medicine are covered every year, and in order to curate a truly multidisciplinary program, we rely on the guidance and participation of the TEDMED Community—more specifically, TEDMED’s Editorial Advisory Board (EAB).

The EAB members contribute their time, expertise, and insights to help design TEDMED’s annual program. This year’s passionate EAB represents organizations that intersect all areas of health and medicine, including technology, academia, philanthropy, journalism, and much more. Their diversity ensures that TEDMED’s Stage Program represents a broad range of cutting-edge ideas in health and medicine.

The 21 individuals that make up this year’s EAB represent influential thought-leaders across the landscape of health and medicine. Some share their expertise after serving on the Board in previous years, while others bring the fresh perspective of being a new member.

We’re delighted and honored to announce the members of the TEDMED 2017 Editorial Advisory Board and we thank them for their collaboration:

Atul Butte, MD, PhD, Director of the Institute of Computational Health Sciences, University of California, San Francisco

Bijan Salehizadeh, MBA, MD, Managing Director, NaviMed Capital

Celine Gounder, MD, ScM, Internist, Epidemiologist, Journalist, and Filmmaker

Daria Mochly-Rosen, PhD, Professor of Chemical and Systems Biology, Stanford University; Founder and Director, Stanford University’s SPARK program

Giles Newton, PhD, Head of Editorial, Wellcome Trust; Editor-in-Chief, Mosaic

Hemai Parthasarathy, PhD, Scientific Director, Breakout Labs; Founding Partner, Breakout Ventures

Jeff Karp, Associate Professor, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Kafui Dzirasa, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University

Leonard Sender, MD, Director of Cancer Services, University of California

Lucy Kalanithi, MD, FACP, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine, Stanford School of
Medicine

Michael Painter, MD, JD, Senior Program Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Michael Penn, MD, PhD, Vice President of Diversity, Outreach, and Mentoring,
Gladstone Institutes

Orin Levine, PhD, Director of Vaccine Delivery, Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation

Pam Belluck, Health and Science Writer, New York Times

Roxanne Khamsi, Chief News Editor, Nature Medicine

Sandeep “Sunny” Kishore, MD, PhD, Associate Director, Arnhold Institute for Global Health

Stacey Chang, Executive Director, Design Institute for Health, University of Texas at Austin

Susan Skochelak, MD, MPH, Group Vice President, Medical Education American Medical Association

Udaya Patnaik, Founder and Principal, Jump Associates

Ursheet Parikh, Partner, Mayfield Fund

Vanessa Ruiz, Founder of Street Anatomy

A Global Mindset for Local Innovations

This guest blog post is by Partho Sengupta, the incoming Director of Cardiovascular Imaging and Chair of Cardiovascular Innovation at the Heart and Vascular Institute at West Virginia University, Morgantown. He spoke on the TEDMED stage in 2016 and you can watch his talk here.


Dr. Sengupta scanning and educating volunteers in American Society of Echocardiography Humanitarian Events in Sirsa and Delhi, India in 2011. Image courtesy of the American Society of Echocardiography (ASE) foundation for cardiovascular ultrasound (www.asefoundation.org).

By 2030 cardiovascular disease is projected to account for 25 million deaths worldwide. Over the last few decades, the cardiovascular community globally has continued to respond to this pandemic with groundbreaking innovations. However, the diffusion of innovation remains unequal since healthcare sectors around the world are characterized by social inequality, depending on where the patient lives and the system in which care is received. When I came to the US in 2004, I wondered if my research or any of my breakthroughs would ever impact the lives of patients in India or other countries.

In 2011, I was tasked by the American Society of Echocardiography (ASE) to develop international programs that address educational needs of the international membership. And here was an opportunity to engage people from both US and abroad in a meaningful way. Inspired by the work of Saint Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insaan and the help of my colleagues who perform humanitarian work in Sirsa, a rural village town in North India, I decided to combine humanitarianism with new technology as a model of innovation. One of my first projects in India brought together industry support, membership engagement, education and research simultaneously over 2 days. We performed focused echocardiographic studies with Web-based assessments in which over 1000 examinations were performed in remote India over two days, which were uploaded to the cloud and read by over 75 institutions worldwide. After the success of the first event, we performed several such cardiovascular camps and simultaneously educated local health personnel – a practice that now forms the heart of the ASE Foundation Programs. It has been fulfilling to see the enthusiastic adaption of such humanitarian program by societies across UK, Europe, Asia and South America.

ASE volunteers who participated in the humanitarian-innovation event in Delhi, India. Image courtesy of the ASE Foundation for Cardiovascular Ultrasound (www.asefoundation.org).

