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.

Engage with RWJF at TEDMED 2016

Last year at TEDMED, we kicked-off a conversation with our partner, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), around building a Culture of Health – a movement to improve the health and well-being of everyone in img_2000America. Our discussion last year focused on Making Health a Shared Value, one action area of the RWJF Culture of Health Framework, and this year we’re excited to explore another action area – Creating Healthier, More Equitable Communities. This conversation will be inspired by your perspective and input about what makes your communities – the places where you live, work, learn, and play – healthy, and the role we can all play in making them healthier, and more equitable.

From now throughout TEDMED 2016 and beyond, we look forward to creatively exploring RWJF’s 2016 TEDMED What If? question: “What if we valued our community’s health as much as our own?”

We’ll start this conversation with a pre-event #healthycommunities social media campaign – so join us on Twitter @TEDMED and @RWJF to share your thoughts about the importance of #healthycommunities and pictures of healthy places in your own community. We’re starting today, so look for these prompts and share your responses – we’ll incorporate them into an installation in The Hive onsite in Palm Springs!

How could grocery stores better support a Culture of Health? #healthycommunities

How would you reimagine playgrounds to build a Culture of Health? #healthycommunities

How could parking lots be used to create #healthycommunities?

How can transportation policy better support #healthycommunities?

Also, stay tuned for a ten-part Blog Series, curated by RWJF, showcasing the real and tangible ways that communities around the country are implementing programs focused on health and equity. Featuring each of the seven RWJF 2016 Culture of Health Prize winning communities, and several guest posts from TEDMED community members, this series is sure to inspire us all to improve the health and equity of our own communities.

img_2011Continuing what we hope is a robust and dynamic conversation and engagement on-line leading up to TEDMED, a Creating Healthier, More Equitable Communities Lunch will take place in Palm Springs on Thursday, December 1st. Over lunch, the entire TEDMED Delegation will gather as a community to explore programs, activities and policies that play a vital role in creating healthier, more equitable communities and help to build a Culture of Health around the country.

We can’t wait to hear from you and learn about the big and small ways that you are improving the health and equity of your community!

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.

The Hopeful Future of Precision Medicine

Many of us have experienced the pitfalls of a “one-size-fits” all approach to medicine, where physicians prescribe treatment for the “average patient” instead of the one sitting in front of them. By not accounting for the variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle that are often so closely tied to health and illness, treatments end up falling short and sometimes do more harm than good. Fortunately, the “precision medicine” movement, which takes into account the patient’s unique characteristics when prescribing treatment and prevention strategies, has gained traction in recent years.

In 2015, President Obama funded the Precision Medicine Initiative to ensure that researchers could focus on creating efficient and effective ways to integrate more personalized treatment plans into the current healthcare and medical system. This year, we’re excited to have some of the front-runners in the precision medicine movement on the TEDMED stage!

Photo credit: Bryce Vickmark. Image provided by PanTher Therapeutics.

Photo credit: Bryce Vickmark. Image provided by PanTher Therapeutics.

An immediate goal of the Precision Medicine Initiative is to apply this approach to catalyze cancer research. While we have learned more about cancer prevention, detection, and treatment in the past 2 decades than we have learned in the previous centuries, we still haven’t found a treatment that doesn’t harm the patient in the process. The TEDMED 2016 Hive company PanTher Therapeutics is working to change this. As their CEO Laura Indolfi puts it, “it seems very counterintuitive to have a whole body treatment to target a specific organ.” The company is studying the precise delivery of existing, already proven chemotherapy agents directly onto the tumor using flexible plastic patches for consistent, slow release over time. PanTher is completing pre-clinical testing prior to initiating human trials for patients with pancreatic cancer, but hope to apply the same technique to treat other forms of cancer in the near future.

Another goal of the Precision Medicine Initiative is to harness the power of data to highlight trends about disease and health, in search of more effective treatments. This is precisely what Andrew A. Radin and his team at twoXAR are working on. The TEDMED Hive organization has produced efficacy signals in preclinical studies in multiple diseases. To date, twoXAR has completed over 75 disease prediction models and has 9 drug discovery collaborations, including both rare and common conditions.

