Visionaries Q&A: Artist Raghava KK on learning to be creative

Raghava KK is an artist, TEDMED/TED speaker and National Geographic Emerging Explorer.

Q. In your talk at TEDMED 2013, you showed us your latest work, in which brain wave technology helps viewers shape your art according to their thoughts and moods. How have people responded so far? 

Contrary to what I anticipated, my talk at TEDMED received an overwhelmingly positive response. I thought the TEDMED audience would predominantly think in fundamentals, and there would be a disconnect. But any science taken to a certain level becomes art. It goes into the ability to transcend to abstract the essence of its thing, and apply it beyond a single application. There’s only a limit to which you can be trained in any one thing.


From doctors to scientists, there are now a lot of people who are in conversation with me about how we can add value to each other’s methods of inquiry. I’m really excited that I’ve gotten to write the forward to a textbook on cultural sensitivity using perspectives in psychiatry that is being brought out by Massachusetts General, Harvard’s teaching hospital.

Did you learn anything surprising about the brain during this project?

Yes! It shocked me the number of emotions we can go through in one minute.

We like to think about ourselves in absolutes, but we are dynamic and continually changing. Also, I’m surprised by the degree to which you can control brain activity. I can manipulate my art pieces on cue. When some people have that feedback, it can make them feel uncomfortable; with others, it helps neutralize their feelings of fear.

You’re working with an education innovation initiative, NuVu, that stresses creative problem solving skills, and have said, in an interview with Dowser, that education now should be about welcoming instability. Your art encourages dynamic perspectives as well. What is it about the world we live in that makes this so important? Can you point to something in your life or learning that led you to embrace the impermanent?

The one thing we know about the world for sure is that it’s constantly changing.  Evolution is not a ladder that’s built on linear progress. It’s more like a round treadmill, where we’re constantly adapting in relation to a dynamic environment.

So it seems appropriate that we learn in a manner that correlates to the state of the human condition and environment. I’ve reinvented myself many times. I’ve always felt that my education was great; it taught me who I am.

But it’s been my creativity that has constantly told me I can be much more. I could have never planned my whole art career and trajectory. I allowed it to unfold by taking an active role in my life and my future. I think that the incident that really sparked this idea was my decision to quit formal education, and to embrace and learn from impermanence. I haven’t had a formal education since high school, so the world has been my classroom.

A screen for POP-IT, an iPad app designed by Raghava KK. Viewers change the characters by shaking the tablet.
A screen for POP-IT, an iPad app designed by Raghava KK. Viewers change the characters by shaking the tablet.

In that same interview, you said, “Even in my own life, I keep putting myself in uncomfortable situations because of the amount I learn.” Can you give a few examples?

Here are three. First, I recently moved back to India, although I was well settled in New York. I wanted to have my third child here, and expose my children to this impossible democracy, which is an experiment in bringing together multiple, dissimilar perspectives and thus gives us so much to experience and to learn from.

Second, I’m starting a company from scratch and learning about entrepreneurship, because I really want to make an impact with this idea, to transcribe it among audiences. It’s a web-based and mobile educational platform called Flipsicle, and it allows you to actually see multiple visual perspectives on any topic. It’s a man-powered Google for images that uses collaboration and crowdsourcing.

We are producing and consuming more pictures than ever before, but desensitizing us to the fact that pictures are only a single view on an event and truth. Even in our schools, we start out with absolutes and go to abstract at a later stage, like high school, which is far too late. We need to disrupt this teaching and go to abstract thinking at a much earlier stage to really teach perspective.

Third: Once my wife and I accidentally found ourselves in a nudist resort.

This is what happens when an Indian books a holiday without knowing the difference because naturist and nature, because in California “naturist” means “nudist.”  We checked in late in the evening; everyone was wearing clothing, because it was cold.  In the morning I opened the window and saw a guy doing yoga in the buff. Then, my wife and I walked out and we were the only people clothed. So – do we stay here, or we go back home and pretend this never happened? But we thought,  ‘What the hell do we have to lose?’ And it led to an entire series of paintings I did on eros and nudity.  I discovered that it’s the continuum that’s erotic, not the absolute states of nudity. The feeling of the weight of clothing is something you just forget; it’s a change of the clothed state you notice.

