The World Around Us

Nature has arguably been the most consistent source of inspiration for the human imagination, sparking curiosity and wonder. It also inspires us to think about the digital environment that now exists, although not necessarily considered natural, it is becoming more and more integrated into our daily lives and decisions. How can we use the environment, whether natural or digital, to improve our health? And what are we putting into the environment that is negatively impacting our health? This week’s Speaker Spotlight will focus on Speakers and Hive Innovators who have creatively thought about these questions, from biophilic buildings to how noise could be the next public health crisis. Regardless of their answer, each one has found creative ways to think about the input and output of humans’ complex relationship with our environment.

Would you be surprised if we told you that something as simple as having a window with a view of nature in your office can increase job satisfaction and decrease job stress? Award-winning architect Amanda Sturgeon designs with this concept in mind: the more we create a symbiotic relationship between buildings and nature, the happier and healthier humans will be. At the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), Amanda and her team focus on biophilic buildings: structures that utilize and celebrate biophilia (love of connecting with life and nature). She worries that the gap between humans and nature is growing too wide and believes that the relationship needs to be repaired to support healthier lives. By incorporating living elements into her designs, as well as infrastructure that more closely resembles what we would find in natural settings, Amanda strives to provide a way to design not just a building, but the relationship between people and nature.

Road traffic, sporting events, concerts, construction sites, airplanes. Sound or noise? Noise is defined as “unwanted sound”, not merely a volume, so it’s more a matter of perspective. However, the impact that noise has on our health is profoundly different than sound in general. Some consider noise as the next great public health crisis, and TEDMED Speaker Mathias Basner will tell us why. As an Associate Professor of Sleep and Chronobiology in Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and the President of the International Commission of Biological Effects of Noise, he has spent much of his career exploring the effects of noise on our health, and particularly our sleep. With one of his studies focused on how traffic noise impacts sleep, his team broke down the difference of sleep disruption from road, rail, and air traffic noise. In order to support further research of the impact of disrupted sleep on psychomotor functioning, he worked on improving the validity of the tools used to measure impact. In addition to studying the relationship between noise and humans functioning on the ground, Mathias has also spent time studying sleep in space, and how to best prepare astronauts for a mission to Mars. He’s asking tough questions about how our circadian rhythm is impacted by prolonged microgravity and confinement. Mathias is pushing the boundaries of understanding how our biological rhythms interact with nature.

The CDC’s Most Unwanted List of threats is steadily growing with deadly superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics, making it more and more urgent that we develop new medicines to battle infectious bacterias. When many researchers continue to look for synthetic solutions to this natural phenomenon, Hive Innovator Sean Brady and his team at Lodo Therapeutics are digging in the dirt for answers. They seek new therapeutics to tackle drug-resistant microbial infections and cancers – some of humanity’s greatest dangers. To do so, the team at Lodo is using a gene sequencing technique to extract and sequence microbial DNA from soil. Recently, they discovered a cure for MRSA in rats, an antibiotic-resistant disease that also causes complications in humans ranging from skin infections and sepsis to pneumonia to bloodstream infections. Now working to improve the drug’s effectiveness in hopes of developing a treatment for humans, Sean and his team at Lodo are turning to nature for solutions to life-threatening problems.

Lodo’s Lab

What if our environment, and the devices that monitor us and our surroundings, could feed life-saving information to emergency response services? Michael Martin asked this question, and the answer is his work at RapidSOS. Using data collected by Internet of Things (IoT) devices and companies ranging from biometric sensors and cell phones to automobiles and home security systems, RapidSOS bolsters our nation’s outdated 9-1-1 platform with rich, dynamic information that can help first responders save lives. They’re building partnerships with a wide range of organizations to collect data from multiple sources and are already able to deliver a more exact location of people in need, speeding first responders to their aid. Their goal is to arm EMS with as much information as is possible and relevant to save lives and even contact emergency contacts to activate an extended support network. RapidSOS puts our digital environment to work to provide the best possible care in our times of crisis.

As we design more technology to manipulate our environment, it becomes clearer that we must not lose sight of incorporating natural elements as well. Whether it’s building biophilic buildings that integrate the synthetic with nature or measuring the impact of human-made noise on sleep deprivation and thus cognition, the relationship between what’s natural and synthetic has become more enmeshed, creating the hybrid world we live in. It’s using this hybrid environment for good, such as our personal data being fed to first responders, and digging in the dirt for antimicrobial organisms, that allows us to progress forward, hand in hand with nature instead of fighting it.

Building Beacons of Quality Care

There are endless, and occasionally insurmountable, hurdles that prevent people from receiving quality care. It may be the distance to the nearest hospital, or the lack of resources at said hospital, or that a “nearby” hospital simply doesn’t exist. This Speaker Spotlight will focus on the Speakers and Hive Innovators who are “bringing the mountain to Mohammed,” whether by building hospitals in communities that previously did not have them, or deconstructing the operating room and bringing it to a patient’s home. Each of these leaders has found ways to improve access to quality health care in communities that were often left behind.