Ultimately, the Precision Medicine Initiative aims to translate this method of prevention, treatment and care across all fields of health and healthcare. One area where precision medicine could have a measurable impact is in the study of neurodegenerative diseases, due to the relationship between genetics and neurodegenerative disease. The TEDMED 2016 Hive organization Denali Therapeutics is researching the genetic causes and biological processes underlying neurodegenerative disease and using this information to create targeted treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases. Led by Chief Medical Officer, Carole Ho, Denali’s research team has identified multiple drug targets that could lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

TEDMED 2016 Hive organization Frequency Therapeutics is looking to uncover the body’s hidden biological potential to heal itself. Led by Co-Founder, President and CEO, David Lucchino, Frequency Therapeutics is developing small molecule drugs that activate progenitor cells within the body to restore healthy tissue in a precise and controlled way. With recent discoveries in stem and progenitor cell biology, Frequency Therapeutics is creating therapies that could reverse sensory hearing loss by targeting specific hair cells within the inner ear. Their approach is promising not just for the almost 1 billion people across the world who are affected by hearing loss, but for the potentially large impact on other diseases as well.

Image provided by Charles Chiu.

Image provided by Charles Chiu.

Using the precision medicine approach would also enable us to prevent the spread of disease much more efficiently. With the recent Ebola and Zika outbreaks, many are wondering how we can stop the spread of similar outbreaks in the future. Charles Chiu, an infectious disease physician and researcher, is pioneering the clinical implementation of a tiny next-generation sequencing device from Oxford Nanopore Technologies that could drastically change the way we respond to the next deadly bug. This device “can detect all pathogens – virus, bacteria, fungus, parasite known or unknown – in a single test,” says Chiu, and can do so in a matter of hours and in remote, low-resource settings. By using this device, we could decrease the time it takes to find diagnoses, which would help curb the spread of outbreaks and enable clinicians to provide timely and effective treatments for their patients.

Thanks to these extraordinary innovations, the future is looking brighter already. From preventing pandemics; to defeating neurodegenerative diseases; to curing and preventing hearing loss; to accelerating drug discovery; and creating a new therapy for cancer, each of these TEDMED Speakers and Hive innovators are working to ensure that the goals laid out in the Precision Medicine Initiative become a reality for generations to come.

With these exciting breakthroughs just around the corner, we are excited to hear more about these inspiring innovations as these Speakers and Hive entrepreneurs take the stage at TEDMED 2016. Register today to join us in Palm Springs, CA, this November 30 – December 2.

Healing Trauma in Unexpected Ways

Many of us have dealt with, or are dealing with, some form of trauma. This year at TEDMED, three Speakers will take the stage to share how they are helping relieve the effects of trauma using what some view as non-traditional healing methods. Whether it’s examining how marijuana can treat neuropathic pain, using guided imagery and drawing to heal psychological trauma, or using spoken word to heal the emotional wounds of war, the TEDMED Speakers described below are passionate about relieving suffering and improving lives.

Image provided by David Casarrett.

Image provided by David Casarett.

One of those speakers is David Casarett, the director of the Duke Center for Palliative Care, whose recent work has focused on medical marijuana – something David originally thought was a joke. But after researching the topic for his book, Stoned: A Doctor’s Case for Medical Marijuana, he realized that for many patients, there’s nothing funny about it. David spoke to people who use marijuana – often obtained from specialized clinics – to treat seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder, and neuropathic pain (caused by nerve damage), which is notoriously difficult to treat. David sees potential not only in the use of medical marijuana to treat certain ailments but also in the way medical marijuana dispensaries have figured out how to deliver effective patient-centered care.

James Gordon, a Harvard-educated psychiatrist, has spent much of his life listening to and lessening the suffering of those who have experienced severe trauma – from runaway homeless children, to people living with life-threatening illnesses, to survivors of Civil War. In 1991, he founded the Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM) with the goal of creating a “worldwide healing community where people use practical mind-body skills to move through suffering and confusion toward a more hopeful, healthy, and confident future.” CMBM describes mind-body medicine as the use of meditation; guided imagery; yoga and exercise; self-expression in words, drawing, and movement; and, small group support to deal with the trauma and stress we all experience.