"Untitled" by Raghava KK, acrylic on canvas, 2011.
“Untitled” by Raghava KK, acrylic on canvas, 2011.

You mention often that you hope your work will inspire empathy. Can you name a piece of art, or an artist, who inspired that in you, or who/that greatly changed your own perspective?

An artist need not look to art to be inspired, but to life. I see a need for empathy in the world, and that’s what inspired me.

Empathy is fashionable word right now, and it can be easy to misrepresent.

To me, empathy is a tool and it has survival value based on context.  For example, sometimes apathy is important. Extrovertism is overrated. Leadership is overrated; not everyone is a leader. We need to understand these things as continuums that have value based on context. So empathy means contextualizing where I come from, where you come from.

For example, I don’t measure myself by the same metrics by which others do, whether it’s the art world or the commercial world or the entrepreneurial world or the TED world. For someone to understand what I – or anyone — does, they have to have an understanding of how I measure my actions. The need for human dignity comes from these factors. It’s a constant need. And I need to be more than an artist. Life is just a tool. Art is just a tool.

Interviewed by Stacy Lu, @stacylu88

XX at TEDMED: Women take center stage

By Shirley Bergin

As part of Rock Health’s XX in Health week last year, I talked about the need for women mentors in health and why TEDMED was making an effort to include more women in our stage program. Our mission is to gather diverse points of view for a richer collaboration on progress in health and medicine, and that simply can’t be achieved without ensuring that women have a role.

The results: TEDMED 2013 brought more female speakers to the stage than ever before. We again had the opportunity to engage with a number of remarkable women. Throughout the years, we’ve been thrilled to introduce these collaborative, provocative thinkers whose energy and influence help shape thinking in health and medicine.

Women have represented incredibly varied facets of health and medicine at TEDMED. There’s public health, from Regina Benjamin speaking about broad-scale goals and community initiatives from America Bracho, to Rebecca Onie working to link patients to health basics like sound shelter and nutrition. Scientists Sheila Nirenberg and Frances Arnold have made great leaps into hitherto worlds of neuroscience and synthetic biology; Leslie Saxon and Deborah Estrin are superstars in health monitoring and technology; Catherine Mohr and Quyen Nguyen have blazed new trails in surgery; Sally Okun brought a nurse’s perspective to decoding the language of patients; and Amy Abernethy provided an oncologist’s understanding of their wishes. Susan Desmond-Hellmann is at the forefront of gathering genomics data for a potential revolution in disease diagnosis and treatment. Laura Deming and Jessica Richman represent a new wave of business-savvy innovators bringing change to health research.

women at TEDMED

Four more dynamic women shared their experiences in a special Session X at TEDMED 2013: Nina Nashif of Healthbox spoke of trajectories in the health startup space while Jennifer Kurkoski of Google, Marleece Barber from Lockheed Martin, and Geeta Nayyar from AT&T represented companies outside of healthcare whose innovation around health and medicine was inspiring.

Virginia Breen, Elizabeth Bonker and Diana Nyad shared their stories of triumph over seemingly unconquerable obstacles. Female artists have enlightened us as well with their unique and often startling viewpoints on health and the human body – view Sue Austin’s inspiring mental freewheeling, Lisa Nilsson‘s stunning anatomical paper sculptures, and soprano Charity Tillemann-Dick‘s joy in singing and living.

