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.


TEDMED 2014 Day Two: Thinking Hard, Playing Hard

The second day of TEDMED tackled some of the toughest topics in health and medicine, including addiction and the growing plague of antibiotic resistance, with musings on the power of transparency and simple play.

What can human doctors learn from veterinarians? Quite a bit, as Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology at UCLA Medical School, revealed. From recognizing and treating issues from postpartum depression to heart disease, physicians would be well served to learn from veterinary medicine for tips on how to treat human animals, she said, adding, “What do you call a veterinarian who can take care of only one species?  A physician.”

Abraham Verghese, professor at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, spoke of the metaphors in medical language, and why illnesses and healing present compelling human stories (perhaps why so many doctors are also wonderful writers).  “Anybody with a curiosity for the human condition, with the willingness to work hard, and with an empathy for fellow humans, can be a great physician,” he said.

Can eating be addictive? Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, explained a bit of the neurobiology behind why drug addiction is not a moral failure due to a reduction in dopamine receptors – which holds true for those addicted to food as well.

“Addiction and obesity have been stigmatized and dismissed as disorders of poor self-control, self inflicted, personal behavioral choices. I never ever met an addicted person who wanted to be an addict, nor have I ever met an obese person who wanted to be obese. Can you imagine what it must be to want to stop doing something, and not being able to?” Volkow said.

Carl Hart
Carl Hart

Carl Hart, who emerged from a youth of petty crime and drug use to teach psychology and psychiatry at Columbia University, also weighed in on myths of addiction. Up to ninety percent of those who use illegal drugs are not addicts, he said, and drugs don’t necessarily lead to a life of indigency and crime. “We certainly were poor [in my neighborhood] well before drugs entered the picture,” he said, and criminalizing drug possession only contributes to a downward spiral.

In the session appropriately titled, “Don’t You Dare Talk About This,” organ donation advocate Sigrid Fry-Revere spoke of the hurdles of kidney donation, from getting an organ to giving one. Her proposition: Why not help donors financially, as other countries do to good effect, most notably in Iran.

Dr. Leana Wen urged doctors in the audience to declare any financial incentives – including to do more or less treatment – that may influence their decisions in the “Total Transparency Manifesto” movement she founded.

Carla Pugh had a call to medicine as well – to take training beyond pen-and-pencil tests to extended haptic training. A childhood spent fixing things, a life-or-death moment in the ER, and her own research into how often med students miss bodily cues, led to her creating her own patented haptic training tools.

Carla Pugh

Science writer and author Kayt Sukel spoke of the neurological benefits of risks — and risky play — even though some choices, particularly those kids make, look silly to the rest of us. There’s a big cognitive payoff in terms of brain growth to new experiences, she said, and an especially big bounce when gambles pay off. It also pays to expect the unexpected; “Every single day is a risky one, because in this life there’s very little that is guaranteed,” she said.

Click here for speaker highlights from Day One of TEDMED 2014.

The TEDMED Hive: Immersion Into Imagination, Innovation and Conversation

The Imagine Wall in San Francisco
The Imagine Wall in San Francisco

If the TEDMED 2014 stage is the brain imagining health, The Hive is its beating heart.

For starters, it showcases some of the smartest and potentially revolutionary ideas in health in an up-close-and-personal forum, in which start-ups can gather ideas from other Delegates and from each other.  It’s been a launchpad for a number of game-changing companies.

Ed Hamblin, Director of Sales for Sensiotec, has his vitals measured by Sensiotec’s Virtual Medical Assistant, a non-contact patient monitor.

This year, 80 entrepreneurs – 40 on each coast – have a chance to share their stories with TEDMED attendees and the world, from technologies that help kids track their blood sugar and diagnose brain injuries by tracking eye movements, to a brilliantly simple pill pack design that promotes medicine adherence and a technology application where patients can get a doctor’s house call on demand within two hours.

There’s also an opportunity to visualize progress; the Imagine Wall – seen above in its San Francisco incarnation – is a mural of Twitter responses to the question, “How would you imagine a healthier world?”

