Mapping human cellular biology. Single-letter gene editing. Bacterial infection diagnosis in mere hours. 3D-printed organs. A mobile ultrasound device that connects to your smartphone. Simple same-day health care. These are some of the bold, cutting-edge ideas from this year’s TEDMED Hive Innovators. In our final Speaker Spotlight of 2018, we’ll be featuring 6 companies that are driving progress in health and medicine. From improving the patient experience to developing new diagnostic tests, these Innovators are pushing the boundaries and thinking outside the box.
With all the advancements we’ve made in health and medicine, it may come as a surprise that we still do not have a map of our human cellular biology. If we did have such a map, computer models of disease progression could be more accurate, which would enable us to discover precision treatment options, faster. Fortunately, Ron Alfa’s team at Recursion is working to create such a map. By using a combination of machine learning and experimental biology, Recursion has set a goal of discovering 100 new drugs by 2025. With one drug currently in an FDA approved Phase 1 trial, and 30 more in the pipeline, the company is well on their way to reaching that impressive goal.
Many genetic diseases are the result of a single-letter misspelling out of billions of bases in the genetic code. However, current methods for gene editing don’t have the precision for making a single-letter correction. Nicole Gaudelli and her team at Beam Therapeutics are working to improve gene editing accuracy, by developing next-generation CRISPR base editing technology to conduct gene correction, gene regulation, gene silencing, and gene reprogramming at the most precise level of gene therapy. Whereas CRISPR is often compared to a pair of scissors, Beam’s base editing “is more like a pencil. When it reaches its target, it finds a letter, erases it and rewrites it as a different letter without disrupting the sequence of other letters around it.” Beam plans to use their gene editing platforms to prevent, modify, or even cure a wide range of diseases that affect people’s lives.
At Prellis Biologics, Melanie Matheu and her team have the ultimate objective of printing an entire vascular system of a complex organ in less than 12 hours. They’re already making important steps toward this goal, having succeeded in creating 3D printed blood vessels—a hurdle that many other companies have yet to overcome. Without a blood supply, cells are only able to survive for a certain length of time; as a result, ultra-high resolution printing is of utmost importance when it comes to developing microvasculature and scaffolding for human tissue. Prellis’s record-speed printing is paving the way for important medical progress and functional organ replacement options.
Day Zero Diagnostics (DZD) is using genomics and machine learning to modernize infectious disease diagnosis and treatment. Current diagnostic tests take 2-5 days to properly diagnose an infection, and this extended wait time is associated with an 8% increase in death per hour. However, Miriam Huntley and the team at DZD have developed a test that rapidly identifies bacteria and their antibiotic resistance profiles, so that patients receive the right antibiotic therapy within ours. By developing a much faster way to accurately diagnose bacterial infections, DZD not only has the potential to reduce hospital costs and the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics, but also to save patients’ lives.
For doctors, having access to an ultrasound machine when it’s needed can be a matter of life and death. However, many hospitals and clinics only have a limited number of ultrasound machines, and some are not able to afford them at all due to the high price tag. The team at Butterfly Network made it their mission to scale down the ultrasound—not only is their handheld probe pocket-sized, but it also costs significantly less than a traditional ultrasound machine. Their technology, called the Butterfly iQ, connects directly to a user’s smartphone and produces clinical-quality full body medical imaging. John Martin, Butterfly Network’s Chief Medical Officer, even used the device to detect a cancerous tumor in his neck on his own. Ultimately, the team at Butterfly Network aims to democratize health care by making medical imaging accessible and affordable—not just for doctors and hospitals, but for patients themselves.
Working on reducing time spent waiting for more common services is Solv, a mobile app that helps people find and book same-day urgent care appointments. According to IBIS World, the Urgent Care Centers industry is growing at an average rate of 5.4% annual and has reached $28 billion in 2018. Heather Fernandez saw a clear opportunity, as well as inefficiencies, in the urgent care system and brought her experience in transparent consumer experiences to the world of urgent care coordination. By creating a seamless, simple, and price transparent interface for a patient to schedule their appointment with a highly-rated convenient care provider, Solv helps patients get the care they need, fast. On the provider’s end, Solv increases online bookings, helps manage appointments, and improves patient satisfaction at clinics and care centers. By easing the coordination of care on both ends, more people are able to get the quality care that they need, when they need it.
There is no question that the future is bright in the world of health and medicine. Each of the Innovators showcased above gives us a taste of what’s on the horizon in healthcare and science. With advances like 3D printed organs, rapid bacterial infection diagnosis, and portable ultrasound imaging, it’s easy to be excited and optimistic about the future of health and medicine. You can check out the full group of 2018 TEDMED Hive Innovators TEDMED.com. If you’re joining us in Palm Springs next week or participating in TEDMED Live, you will see all 16 Innovators speak during the Audacious Session. Be sure to join the conversation surrounding TEDMED 2018, which is taking place November 14-16, using #TEDMED on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.