We were fortunate to have 50 transformative new companies and the entrepreneurs that power them as part of The Hive at TEDMED 2013. This initiative helped to  ensure that the start-up and entrepreneur community along with our partners connected in ways that truly inspired progress. Women lead nearly half. They include:

  • Anula Jayasuriya and Surbhi Sarna of nVision, a medical device company dedicated to filling the void in female health-related innovation;
  • Eve Phillips of Empower Interactive, which designs interactive e-learning programs using evidence-based psychotherapy;
  • Tiffany Wilson Karp of The Global Center for Medical Innovation, a not-for-profit organization that launched the Southeast’s first comprehensive medical device innovation center;
  • Qian Qian Tang of Kinsa, which creates unique mobile software and hardware products that help create a real-time map of human health;
  • Caterina Hill of Wellframe, focused on building the next generation of infrastructure for healthcare delivery using artificial intelligence;
  • Lisa Maki of PokitDoc, a health marketplace of over 3 million healthcare providers nationwide;
  • Sruthi Sadhujan and Cynthia Koenig of WelloWater, which seeks to help deliver clean water to an increasingly thirsty world;

and many more.

We’ll continue to recognize the immense contributions from women in health at TEDMED, and we would love to hear from you as we move forward. Please share your thoughts and suggestions below, and join our conversations on Twitter and Facebook.

Shirley Bergin is TEDMED’s Chief Operating Officer.

Can med students learn better with Osmosis?

With more physicians taking advantage of the efficiency and accuracy promised by mobile health devices, another flourishing sector in health tech developments aims to improve knowledge and tech adaptability earlier in the health care cycle: mobile tech for med students.

An Osmosis screen shot.
An Osmosis screen shot.

Osmosis is a recently approved iOS app and web platform for med students and schools founded by Ryan Haynes, a Johns Hopkins med student with a PhD in neuroscience from Cambridge, and Shiv Gaglani, also a Johns Hopkins med student, who developed the Smartphone Physical at TEDMED 2013.

The free, quiz-based app, available now, aims to help students learn and retain the voluminous information needed to pass those tricky medical boards. It combines three education concepts: quick, periodic reviews; improved absorption of material through practice questions; and social network-enabled, peer-to-peer learning. Many of its quiz questions were developed in conjunction with content providers such as the American College of Physicians.

The app tracks students’ confidence, accuracy, and elapsed time on each question and will soon publish anonymized leaderboards that allow students to see how they stack up in terms of answering questions. Some 240 invited alpha users, all medical students, contributed more than 1,500 images and videos, crowd-sourced over 5,000 practice questions, and answered those more than half-a-million times.

“Now that we have 6,000 medical students from more than 250 institutions signed up, we anticipate delivering millions of practice questions to our future doctors, keeping them up-to-date on their medical knowledge. This is something I feel strongly about as a medical student who experienced significant cram-forget cycles that don’t lead to long-term retention,” says Gaglani, who is also a Harvard MBA candidate and an editor at “That’s why we designed Osmosis: to flatten the forgetting curve and help medical students learn fundamental medical knowledge to help improve patient outcomes.”

“We’ve received an overwhelmingly positive response to the mobile app. Within one week we became one of the top 100 free educational apps on the iTunes store. Around 1,500 medical students have already downloaded it and collectively answered close to 30,000 questions,” he says.

The web platform, currently in beta and with a public launch planned this fall, has been live since 2012 both at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Perdana University Graduate School of Medicine in Malaysia, Haynes says. The web platform has added gamification features, including contributor leaderboards. Osmosis will offer institutional subscribers a tiered fee schedule, from free to $2 per user, per month, which includes features like open-lecture videos, resources to take and store notes and course documents, and usage analytics.

Zubin Damania moves forward with innovative Las Vegas clinic

Zubin Damania, a doctor who brought the TEDMED 2013 audience to its feet at the Kennedy Center in April with his vow to radically improve health care delivery, has taken new steps towards doing so.

Damania is Director of Healthcare Development for Downtown Project Las Vegas, an urban revitalization movement led by CEO Tony Hsieh, and is founding a primary care clinic with the goal of emphasizing preventive care and providing more — and more attentive — patient interaction, access and care management than traditional fee-for-service systems.

The clinic will run on a membership model whereby patients will pay a monthly fee, which Damania says will be less than $100, for unlimited primary care that includes all preventive care and non-emergency sick visits, as well as e-mail and video chats with doctors, nurses, health coaches and social workers. A yoga studio, demonstration gym and teaching kitchen on the flagship site will offer free classes. Staff will also coordinate care with specialists, should the need arise, hopefully helping patients navigate the system and reducing unnecessary treatment.