We in the United States are diverse and form a microcosm of different societies and communities, each with their own specific needs in this large health care system. I have often pondered if the real value of addressing the technological and educational needs of the global healthcare community could be in finding solutions to some of our own needs within the US- an investment with dual purpose! There are regional pockets in the US with extremely high rates of death and morbidities related to income, education level, sex, race, and ethnicity and employment status. One of the states with the highest prevalence of cardiovascular disease (13.7%) is West Virginia. The rate of heart attacks is the highest in the nation (7.8%). The prevalence of obesity in adults is 35.1%, with over 40% having hypertension and only two out of 10 adults ever screened for cardiovascular risks. The expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act resulted in nearly half a million new enrollees in Medicaid by 2015. However, the state continues to grapple with efforts to reduce shortage of healthcare professionals.

The success of the humanitarian innovation program carried out in India by Dr. Sengupta also kindled interest in other world societies. Seen in the picture are volunteers of a similar project that was carried out by British Heart Foundation in Africa. Image courtesy of the Mark Monaghan, British Society of Echocardiography (www.echoinafrica.org).

In mid 2016, at the same time I was asked to participate in TEDMED, I received an invitation from a newly formed Heart and Vascular Institute at the West Virginia University, Morgantown to steer the vision for a statewide Noninvasive Cardiovascular Imaging program with creation of a Cardiovascular Innovation Center that would focus on developing new strategies. Some might question why I would ever leave my position in New York City and move to West Virginia. But as I put my TEDMED talk together, I realized perhaps West Virginia offered a fertile ground for innovation to implement the vision of automated technologies, robotics and implement novel processes to screen latent cardiovascular disease that I was talking about.

The successful humanitarian-innovation projects in India spurred interests widely. Here is seen a similar project organized along with Care Harbor healthcare clinic for the uninsured, underinsured and underserved in LA County in 2014 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. This was the ASE Foundation’s first U.S.-based humanitarian mission besides the other programs carried out in Vietnam, Argentina, Philippines, Kenya, central China, and Cuba. Image courtesy of the ASE Foundation for Cardiovascular Ultrasound (www.asefoundation.org).

When I think about the opportunities over the years that have come my way, I feel fortunate and it becomes even more relevant that I find ways not just to practice medicine but push the field forward meaningfully. What if high resource urban health care center in the US may have locked up the funding and physicians, creating even greater disparities in the US? Perhaps I feel that there is opportunity to disrupt this meaningfully.

I believe that organizations like TEDMED can encourage free minds to make a real change, and I certainly believe, as my talk travels far and wide, it could serve as a vehicle for engaging collaborations with industry partners, non-profit organizations, national societies, local state bodies and university professionals to bring this vision to fruition in West Virginia and the world.

Finding common ground through music

This guest blog post is by Sam Maher, a West Australian instrumentalist and drummer who is best known for his unique playing style on the handpan. He spoke and performed on the TEDMED stage in 2016 and you can watch his talk here.


In 2013 I found myself caught in the midst of a torrential downpour in the city centre of Perth, Western Australia – stunned, I decided to run for it. As I bolted for shelter within the central train station I was completely unaware of the pivotal encounter that would soon take place and change the direction of my life forever. Catching my breath and wiping the rain from my brow I accepted the fact that I wouldn’t be leaving the station anytime soon and took a seat against the wall of a deli that had its roller shutters pulled down – Sunday trading was still a relatively new concept in Perth back then and the station was completely abandoned.

A couple of weeks before this I received an instrument in the mail direct from Germany which I spent close to a year obsessively searching for. It wasn’t easy to find – the instrument, still in its infancy, had only been successfully crafted by a handful of committed artists across the globe, and the hypnotic tones that it created when struck caused a ripple effect around the world, establishing hoards of dedicated admirers, all desperate to get their hands on one – myself included.

The original name of this instrument is the “hang” – created by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schemer in Switzerland in 1999 after many years of researching the construction of the traditional steel pans of Trinidad and Tobago. By combining these techniques to the ideas of other ethnic percussion instruments such as the Udu of Africa and the gamelan instruments of Indonesia the Hang was born. The idea of the instrument laid dormant for several years, confined to its birthplace in the Swiss mountains and inside the hearts of the very select few that were lucky enough to be accepted to own one. The instrument’s appeal grew when the internet began finding its way into households worldwide, and before too long the hang was a viral phenomenon. With the demand far outweighing the supply, independent innovators attempted to fill the gap by recreating their own versions of the hang, each giving it their own title. The controversy that followed is still in full force today and somewhere along the way in an attempt to void the feud it was decided that the generic term for the instrument would be the “handpan” unless the instrument was in fact an original hang made by Felix or Sabina.

Now – back to the train station.