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Photo credit: The Center for Mind-Body Medicine.

Jim and his team started their work in the US teaching mind-body medicine to health professionals so they could integrate it into their practices in hospitals and clinics, schools and community-based programs. Soon Jim turned his attention to some of the darkest and most troubled places on the planet. CMBM began working in Mozambique, South Africa and Bosnia, and in 1998 – when war broke out in Kosovo –  Jim traveled there. Ultimately, CMBM’s faculty trained 600 Kosovar health workers and educators and the CMBM program became a pillar of the nation-wide Community Mental Health system. In the years since, Jim and his CMBM team of 160 have created what is likely the world’s largest, most effective program for population-wide psychological healing. The local teams they have trained have worked successfully with more than 200,000 children and adults in Gaza and Israel and with tens of thousands more in Southern Louisiana after hurricane Katrina, in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, with US veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and long-traumatized American Indians on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Peer-reviewed scientific research has demonstrated that these programs reduce post traumatic stress disorder by 80%. Everywhere they are offered, they enhance resiliency and bring healing and hope. Articles in The New York Times and The Washington Post and a 60 Minutes segment which features Jim’s work with war-traumatized children in Gaza and Israel convey the life-transforming power of his work, and his book, Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression shows how these techniques can be used by all of us who deal with our own forms of trauma and stress.

Image provided by Emi Mahmoud.

Image provided by Emi Mahmoud.

Another Speaker at TEDMED this year, Emi Mahmoud, uses self expression in words to help herself and others heal the traumatic wounds of war. Born in Sudan, Emi grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from Yale University earlier this year, where she studied Anthropology and Molecular Biology. It was at Yale that she began to excel in Spoken Word Poetry – a form of oral poetry performed live on stage – and in 2015, she won the Individual World Poetry Slam competition. Her poetry and performances are powerful, heartfelt and heart wrenching forms of expression, many of which are focused on Sudan and its people – often members her own family – who have become victims of the Civil War and famine that have plagued the country for decades. Addressing the fears and trauma of life in Sudan, and life as a refugee, is something Emi is passionate about. She has worked with the Yale Refugee Project and the Darfur Alert Coalition to help raise awareness about genocide worldwide, she teaches spoken word poetry to young people around the world as a way to empower and help them deal with the trauma and hardships they face, and she advocates for global education – in September of this year she delivered a powerful spoken word performance at the launch of the UN’s Report by the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity. Her spoken word poetry is most powerfully felt when seen, so watch more of her performances via the links on her TEDMED page, and prepare to be moved.

We are honored to have these three compassionate, impressive, and inspiring speakers at TEDMED this year. Join us in Palm Springs to hear their talks live!

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 the TEDMED 2016 Speaker Illustrator: Gabriel Gutiérrez

There is an undeniable relationship between healing and art, not only for the audience, but also for the creator. For many, the act of creating can be therapeutic, providing respite from everyday challenges through cultivating the power of personal expression. The healing nature of art is an important feature of the TEDMED stage program that will be addressed by a number of our speakers, including the artistic patient advocate Ted Meyer, music-medicine connector Richard Kogan, and civic-minded composer Dan Visconti.

But we don’t only celebrate art on stage. Committed to multidisciplinary thinking, TEDMED carefully crafts every aspect of our annual event to capture the imagination, and art and design are core components of the overall TEDMED experience. To that end, every year, TEDMED selects an artist from its community to create vivid portraits of the TEDMED speakers. In the past, we’ve had the honor of working with internationally acclaimed artists and supporting young artists through programs at the Rhode Island School of Design whose unique talents resulted in captivating work.

When we began our search for the TEDMED 2016 Speaker Illustrator, we were dedicated to finding undiscovered talent. In February, we set out to crowdsource an artist from the wonderfully diverse TEDMED community. In the months that followed, we received dozens of applications from all over the world, including Russia and the Middle East, which showcased outstanding examples of creativity in action.