“The episode nature of care currently in primary care does a disservice to patients. You’re seeing patients for 10 minutes and then the rest of their life continues. If we can…weave ourselves into the fabrics of patient’s lives a little bit better, we think that we can accomplish wellness,” Damania said in an interview with Nevada Public Radio.

The Downtown clinic has also recently brought in Iora Health of Cambridge, MA to be its health care provider. The seven-year-old company has developed a number of innovative care models, including insurance geared towards freelancers and a clinic that serves hotel and restaurant workers with severe or chronic illnesses.

The Las Vegas clinic is slated to open by early 2014.

Watch Damania’s TEDMED talk: “Are zombie doctors taking over America?”

The many upsides of dialing down

shutterstock_131339729The folks at TEDMED are on vacation.  The whole crew. The offices are closed, and the staff is engaging in two weeks of employer-sponsored, compulsory, mind-freeing, feet-upping, email avoiding, old-fashioned rest.

There are many good reasons for a break. Thinking each and every day about innovation, creativity, and the promise and challenges of health, medicine and science can get pretty intense. Not to mention working regularly with some of the most brilliant minds on the planet – TEDMED’s speakers.

More good reasons:  Taking time off may be good for your health; one study suggested it reduced the risk of coronary heart diseaseThat goes for women as well as men, by the way.  A vacation may help you sleep better, at least in the short term. Giving employees downtown can boost productivity and creativity.  As Charles Duhigg explained in his book, The Power of Habit, breaking away from routine is an ideal time to break away from an unfavorable habit, or form a new one.

Proponents of stepping back from the daily grind are legion. The proverb “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” dates back to 1659, according to Wikipedia. Stephen Covey’s seventh habit of highly efficient people was “sharpen the saw,” meaning to take time off, go away, change your pace and your mental activity. And M. Scott Peck, MD, said in his book The Road Less Traveled that an essential part of maturity is balance, which he defined as knowing “how to discipline discipline.”

Part of breaking away ideally includes unplugging, although according to a recent Harris poll, 54% of respondents said their boss expected them to stay connected while away, though many of us probably find being wired also gives us peace of mind.  Yet our love affair with interactive technology is more like a bad romance; it can actually change our brains, making it hard to listen to and relate to real people, a key element in our mental health.  As psychologist and director of Director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, Sherry Turkle, said at TED in 2012, “We expect more from technology and less from each other.” We can reconnect and repair the brain, at least; miffed family members might take longer to come around.

(I know what you’re thinking here – who posted this?  Well, the elves who handle the always-on worlds of blogging and social media are taking turns resting this summer.)

Not everyone even gets the benefit of time off.  And American workers generally have less than other industrialized nations; in fact, we are the only developed economy that does not federally mandate time off.  Compare that to Denmark, whose workers get a mandated five-weeks leave.  (No wonder the U.N. lists them as the world’s happiest nation.) But even if they do have the opportunity to take the standard two weeks, many Americans simply don’t take the time off, fearing they’ll fall behind or be replaced.

Perhaps it’s all in the attitude we bring to rest — and work — which many wise minds suggest should be more in the form of play. The philosopher Eric Hoffer said, ““When the Greeks said, ‘Whom the gods love die young’ they probably meant, as Lord Sankey suggested, that those favored by the gods stay young till the day they die; young and playful.” Plato seemingly agreed:  “God alone is worthy of supreme seriousness, but man is made God’s plaything, and that is the best part of him. Therefore every man and woman should live accordingly and play the noblest games … Life must be lived as play.”

One can also easily take the advice of comedian Milton Burle:  “Laughter is like an instant vacation.”

Marcus Webb contributed to this post.

Q: What if we treat violence like an epidemic disease? A: We could put violence into the past!

By Gary Slutkin, M.D.

What if we, as public health professionals, approached violence as a public health problem in a serious way? What if we, as public health professionals, approached violence as a problem that we can treat with health interventions and prevent using science based solutions?

