TEDMED Friday: Natural Inspirations, Surreal Designs

Art of Motion Dance Theatre performs at TEDMED 2014 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Art of Motion Dance Theatre performs at TEDMED 2014 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

The third and final day at TEDMED 2014 touched on grand influences: The vast impact of our life events, lifestyles and external environment on our minds and bodies.

We’re all “swimming in an ocean of light” but, like fish in water, are generally unaware of and pay little attention to our environment, said Mariana Figueiro of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Yet light is the conductor of our internal symphony, influencing when we sleep and wake, our cognitive abilities, how well our medicine works, even how much we eat. Minding your light might include shutting out blue daylight with rose-colored glasses (literally) to ward off jet leg, and avoiding bright artificial light for a couple of hours before sleep.

Jeffrey Karp, co-director of the Center for Regenerative Therapeutics at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has invented slug-inspired tissue glues, parasitic worm-inspired micro-needles, jellyfish-inspired cell-sorting chips, and a gecko-inspired medical tape. His advice to other medical technology designers who aspire to co-opt nature’s best designs? Take a trip to the zoo.

We know that our brain influences our actions, but science increasingly points to the crucial role our gut plays in our feelings. John Cryan, neurobiologist at University College Cork, explains how metabolic activity in our gut microbiota can play a role in how our brain functions, particularly in regulating emotions. Research has just begun into how administering helpful probiotics – called psychobiotics – may help improve mental health.

Robin Geunther, a sustainable healthcare architect, took hospitals to task for so often being environmentally unhealthy, both for humans and the environment, from sealed-shut windows and floors waxed with toxins to an outsized energy footprint. Even economic surroundings should be taken into account when building health, she said. “All too often hospitals don’t acknowledge that how and where they spend their money impacts community health, and their focus on saving money via global supply chains bankrupts local communities,” she said.

Physician, chef and TV personality John La Puma shared a recipe for health.

Physician, chef and TV personality John La Puma shared a recipe for health.

Among many other memorable moments: Marc Abrahams, founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, regaled the audience with stories of the “Weird and Wonderful” winners in the session of the same name. The criteria for winning: You’ve done something that make people laugh, then think. Among the laureates include a papers on “Injuries Due to Falling Coconuts” in Papua, New Guinea and how to minimize colonic gas explosions during a colonoscopy; and a patent for a brassiere that could be converted to a face mask.

Exposure to this risk causes as much as a 20-year difference in life expectancy, but doctors are not trained to spot and treat it. What is it? Childhood trauma. Abuse, neglect or growing up with a parent who has mental illness can cause negative health outcomes that can stretch over a lifetime, including 3 ½ times the risk of heart disease, says pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris, founder and CEO of Center for Youth Wellness. Adverse childhood events literally change the structure of the brain, including fear response, and sends the body’s fight-or-flight response into overdrive. Screening is universal at the Pacific Center, and treatment includes home visits, care coordination, mental health care, nutrition and holistic interventions.

Resa Lewiss, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine and Radiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, sees a future in which the powerful technology of ultrasound will be wireless, portable and relatively inexpensive. “Point of care ultrasound is one of the most disruptive innovations to hit healthcare in a long time, “ she says.

A fanciful prosthetic from Sophie de Oliveira Barata’s studio. Photo courtesy of the Alternative Limb Project.

Sophie de Oliveira Bariata stunned the audience with photos and an in-person model of her imaginative prosthetic art. From the minute details of realism, like the tiny hairs on a toe, to fanciful mini-murals, she creates limbs according to how clients perceive themselves and seek to move on all levels in the world. As one woman said of her ornately painted leg, “[It’s not real], so why not make it surreal?”

For more on the speakers of TEDMED 2014, visit TEDMED’s Tumblr page.