We are so very proud to announce this year’s speaker illustrator: Gabriel Gutiérrez. Hailing from Mexico, Gabriel is a 20-year-old film student passionate about different art forms, including drawing and writing. Not only will Gabriel’s speaker illustrations be featured in the TEDMED program guide and website, they’ll be reprinted, larger than life, to be enjoyed on-site at this year’s event in Palm Springs, CA.

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Gabriel Gutiérrez

Intrigued by Gabriel’s personal story and curious to learn more about his drive to create art, we reached out to him with a few questions. Read on to learn more…

blogGabriel, did you always know you wanted to be an artist?

Gabriel: Ever since I was young, I’ve always had a special attitude. My mom has told me that I was a very serious child, one who would rather observe
his surroundings instead of expressing himself with noises and actions. I’ve enjoyed drawing all my life, which has made me feel proud of calling myself an artist.

In addition to drawing, do you work in other media as well?

I happen to enjoy writing just as much as I do drawing and painting, because the act of making something out of nothings and everythings has no limit.

What roles have health and medicine played in your art?

When I was little, I was diagnosed with Gilles de la Tourette’s Syndrome, and it was a thing that I couldn’t manage to understand. I never felt even slightly different until I became self-aware that, somehow, maybe I was. However, after focusing on art for a few years, I was finally able to control my tics. It seemed as if they had disappeared.

Amazing. What do you think accounts for this?

I remember reading an article where it said that tics are similar to scratching and itch, where a person with GTS will repeat the tic until it feels just right. Maybe drawing did that for me, and maybe pouring so much time into the creative process didn’t leave any time for the mysterious itch.

Are your symptoms completely gone, then?

When I find myself trapped in nervousness or stress and am unable to let my artistic me out, I start blinking and sniffing and rolling my eyes again. It’s something about myself that I happen to enjoy, even if it might look silly.

What is your view on the connection between creativity and our emotional and physical health?

Creating is something that I love deeply, because it’s something that brings comfort in every situation.

Our deepest gratitude to Gabriel for sharing his talents with the TEDMED community.

A Beginner’s Guide to Insect Farming

This guest blog post is by TEDMED 2015 speaker Shobhita Soor, a founding member of the Aspire Food Group.

At Aspire, we often get inquiries about how to start and scale up insect farms. The truth is, starting up a never-been-created-before edible insect farm is an exciting but challenging task. There is so much research to do, and so many unknowns around scaling up farming of the insects, the market’s response to your product and price point, and packaging possibilities. At Aspire, we faced these hurdles as well as the adjustments to living in a new country!

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Edible insects can compliment delicious dishes or can simply be eaten on their own as snacks.

The crucial first step is to have an insect to market match. When choosing which insect to farm, our most basic question is: “Do people eat this already?” or “Will people even considering eating this?”. In Central and Southern Ghana, for example, the palm weevil larva is already consumed in a harvested form. Since the farmed version is almost identical but safer, we were sure it would be acceptable to consumers. In that case, an interesting nuance that we had to pull apart was whether buyers would be willing to pay for an otherwise harvested (and free!) product. We found that, since the supply in the wild had decreased due to increased use of pesticide in palm plantations, there was a strong desire for a steady supply of palm weevil larva. In the United States, however, it was a bit trickier. We had to look at analogous products and do some market testing to know whether segments in the American food market were ready for cricket powder and roasted crickets.

Once we have an insect that people are actually excited to eat (and willing to pay for!), we want to make sure that the insect species is amenable to large-scale farming in a cost-efficient manner. This can be a long process–we look at other existing edible insect farms, traditional livestock rearing, and methods with which to make this more efficient by collecting a lot of data on our farms. Early on, we also consider how to process and package insects. Since edible insects have often been harvested and eaten shortly thereafter, we find innovative ways of processing and packaging insects, so that they are not only attractive to the consumer but also safe for consumption.