I asked myself those questions when we launched the Cure Violence model of violence reduction 15 years ago. Following more than 10 years of fighting health epidemics in Africa and Asia, I returned to the United States and began to notice parallels between the trajectory of violence plaguing U.S. cities and the trajectory of diseases plaguing the communities in which I previously worked abroad. You see, a cholera outbreak in Somalia shows the same epidemiological curve as the 1994 mass killings in Rwanda; killings in US cities, which appear as a wave sitting on top of a wave, resemble outbreaks of tuberculosis in Europe centuries ago.

Violence has the characteristics of an infectious disease in how it is transmitted from person-to-person and how it is spread neighborhood-to-neighborhood and community-by-community. Thus, we must physically interrupt violence before it takes hold of the minds and bodies of those affected by it, and also change thinking and attitudes to prevent the cycle of violence from repeating itself before the behaviors that trigger violence become cultural norms.

I came to realize that the issue of violence had been fundamentally misdiagnosed –having been seen as a moralistic issue with reduction strategies applied based upon totally outdated thinking. We had simply not taken into account how violence really behaves—as a contagious, or epidemic process, or disease. So, even those of us in the public health community who referred to violence  as a public health problem, had not yet applied specific epidemic control techniques.

Cure Violence now approaches violence in an entirely new way–we approach it like a disease. The Cure Violence model uses the same science-based strategies being used globally to fight other epidemic diseases. We train carefully selected members of the community — disease control workers who are trusted insiders — to anticipate where violence may occur and to intervene before it erupts—just like you might use health workers to find early cases of tuberculosis, SARS, or even bird flu. Other very highly trained health or epidemic control workers take on the specific tasks of behavior change, and changing norms. Transmission is averted and spread limited.

Street outreach workers/violence interrupters in action in Chicago. Photo: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Street outreach workers/violence interrupters in action in Chicago. Photo: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

As it turns out, this approach, the epidemic control model, works. The Cure Violence method, our first application of this thinking, has now been statistically validated to reduce shootings, killings or both by 30 to 70 percent by three independent evaluations directed by the Department of Justice and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in three major U.S. cities—Chicago, Baltimore and New York. This model is being replicated in more than 50 sites across the US and in 15 cities, and is being applied in seven other countries, with early results also showing great promise.

When we recognize violence as an epidemic disease it empowers us to treat and prevent it with  specific epidemic control methods. Doing this makes it possible for us to be much more effective in reducing the epidemic of violence. Like violence, prior epidemics from leprosy to typhus to plague, were treated moralistically for centuries. However, when their epidemic and contagious nature became identified and the strategies revised to conform to science, we were able to move these diseases into the past.

It is now up to us in the public health fields to do the same with violence.  It is time for health professionals, health departments, and hospitals to step up and work together with this and other epidemic control strategies to put violence into the past.

TEDMED 2013 speaker Dr. Gary Slutkin is an epidemiologist and the Founder/ Executive Director of Cure Violence, formerly known as CeaseFire.

What’s the really big news about pregnancy and birth?

It’s rare that any birth holds so much of the world’s attention as one did this week. Media attention was so frenzied, in fact, that some of its members began to spoof each other: “Woman has baby!” said the cover of one London tabloid. Was this birth really so incredible?

Well, yes, it is. So is any birth, for that matter, from a scientific standpoint. A typical baby has 60,000 miles of blood vessels by the time of birth. How does this intricate development unfold over a course of mere months? How does a woman’s body support this human engineering marvel?

Seeing it happen with the naked eye brings home how marvelous the process really is. TEDMED 2011 speaker Alexander Tsiaras, Founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of and a journalist, artist and technologist, has compiled a timeline of conception and pregnancy from scans and computer-generated images. As Tsiaras wrote on The Huffington Post, his own son was in utero as he collected and reviewed scans of fetal development, which added a new dimension of meaning to his work.