The Hive was conversation central for the Great Challenges program, a platform for discussing complex public health issues. Delegates also had a chance to talk over some of the biggest questions in health and science over at the Campfire, an intimate space that presented thought experiment questions to small groups.

The Campfire
The Campfire

Hot topics: Getting approval and a market plan for niche medical devices; the increasing dearth of primary care physicians, and what medical education should do about it, and how the world can solve the health conundrum of having undernourished populations in most of the world, and overweight, overfed people in many others.


Raising H.E.A.L.T.H. at TEDMED


Among the many activities at TEDMED 2014, Delegates were invited to contribute their thoughts to “Raising Health” – ideas on how to approach some of the most broad-based, intractable issues of health today, from childhood obesity to medical costs.

On Day One of TEDMED, Delegates focused a great deal of attention in the space to the changing role of the patient in healthcare.  They were asked to discuss and respond to the following questions: How do we empower patients to make healthier decisions? What is the patient’s role from his or her perspective? What is the role of healthy people  (non-patients) in healthcare?

Answers centered on a number of themes:  What are the best ways to develop a strong doctor-patient conversation? How can we include family, caregivers and community in patient care? An informed patient is an empowered patient. What’s the best way to go about that?Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 9.32.15 AM

“Bring intuition and knowledge of your own body to your healthcare team,” answered one Delegate. “Make the patient the source of applied innovation,” said another. And, “Ask each patient for his or her goal for each visit or what he/she wants to accomplish.”

Click here for a recap of more thoughts on this critical issue, and stay tuned as we cover more thoughts on the Challenges throughout TEDMED. You can also share your own thoughts on Twitter at #greatchallenges.

TEDMED 2014: The First Day

The first-ever two-city TEDMED 2014 began this morning. Some 2,000 Delegates, 90 speakers and performers, corporate partners and 80 start-ups converged at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC and the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre in San Francisco, CA.

For the first time, performances on two stages were virtually linked by simulcast.  “Hello, DC!” University of California, San Francisco neuroscientist and TEDMED co-host Adam Gazzaley greeted inventor and Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD candidate  David Moinina Sengeh, who co-hosted in DC. The stage program was simulcast to some 150,000 viewers in 142 countries as well.

David Sengeh, at left and foreground, and Adam Gazzaley.
David Sengeh, at left and foreground, and Adam Gazzaley.

Among the highlights of the first day’s talks: The event’s first speaker, journalist Sonia Shah, discussed why humans should regard pandemics less as foreign invasions and more as an ever-present enemy that require changing our own actions and environment to eradicate.

Danielle Ofri, attending physician at Bellevue Hospital, hit a nerve with the audience and dozens of Tweeters by telling the story of how she nearly killed a patient – and didn’t tell a soul for 25 years. Rather than the current “toxic culture of perfection” in medicine, the field would do better to recognize that error is intrinsic to normal human functioning, she said, rather than burying them as rare events or attacking with litigation. For starters, medical leaders should talk about their own mistakes, she said.

Harvard Medical School Professor Ted Katpchuk studied herbalism and acupuncture for years in China, which led to his ongoing investigations into the measurable power of the placebo effect. After all, “Many drugs already mimic what the body can already do,” he said. The brain functions as a prediction machine, so just entering an environment designed to help patients, with its rituals and symbols, jump starts healing mechanisms, he said.

Eleanor Bimla Schwarz discusses the many and surprising benefits of breastfeeding for mothers at TEDMED 2014.
Eleanor Bimla Schwarz discusses the many and suprising benefits of breastfeeding for mothers at TEDMED 2014.

TEDMED Curator Jay Walker spoke about how imagination powers health and medicine, the theme of TEDMED 2014. “Health and medicine is about to change more in the next 20 years than in the last 20,000,” Walker said, mentioning five “superforces” that would revolutionize the field, including synthetic biology, and wearable micro-sensors and tele-medicine that will deliver continuous, real-time health monitoring.

