A prescription for… art?

It’s safe to say that, when we think about personalized medicine, one of the last things that comes to mind is music. But, should it? These days, music streaming apps aren’t only organized by genre; you can easily find curated playlists that are designed to put you in a certain mood, or help you reach a goal (how about some “Cure those Monday morning blues” or “Songs to wake up happy,” anyone?). Many of us regularly use music as a tool to help us focus on the task at hand, or to pump ourselves up before a challenging workout.

Image courtesy of ShutterstockThere’s nothing particularly surprising about the fact that music affects how we feel. But, do we really understand what it does to our brains and bodies? The physiological and neurological effects of music are largely a mystery – one that Ketki Karanam, Head of Science at The Sync Project, is eager to solve. The Sync Project – whose Advisory board members include artists like Peter Gabriel, as well as neuroscientists and machine learning experts – is designing the first large scale data collection and machine learning models to understand these effects. It will identify how music’s structural properties – like beat and tempo – can affect our biometric rhythms, such as heart rate, sleep patterns, and brain activity.

The goal of the initiative? To identify potential music therapeutics that would serve as an alternative to drugs for health issues like insomnia, pain, and anxiety. Like Ketki, the relationship between music and medicine has also been a lifelong interest for Richard Kogan, who has led a distinguished career as both a psychiatrist and a concert pianist. A professor at the Weill Cornell Medical College, Richard has developed a series of renowned lecture-recitals, in which he examines the influence of psychological and psychiatric factors on the creative work of great composers, like Schumann, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Gershwin. In part, Richard is motivated by a desire to destigmatize mental illness by highlighting savants with mental disorders, whose symptoms may have inspired their creative processes.

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Scarred for Life, Ted Meyer

For both Ketki and Richard, music and medicine are inseparable. But does the relationship between the two extend beyond music, to other forms of art? According to artist and curator Ted Meyer, it does. Having been diagnosed with Gaucher disease, a rare genetic illness, at age 6, Ted spent years in hospital rooms creating paintings that depicted the loneliness, fatigue, and pain he experienced. Decades later, after a new drug was discovered to treat those symptoms, the subject of Ted’s art has changed. Today, his 18 year old project, “Scarred for Life,” chronicles the trauma and courage of people who have lived through accidents and health crises. Using this mixture of personal stories and a love for art, Ted has set out to improve the doctor-patient relationship. As an Artist in Residence at the USC Keck School of Medicine, Ted curates patient-artists whose work ties to the medical curriculum; for example, an artist with asthma for a class on the respiratory system. Ted hopes to expand this program to other medical schools, with a goal of teaching future doctors to look at their patients beyond their diagnoses, and view them as complex, whole human beings.

We are delighted that Ketki, Richard, and Ted will each be speaking on the TEDMED 2016 stage, where they will share their discoveries and unique insights about the relationship between art and medicine. We invite you to join us this November 30-December 2, in Palm Springs, CA, to learn more from them and other extraordinary speakers.

Announcing TEDMED 2016 Speakers: Social + Science

What if social and environmental factors are inextricably entwined, not just with the culture of health, but also with its outcomes?

As children, we thought of health as sickness and cure: if we felt ill, we anticipated cough syrup, a visit to the doctor, or perhaps the unpleasant pinch of a shot. But, as we’ve aged, our understanding of health has expanded, as the field of healthcare has itself. Today, we acknowledge that health permeates all aspects of our lives–where we live, what we eat, where we work, how we age, and more. Even the simplest social interactions can shape health outcomes in ways that touch communities across the globe.

In our Social + Science session, TEDMED 2016 speakers help us explore just how social agents affect our health. From the impacts of race and poverty on human behavior to the promising potential of evidence-based medical marijuana and music therapies, this session unlocks unprecedented connections between social and scientific sides of our world. We are thrilled to introduce:


Alia Crum
Mindset Researcher

Alia asks: What if our mindset determines our health outcomes?

Stanford professor, athlete, and psychologist Alia Crum investigates the effects of mindset on core aspects of behavioral health. As the director of the Mind & Body Lab  and the health director at Stanford SPARQ, Alia leads researchers to better define and utilize the roles social and psychological forces play in overcoming chronic disease. Read More…



David Casarett
Doctorly Detective

David asks: What if mainstream healthcare operated more like a medical marijuana dispensary?

David Casarett is a palliative care physician and author who has combined an investigative first person approach   with rigorous, evidence-based medicine to make sense  of marijuana’s therapeutic potential, including its adverse   effects. David is a Full Professor of Medicine at the Duke   University School of Medicine, and Chief of Palliative  Care for the Duke Health System. Read More…


David Williams
Public Health Sociologist

David asks: What if the factors that cause some Americans to be sicker than others were as well understood as the genetic risk of disease?

David Williams has played a visible national leadership role in raising awareness levels about health disparities and identifying interventions to address them. In 2008, David was ranked as the world’s Most Cited Black Scholar in the Social Sciences, and, in 2014, Thomson Reuters ranked him as one of the World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds. Read More…


Johannes Haushofer
Money Behaviorist

Johannes asks: What if we could treat the psychological consequences of poverty?

Neurobiologist and Princeton University professor Johannes Haushofer explores whether poverty has particular psychological and neurobiological consequences, and whether these consequences, in turn, affect economic decisions. Read More…


Ketki Karanam
Musical Decoder

Ketki asks: What if we could harness the personalized therapeutic effects of music?

Biologist and technology entrepreneur Ketki Karanam harnesses music to create solutions to conditions like dementia and autism through The Sync Project. As The Sync Project’s co-founder and Head of Science, Ketki created the platform to personalize the therapeutic effects of music. Read More…


Kristin Neidlinger
Expressive Tech Fashion Designer

Kristin asks: What if wearables could reflect our innermost emotions?

Kristin Neidlinger is the founder of Sensoree, wearable technology with auditory, visual and tactile displays to promote “extimacy” (externalized intimacy) and communicate the wearer’s emotions to the outside world. With a background in dance therapy and the performing arts, Kristin works with futuristic fabrics made of sustainable materials that are embedded with sensitive technologies to enhance proximity and telepathy between human and machine. Read More…

Stay tuned for more TEDMED 2016 speaker announcements in the coming weeks. Don’t forget to stay connected by signing up for our newsletter and subscribing to our blog. Register now to join us in Palm Springs, CA this November 30 – December 2.