““Even though I am a mathematician, I look at [fetal development] with marvel: How do these instruction sets not make mistakes as they build what is us?” he said of the project. See the astonishing images below he presented at TED. (Includes graphic content.)

The intricate system does break down occasionally, however, with consequences that are devastating. As the World Health Organization reports, some 800 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth — 99 percent of them in a developing country. Even in the U.S., one in nine babies is born pre-term, which leads to a higher risk of disability or death.

Michael Rosenblatt told the audience at TEDMED 2011 about the devastating effects of maternal mortality, which can last for generations.

There are collaborative efforts at work by governments, international development agencies and non-profits at work, however, that have made progress in reducing maternal deaths by interventions such as improving access to skilled birthing assistance, providing post-natal care for women and newborns and treating infections. Some 30 countries managed to cut their rate of maternal death in half between 1990 and 2010 — a feat also worthy of headlines.



NYC doctors can now prescribe fruits and vegetables

An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but she won’t mind – she might even write a prescription for it.

As reported by the New York Daily News, Two New York City hospitals, Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx and Harlem Hospital in Upper Manhattan, are launching what’s called The Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program (FVRx). It aims to help overweight children and their families access fresh fruits and vegetables to counter obesity and related diseases.


FVRx works like this:  Doctors and nutritionists assess a patient’s eating habits and prescribe produce as needed. Kids and their parents are given “Health Bucks” to use to purchase produce.

“A food environment full of processed foods full of fat, sugar and salt is contributing to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other chronic diseases,” said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, in a press release. “The Fruit and Vegetable Prescription program is a creative approach that, with the inclusion of Health Bucks, will enable at-risk patients to visit any of our 142 Farmers Markets and purchase the fruits and vegetables that will help them stay healthy.”

The program is coordinated by Wholesome Wave, a non-profit based in Bridgeport, CT, that aims to seeks to provide locally-sourced whole foods to underserved communities. The organization has programs in 28 states and the District of Columbia with more than 60 partners implementing subsidy and incentive programs for businesses and consumers.  A similar program started in 2010 in Massachusetts has reportedly met with success.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also has had a Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program for women, infants and children since 1992.

As Rebecca Onie of Health Leads pointed out in her TEDMED 2012 talk, it’s difficult for families facing hardships to have the basic resources necessary to heal from illness or even to maintain wellness. Health Leads works to connect patients in need with appropriate social services. Its work stems from a growing awareness of the major role social determinants play in health.

On Thursday, September 19th, TEDMED will host a Google Hangout related to the issue of consumer behavior and food purchases. Stay tuned for more information on when to tune in, and visit to learn more about the Great Challenge of coming to terms with our national obesity crisis.

What happens when the lab lights go out?

By Alyssa Picchini Schaffer

Remember the panic about the sequester in early 2013?  All of the doomsday predictions about how detrimental the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts would be to all facets of American life? Since National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collin’s call to Tweet about how the sequester is affecting biomedical research, many scientists have been weighing in about its future impact:

Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 9.02.18 AM

Despite the apocalyptic hyperbole, the sequester’s overall impact on the US economy has been relatively small and diffuse since the cuts began on March 1, 2013.  However, we haven’t seen the worst of it; the biggest cuts  took effect just last week.  As an experimental scientist by training, I worry – often in the wee hours – about how these cuts will affect biomedical research. Because as this next phase of austerity nears, the future of biomedical research funding looks bleaker than it has in decades. This bleakness is not just about the amount of funding available, but also about how the funds are distributed across the biomedical research spectrum.

According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), government-wide funding for research and development will decrease by a net $9.3 billon thanks to the sequestration. Some $1.5 billion of that will be slashed from the annual NIH budget, which has already declined by 22% in constant dollars since 2003. This means that this coming year the NIH will fund approximately 700 fewer biomedical research grants, admit 750 fewer patients to its clinical center in Bethesda, MD, and decrease funding already promised to current grantees by about 10%.

Additionally, $227 million will be taken from the already miniscule budget of the National Science Foundation (NSF), our nation’s major funder of basic biological research.  I think very few will disagree that these budget cuts will delay progress in biomedical research.