Elizabeth Nabel, the President of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School, reminded the audience knowledge is fleeting, and that clinging to the known rarely serves medicine, while “real progress is about changing dogma…to venture into the unknown with intellectual humility.”

“Violence is not ingrained in American culture or law,” said Daniel Webster, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, who suggested that gun deaths be reduced through standards most gun owners could agree upon, including prohibiting ownership for those who have been convicted of a violent crime, and accountability for gun dealers.

The indomitable Diana Nyad spoke at the last session of the day, Flat Out Amazing, which describes her achievement in swimming the 110-mile ocean crossing between Cuba and Florida.

Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos and its heralded technology of producing a viable blood lipids profile from just a drop of blood, famously dropped out of Stanford at age 19 to develop her company. Her mission is to develop truly consumer-oriented, affordable health data technology allowing individuals to anticipate and prevent disease.

Another undaunted inventor, Marc Koska, who devised an auto-disable syringe that has been credited with saving some nine million lives, spent three decades bringing his idea to efficacy. The climax of his talk: the World Health Organization will announce a global initiative to improve injection safety this October.

TEDMED 2014 Session Nine: I Was Just Thinking Too Small

When Robert Hooke looked into a microscope and decided the structures he saw should be named cells, it was an epic moment for scientific probing. It has brought to fruition the longing to see how things really work at their most basic levels, and the ingenuity to devise ways to explore.

Sometimes, however, approaching a mystery or positing a breakthrough means stepping back and applying a wider lens. What if solving a problem means reframing it entirely?

This ninth and final session of TEDMED 2014 is all about taking a look at the bigger picture.

Tomorrow is your last day to register, so don’t miss your chance to join us September 10-12 in Washington, DC and San Francisco, CA.

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 3.11.29 PMScreen Shot 2014-09-02 at 3.11.47 PMScreen Shot 2014-09-02 at 3.11.58 PMScreen Shot 2014-09-02 at 3.12.08 PMExplore our full stage program to learn more about all the speakers who will take the TEDMED stage in just over a week, and stay updated by following @TEDMED on Twitter.

TEDMED Stage Program by the Numbers


As we count down the days until TEDMED, we present a numerical look at the speakers for TEDMED 2014.

Some fun facts:

This year, we’re particularly proud that 45 of our speakers – 51 percent – are women.  As we ramp up to an eventual global presence, we’ve invited speakers from 20 nations and five continents.

They also represent a wide variety of interdisciplinary brilliance:  22 MDs, 26 PhDs (10 overachieving MD/PhDs and one hyper-overachieving college dropout), lawyers, architects, economists, journalists, entrepreneurs, an extreme athlete, acrobaticalists, global musicians, comedians, actors, dancers, photographers, and a man who gets a lot of mileage out of his pink tutu.

TEDMED Live Streaming To Reach 100+ Global Locations

More than 100 organizations around the globe will host TEDMED Live Streaming, a simulcast of the entire TEDMED 2014 stage program, with an estimated total audience of more than 100 thousand viewers.

TEDMED seeks to host an inclusive global dialog among all cultures and walks of life to create a “big picture” for science, health and medicine. It’s the first step toward inspiring breakthrough thinking and insights for the health of our planet’s 7 billion people. To that end, TEDMED will broadcast its entire program from the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and the Palace Theater in San Francisco, CA, both live during the event on September 10-12 and on-demand through September 16.  The live streaming is available at no cost to qualified academic institutions, teaching hospitals, government organizations and non-profits organizations.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 3.23.59 PMAffiliates to date include the World Health Organization, Research4Life, Clinton Foundation, Millennium Villages Project, Sustainable Development Solutions Network, American Public Health Association, Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, Society for Participatory Medicine, +SocialGood, the National Institutes of Health and BroadReach Healthcare, among many others.

Affiliates can use the live streaming in many ways to facilitate conversations and collaborations:  Via a group event in a conference room, during a large community gathering or on individual devices.

If your organization would like to access TEDMED Live Streaming, click here to find out more and apply.