The nutritional profile of the insect in question is also tantamount to our choice of insect – our goal is to choose an insect that matches the nutrition needs of the market. Take palm weevil larva, for instance – it’s rich in essential fatty acid and protein making. That means it’s well-positioned to address the problems of child stunting; it’s also high in zinc, which aids in preventing diarrhea. In the United States, we aim to farm crickets as a lean source of protein that is also resource-efficient. Our goal is to displace traditional sources of protein (that can wreak havoc on the environment) with alternatives that are healthy for our planet. Currently, there is little data on the resource consumption of edible insect production, and this is something that we try to consistently measure.

These are just a few of the considerations we take into account when starting up an insect farm ¬– yet another important factor is the political and economic climate of the country in question. Changing food culture is complex, as people’s food traditions tend to be strong traditions. That said, in the Western world, we’ve begun to see culture shift where insect consumption is becoming more popular. From cricket flour in consumer packaged goods to whole insects showing up on restaurant menus, people are beginning to embrace insects as a part of their normal diet. We’re so excited to see how these nutritious and sustainable sources of protein will improve our health, and the health of our planet. This is just the beginning!

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.

Announcing TEDMED 2016 Speakers: Truth and Beauty

What if we found beauty while confronting difficult truths?

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then why are there experiences that humans collectively consider “beautiful?” Perhaps, when we study individuals’ subjective perspectives as a whole, they can expose universal truths and a greater sense of beauty to which we can all relate.

At TEDMED 2016’s Truth and Beauty session, we will explore research, innovations, and actions that evoke beautiful new truths about health worldwide. In this session, our TEDMED 2016 speakers share the discoveries and experiences that have led them to find Truth and Beauty. With insights from state-of-the-art holographic technology, nurses’ perspectives on healing, the neurobiology of aesthetic pleasure, and emotionally evocative video games, this session expands our understanding of health, truth, and beauty.

Our captivating lineup includes:


Anjan Chatterjee
Neuroaesthetitician 

Anjan asks: What if appreciating beauty is not just pleasurable, but essential to our survival?

Cognitive neuroscientist Anjan Chatterjee seeks to answer a tantalizing question: why is beauty so gripping? In his recent book, The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art, Anjan explores neural responses to beauty, noting that the faces and places we find aesthetically pleasing may promote evolutionary success. Read More…


Carolyn Jones
Photographic Ethnographer

Carolyn asks: What if we could see the beauty of invisible populations?

Through her socially proactive photographs and documentary films, Carolyn Jones points our attention towards issues of global concern. Passionate about personal stories and their power to connect us all, Carolyn examines the dying experience through the eyes of American nurses in her new film, HOPE: Dying in America. Read More…


Dan Visconti
Innovative Civic-Minded Composer

Dan asks: What if video games are works of great public art?

Dan Visconti creates concert experiences that reimagine the arts as a form of cultural and civic service. A composer and concert curator who loves American vernacular musical traditions, Dan infuses his compositions with influences from jazz, rock, blues and beyond. Read More…


James Gordon
Global DIY Healing Teacher

Jim asks: What if simple self-care techniques could help free the world from the effects of trauma?

Psychiatrist, author, White House advisor, and Georgetown Medical School Clinical Professor James Gordon is a world-renowned expert in using mind-body medicine to heal depression, anxiety, and psychological trauma. A proponent of “self-care as the true primary-care,” Jim became Founder and Director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine in 1991. Read More…


Kellee Santiago 
Evocative Game Developer

Kellee asks: What if video games are works of great public art?

Kellee Santiago designs video games that evoke emotional responses. With research focused on game design, interactive narrative, and physical and gestural interfaces for digital media, Kellee is pushing the communicative possibilities of video games as an artistic medium. Read More…


Partho Sengupta 
Physician Holographer

Partho asks: What if advancements in visualization technology could transform patient care?

Cardiologist Partho Sengupta’s hopes to revolutionize the way we approach heart disease. By harnessing the exponential growth of cardiac visualization technology, Partho uses holograms to detect early signs of cardiovascular disease and improve patient care in the US as well as low income countries. Read More…

Look out for more speaker announcements coming soon! Sign up for our newsletter and subscribe to our blog for the latest updates. Also, don’t miss your chance to register for TEDMED 2016 this November 30 – December 2 in Palm Springs, CA. Hope to see you there!