But by how much?

I doubt anyone knows. However, a trend that is already occurring in funding of biomedical research is likely to be intensified due to further restriction of funds – a focus on directly clinically-related research at the expense of basic science.  Meaning that projects with a direct connection to a disease are more likely to be funded than projects that focus on understanding basic biological processes.

Scientists, policy makers, tax payers, and grant providers are all looking for the same things – cures, breakthroughs, big jumps forward in our understanding and treatment of disease that will improve life quality and decrease suffering.  But focusing research dollars solely on clinically focused research will only delay advancement further rather than expedite it.

Here’s why: The solution to clinical problems is built on the knowledge and insight collected through basic research.  Sure, basic research most often moves forward in small steps.  Yet these incremental advances lead to an essential accumulation of knowledge.  True cures – cessation and/or reversal of disease processes, not just management of symptoms — can only come after thorough and full understanding of the biological processes underlying a disease.  If we don’t first understand what ‘goes right’ when someone is healthy, how can we correct things that go wrong during disease?

Furthermore, serendipitous discoveries in basic research have lead to some of the biggest clinical breakthroughs in history.  For example, the discovery of the first antibiotic, penicillin, came directly out of an accident of basic research.  In 1928, Sir Alexander Fleming was investigating properties of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus and noticed that a fungus that killed the bacteria in close proximity contaminated one of his cultures.  This fungus, Penicillium notatum, was found to secrete the antibiotic compound penicillian, which kills bacteria by breaking down their cell walls as they grow and divide.

Another example: Researchers funded to understand the basic process of how the brain interprets smells discovered a technique, designed only to further their research, that enabled the entire biotechnology industry.  In the late 1970’s, Richard Axel and his colleagues figured out a technique to modify genes, and then stably transfer those genes and express them in live cells.  This process, called transfection, has propelled countless cures and treatments.

These are just two of the many discoveries made in the course of basic scientific research that drastically changed clinical treatment. We need multidisciplinary thinking, collaboration – and funding – to succeed in any endeavor, especially when it comes to tackling our biggest questions in science and medicine.  All research has a part to play in advancing our health.

Alyssa Picchini Schaffer, PhD, who handles research that informs the editorial process at TEDMED, has studied the biological basis of psychiatric disease. Follow her @AlyssaPSchaffer.

TEDMED 2013 speaker Eli Beer receives peace prize in Jerusalem

By Marcus Webb

TEDMED 2013 speaker Eli Beer, founder and president of Israel’s volunteer rescue service United Hatzalah, received the Goldberg Prize for Peace in the Middle East on June 24 at The American Center, a U.S. Embassy complex in Jerusalem.

Eli was honored along with his partner, Murad Alyan, who launched the Muslim unit of United Hatzalah in East Jerusalem.  Thanks to the organization’s focus on saving lives regardless of nationality, religion or ethnicity, United Hatzalah is bringing together Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims, on a daily basis in teamwork that promotes harmony and understanding between peoples.

Seen here from left are Eli Beer, Murad Alayan with Victor Goldberg and Daniel Obst, both with the Institute of International Education. Vic, a former IBM executive, is the IIE board member who launched the prize.  Daniel is IIE’s deputy vice president for international partnerships.
Seen here from left are Eli Beer, Murad Alayan with Victor Goldberg and Daniel Obst, both with the Institute of International Education. Vic, a former IBM executive, is the IIE board member who launched the prize. Daniel is IIE’s deputy vice president for international partnerships.

The Victor J. Goldberg IIE Prize for Peace in the Middle East is awarded jointly each year to one Israeli and one Arab who work together in a cause that brings people together and breaks down barriers between peoples of the region.

Upon receiving the prize, Eli commented: “Saving lives is our goal. We have no other agenda. Today we are just beginning. We want to get to 3,000 volunteers and a 90-second response time.”

Eli and partner Murad said they would donate the $10,000 cash award that accompanies the prize to United Hatzalah to help fund the purchase of more “ambu-cycles” and medical equipment.