TEDMED Speakers: Stealing Solutions to Medicine’s Toughest Problems

shutterstock_22354027In four short weeks TEDMED 2014 officially kicks off and we are excited to continue highlighting our sessions with you. Next up, we are pleased to present “Stealing Smart,” a session during which speakers will share inspiring stories and ideas about how we can adapt solutions from other industries, and from other fields both inside and outside of medicine, to solve the most intractable problems in health and medicine. This session is dedicated to the idea that sometimes we need to look outside the realm of health to solve the complex issues within.

There’s still time to join us at TEDMED in Washington, DC or San Francisco, CA to experience how these dynamic thought leaders are accelerating health and medicine by “stealing smart.”

Brian Primack, Associate Professor at the University of Pittsburgh, will shed a provocative new light on the health impacts of existing and possible future relationships between certain popular media products and human behavior.

Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology at UCLA Medical School, will provide a surprising perspective on how human wellbeing, including mental health, can be improved with insights into animal health.

Ramanan Laxminarayan, Director of the Center For Disease Dynamics, Economics, and Policy, will discuss an unusual yet imminently practical approach to conserving antibiotics.

Engineer and entrepreneur Drew Lakatos is the CEO of ActiveProtect, a wearable technology company focused on reducing injury with smart garments that monitor mobility, detect falls, and intervene prior to impact.

Neuroscientist Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the NIH and a world leader in the neurobiology of diseases of reward and self-control, will apply a lens of addiction to the obesity epidemic.

Dominick Farinacci, trumpeter and protégé of Wynton Marsalis, will perform. He leads the Lincoln Center expansion in Doha and has played music in the lobby of the Cleveland Clinic.

Leslie Morgan Steiner, journalist and author, will bring the audience along on her journey to learn the truth about a successful medical surrogacy industry on the far side of the world – and how it could provide a model to help solve problems in the U.S.

Abraham Verghese, Provostial Professor and Vice Chair for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, will share compelling insights into the impact of language on health.

Zachary Copfer, former microbiologist and now an MFA in photography from the University of Cincinnati, will share awe-inspiring images in which the world of medicine is the medium as well as the message.

With the goal of creating “spare parts” for human implantation and disease models, Nina Tandon founded Epibone, the world’s first company to grow living human bones for skeletal reconstruction.

Both a forensic toxicologist and an attorney, Stephen Goldner is the Chairman and CEO of CureLauncher, a free, consumer-friendly resource that connects patients to clinical trials based on their unique goals and conditions.

TEDMED 2014 Session Three: Achieving the Seemingly Impossible

Find a way.” – Diana Nyad

What lies on the other side of self-imposed limitations? Lab tests at your neighborhood pharmacy that use a single drop of blood. A breathtakingly simple way to stop HIV/AIDS in its tracks. A completely counter-intuitive way to address doctor shortages in developing countries. An endurance feat so extreme that it redefines the phrase “will to succeed.”

Speakers for Session Three of TEDMED 2014 will make you rethink the limits of what is possible.

Flat Out Amazing

Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of Theranos, will share the amazing medical insights and technology that have put her on the cutting edge of high-tech diagnostics.

Gail Reed, founder of Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba and editor of MEDICC Review, is a former journalist who will spotlight a completely counterintuitive program to relieve the global shortage of physicians in poor countries.


Marathon swimmer Diana Nyad will share lessons of her world record-setting solo 110-mile swim from Cuba to Miami at age 64.

Marc Koska, inventor of a life-saving syringe, will share the struggles, setbacks, breakthroughs and ultimate triumphs of this technology’s 30-year odyssey from “great idea” to “globally adopted reality.”

Foteini Agrafioti, a biometric and personal security engineer, will share how your EKG and emissions from your ear may be an alternate kind of fingerprint for you.

Kitra Cahana, one of National Geographic’s youngest photographers, will tell a moving and inspiring story of a medical catastrophe that turned into an unexpected journey into realms of spirituality and imagination.

Click here to register for the event in Washington, DC or in San Francisco, CA.