I had my handpan with me that stormy afternoon, and the situation presented a perfect opportunity for me to experiment with it. So experiment I did. For close to an hour I sat with my eyes closed as I navigated my hands around the instrument’s cylindrical surface, striking each hammered circle with my finger tips and the bulging knuckles of my thumbs, hearing the smooth frequency that arose and observing how each carefully placed note related to one another as the metal vibrated in perfect harmony. When I opened my eyes I found myself seated next to an elderly aboriginal woman who appeared to be homeless. She looked at me with a tear in her eye as she asked if I could continue playing. Over the next half hour we were both swept up in a wave of emotion as I bore witness to the downpour of her life’s trials and tribulations; living as an Aboriginal woman inside a country that has chosen to strip her of rights, and rape and ignore her. The misery and power of that moment changed my life forever.

 

Music is unique in its ability in allowing us to experience the same emotions regardless of political views, race, sexuality, faith – it proves that we are the same, and brings us together. It allows us to express and understand our feelings freely, to come to terms with the difficulties, the triumphs and the collective challenges we face in our lives.

 

The handpan has proved itself as a powerful communication tool capable of transcending language, cutting straight to the emotional core of anyone who chooses to listen to it. In the the time that followed that chance encounter 4 years ago I have spent 14 months traversing the Americas, from Mexico City down to the Patagonian region of Argentina, learning the instrument on the go, surviving mostly from the money and acts of human kindness I earned from the streets. At the end of that trip a video surfaced of me improvising with the instrument in the subways of New York City which subsequently reached over 20 million people. I have now performed in over 22 countries around the world, and have come into contact with hundred of thousands of people completely different than myself, yet for a brief moment of time we were all the same. To be accepted and accept these otherworldly places, people and ideologies, so different to my own, through the language of music and the artistry of the handpan is something that will never fail to astound me.

Love is Not Enough

This guest blog post is by Sue Klebold, passionate advocate for brain health awareness and mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the two shooters at Columbine High School in 1999. She spoke on the TEDMED stage in 2016 and you can watch her talk here.


It has been almost 18 years since my son and his friend killed twelve students and a teacher at Columbine High school, and injured more than twenty others before killing themselves. From the moment the tragedy happened, it seemed to belong to the planet rather than the community. Live news coverage of its evolution reached every corner of the world, and people across the globe seemed to know what was happening in the school before some of its victims did.

At the time of the tragedy, Americans rarely heard about school shootings, and 24/7, on-the-scene news coverage was in its infancy. Social media as we know it today didn’t exist. I didn’t own a cell phone, and I was just learning to use the Internet. I had no idea that my seventeen-year-old son could purchase guns without my knowledge or permission. I believed that suicide was something that happened in other families – not in mine – because I loved my children deeply and I believed that my love would protect them. I didn’t think about homicide because I’d never known anyone who was killed or who had killed someone else.

A lot has changed since the Columbine tragedy, but a lot hasn’t. We hear more about heartbreaking murder-suicide events in the news, but we are just beginning to consider the role suicidality might have played in the incident. Whatever concerns we may have had about youth suicide and teen depression in 1999 couldn’t have prepared us to accept the ongoing increase in these health problems nearly twenty years later. Despite growing efforts to mitigate depression and suicidal thoughts/actions in youth, we have not been able to reverse the rates that continue to inch upward.

As I began a journey of recovery after the tragedy, I tried to find a way to accept the horror my son perpetrated. In my desire to understand, I learned that if my son had gotten effective help in a timely manner, he probably would not have participated in the shootings or taken his own life. My eyes were opened to the extreme costs to society of not providing adequate care in a timely manner. The tragedy itself, followed by my own bouts of panic disorder after the shootings, convinced me that advocating for brain health was the most important work I could do.

Numerous efforts to reduce suicide rates and improve mental health care are in development around the world. Many of these focus on system improvements within schools, hospitals or the military. They rely on research from a broad spectrum of disciplines.

The umbrella of brain health is vast and it’s hard to know where to start. When I am asked what people can do when they struggle with lethal thoughts, the first thing I suggest is to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273- TALK (1-800-273-8255) or go to the website at http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org. The Lifeline provide free and confidential support to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis all day, every day, across the U.S.

In my own efforts to raise awareness and improve services for those who struggle, I chunk the work into three major areas of focus.

1) We need to remove the psychological barriers that prevent people from seeking help. Too many people fear negative consequences from revealing their pain, or believe that their inability to function normally is a character flaw rather than an illness. Unfortunately, the better they hide their aberrant thoughts, the more difficult it becomes for others to recognize their need for care. (This is what happened with my son.)

2) We need to increase the general public’s knowledge about mental illness and the recognize signs that someone’s brain health may be deteriorating. This includes learning better ways to talk, to listen and to respond.

3) Sadly, those who know they need help can’t always connect with professionals who can provide a continuum of effective, affordable, evidence-based interventions and treatment. Much work needs to be done to educate professionals, and improve the systems in which they work.

The work is there and there is plenty for each of us to do. Let’s get going.