Healing ourselves, and healing our world

Many of us have heard the adage, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” At TEDMED, we embrace this philosophy; every year, we convene extraordinary people and ideas from across different disciplines who are all united in shaping a healthier future for our planet and its 7 billion people. And, at TEDMED 2016, we are honored to feature such committed, passionate citizens in our program.

One such actor is TEDMED Hive Innovator and EpiBiome CEO, Nick Conley. According to Nick, he founded EpiBiome in response to multi-drug-resistant “superbugs” that threaten to reverse the last one-hundred years of surgical advances if new antibiotics are not discovered, due to the risk of post-operative infection that is too high to justify all but the most necessary surgical procedures. In search for a substitute for antibiotic treatment, EpiBiome has taken to the sewer to explore bacteriophages – viruses that infect and destroy specific bacteria ­– as a natural and effective alternative. According to Nick, phages outnumber bacteria 10:1 and kill half the bacteria on the planet every two days. Importantly, some phages have already received “Generally Recognized as Safe” status from the FDA for use on food intended for human consumption.

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Image provided by Kinnos.

Meanwhile, TEDMED Hive Innovator Kevin Tyan, along with his co-founders at Kinnos, has taken a different approach to fighting infection. Recognizing the urgent need to improve decontamination in response to the Ebola epidemic, Kevin and his co-founders realized that regular bleach disinfectant wasn’t enough to protect health workers. Although bleach has been recommended by the World Health Organization as the best and most cost efficient disinfectant for surfaces contaminated by infectious disease, its effectiveness is limited by its transparency and the fact that it’s easy to miss spots and leave gaps in coverage. It also bounces off waterproof surfaces, much like rain bounces off an umbrella.

For Kevin, this was a challenge begging to be tackled head on. He and his co-founders created Highlight ­– a patent-pending powdered additive that colorizes disinfectants. This makes it easier to visualize, ensure full coverage, and adhere to surfaces. The color is only temporary, however, and fades once decontamination is complete.

Another TEDMED speaker who is not only deeply committed to protecting our health, but also that of our planet, is Gunhild Stordalen, Founder and President of the EAT Foundation. Gunhild believes that many of our major global health and environmental challenges are inextricably linked to food: what we eat, how our food is produced, and all that is wasted. With the knowledge that there is no single solution to this problem, the EAT Foundation works toward stimulating interdisciplinary research and catalyzing action across sectors to enable us to feed a growing global population with healthy food, from a healthy planet.

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Image provided by Caitlin Doughty.

Mortician and TEDMED speaker Caitlin Doughty is also deeply concerned about the health of our planet – particularly, the environmental risks of current burial practices. According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Southern California, traditional burials – where an embalmed body in a wooden coffin is sometimes placed in a concrete or metal vault ­– require more than 30 million board feet of hardwood, 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete and over 800,000 gallons of carcinogenic formaldehyde embalming fluid every year. Caitlin’s proposed solution? Eco-friendly death and burial practices, such as water cremation and natural composting. To that end, in 2012, Caitlin founded Undertaking LA, a progressive funeral home that provides alternative, green burial options.

Though they are taking wildly different approaches, these speakers and innovators are committed to a common goal – healing our world. We are inspired by their work, and are excited to see them speak at TEDMED 2016. We hope you’ll join us there.

Announcing TEDMED 2016 Speakers: Endgame?

What if we possess the knowledge to be the architects of our aging and eventual deaths?

As children, most of us counted down to our birthdays, eagerly anticipating the milestones that came with each new age. At some point in life, nostalgia for the past begins to replace our excitement for the future. Many of us are filled with fear and dread at the thought of aging into the unknown. What if we changed this narrative, embraced our childlike wonder, and revitalized our excitement for what lies ahead?

In a session called “Endgame?”, speakers from different walks of life will share personal discoveries and revelations that have shaped their lives. This session will challenge our personal and cultural perceptions of longevity, quality of life, caregiving, and death. Our insightful speakers include:


Caitlin Doughty
Progressive Mortician

Caitlin asks: What if we re-designed the funeral industry for an eco-friendly end of life?

With a proclivity for the macabre from an early age, atypical mortician Caitlin Doughty began her career in the funeral industry as a crematory operator. Currently a licensed funeral director and eco-friendly mortician in Los Angeles, Caitlin empower families to care for their dead and unites communities to prepare a death phobic culture for their inevitable mortality. Read More…


Cheryl Steed
Prison Psychologist

Cheryl asks: What if criminals could transform their identities after learning to become caregivers and patient advocates?

Clinical psychologist Cheryl Steed leads one of the Gold Coat Programs at the California Men’s Colony (CMC), a medium-security prison in central California. Through the program, Cheryl trains a select group of inmates–“Gold Coats”–to become caregivers to elderly or severely cognitively impaired inmates, including those with dementia. Read More…


Lucy Kalanithi
Caregiver

Lucy asks: What if we experienced death the way doctors do?

Stanford internist Lucy Kalanithi is the widow of neurosurgeon and writer Paul Kalanithi, who details his battle with Stage IV lung cancer at age 36 in his memoir When Breath Becomes Air. As a caregiver for her husband during all phases of his illness into his death, Lucy is dedicated to helping others choose the health care and end-of-life experiences that best align with their values. Read More…


Nir Barzilai
Longevity Scientist

Nir asks: What if a drug that targets the process of aging could help us live longer, higher quality lives?

Israeli internist Nir Barzilai has worked with a diversity of populations–from the Israeli Army, to a Cambodian refugee camp, to a Zulu village. Perhaps his most fascinating patient population is 600 centenarians, whom he has studied to understand the biology and genetics of exceptional longevity. Read More…


Tomás Ryan
Memory Detective

Tomás asks: What if the missing memories in amnesia were actually retrievable?

Tomás Ryan dedicates his work to understanding the neuroarchitecture of memory. Challenging conventional notions of memory storage, retrieval, and brain damage, his work sets the stage for potential memory recall in patients with amnesia due to trauma, stress, alcohol and drug abuse, dementia, and aging. Read More…

We will be announcing our final two sessions in the coming weeks! For more information about TEDMED, sign up for our newsletter and subscribe to our blog. Register today to join us at TEDMED 2016 from November 30 – December 2.