Dikembe Mutombo has never lost connection with his home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. After coming to America on an academic scholarship to study medicine at Georgetown University, Dikembe went on to an impressive eighteen-season career in the NBA. Throughout his career as a professional basketball player, and especially after retiring from the Houston Rockets in 2009, Dikembe has always been committed to using his celebrity status as a force for good. With a passion for improving the lives of the underserved—particularly those living in the Congo and throughout Africa—Dikembe has worked on projects and initiatives that help to ensure that those in need have access to health care and economic opportunities. In 1997, he established the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, which strives to improve the health, education, and quality of life for the people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One major Foundation project was the construction of the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital in Kinshasa, Dikembe’s hometown, which has served 300,000 people in the area since opening in 2007. Dikembe lives out the belief that every person, no matter where they live, deserves access to quality care and has built a beacon to share that vision.

Dikembe being honored at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Harvard Medical School’s Global Health Catalyst Summit

As we know, equitable access is not merely an issue of having a hospital nearby. The quality of care within a hospital is critical, and one would hope, equal. However, Elizabeth Howell’s research shows us that outcomes are not equitable in all cases. As the Director of The Blavatnik Family Women’s Health Research Institute, and the Mount Sinai Health System Vice Chair for Research, as well as a Professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Science, Elizabeth witnessed the disparity in outcomes that minority groups, especially Black women, faced in her field. In a study published in 2016, Elizabeth and her colleagues point out that “a significant portion of maternal morbidity and mortality is preventable making quality of care in hospitals a critical lever for improving outcomes.” With this fact in mind, they studied the differences in hospitals in which black and white women deliver. They found that black women are more likely to deliver at higher-risk hospitals, and called for further research to define the attributes that make hospitals high performing. It’s not enough to have a hospital nearby for a woman to deliver, so Elizabeth is leading research that will help ensure that hospitals provide all mothers high-quality care.

When it comes to improving health care for the underserved, Mitch Katz is all about achieving measurable results and lasting changes. As President and Chief Executive Officer of NYC Health + Hospitals, the nation’s largest public healthcare system, Mitch leads an integrated health care system of hospitals, neighborhood health centers, long-term care, nursing homes, and home care, which together function as the public safety net health care system of New York City. Although it’s a big job, Mitch has the right experience: his last few decades were spent directing the San Francisco Department of Health and then the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. While in those two California cities, Mitch achieved many public health victories including funding needle exchange, the creation of an ambulatory care network, and the elimination of the department deficit through increased revenues and decreased administrative expenses. Having taken over NYC Health + Hospitals in early 2018, Mitch has already set ambitious goals for the system, including achieving fiscal stability and transforming the primarily emergency department-focused system into a primary care-focused system. Many people look at US cities’ health care systems as broken and a nightmare, but Mitch looks at them, sees their potential, and finds a way to turn the oil tanker.

There are around 5 billion people in the world who don’t have access to safe, clean surgical care. Debbie Teodorescu and the team at SurgiBox are looking to change that. Instead of requiring a sterile operating room for surgery—which is difficult in many developing countries where dust, bacteria, and flies are present when doctors are working in the field or can also contaminate operating rooms—SurgiBox is redesigning what safe surgery looks like. With their simple, inexpensive, and ultraportable inflatable surgical environment that fits in a backpack, Debbie and the team are making clean surgeries available anywhere. Instead of requiring a full room for surgery, SurgiBox is simply inflated into a clear bubble around the patient’s surgical site, sealed for sterility, and operated through via ports. Imagine the possibilities for quality health care access with a portable OR!

When faced with glacial sized challenges, it is clear that many members of the medical community roll up their sleeves and get to work, chipping away at the behemoth. While there are few like Mitch, who found a way to reshape massive health care systems to meet the needs of the patients while making the system more sustainable, we know there are many who are fighting the everyday Goliath’s in health care. While Mitch has shown how to make large-scale, systemic changes, there are pioneers like Debbie who are bringing safe surgery to places where it does not exist. Even when there is infrastructure in place, we are grateful for researchers like Elizabeth, who make sure that we know where to hold our systems accountable with the very real statistics facing underserved communities. Regardless of how they reinvent access to health care, each of these champions is forging a way to bring quality care to communities and patients that others overlooked or ignored.

Social Experiences at TEDMED, Powered by Our Partners

At TEDMED this year, join our Partners in uniquely designed experiences and conversations that highlight the powerful and impactful ways they are pushing boundaries and improving the health of individuals, communities, and nations around the world.

Each of our Partners embraces the role that Chaos+Clarity has in driving innovation, advancing science, and creating healthier communities, and we are excited that they share their cutting-edge ideas and devotion to a healthier world with the TEDMED Community. Below, learn more about their experiences at TEDMED this year – and register today to join them on-site at TEDMED 2018: Chaos+Clarity.

This year, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, through a collection of new, original stories about an emerging future Culture of Health, will feature the work of some of today’s most thought-provoking futurists and fiction authors. Five authors will join us and share how they imagine a healthier world. The TEDMED Community is invited to read each author’s story and engage with them directly in the RWJF Hive Lounge, and at a special Stories Under the Stars evening event. We’re excited to explore how fiction can help inspire a healthier future with RWJF and the TEDMED Community.

  Ensuring that all have the basics to be as healthy as possible.

AMA HealthBytes, a new game, will be launched at TEDMED this year. Are you up for the challenge? Put your knowledge to the test with “Mission Possible: Normal Blood Pressure” and “Practice Master”. Whether you’re a patient or physician, you’re bound to learn something new! After testing your knowledge with HealthBytes, join AMA leadership for Fireside Chats in the Hive about topics ranging from A.I.’s potential in healthcare to how digital tools can improve patient care and enable lifestyle change.

 Attacking the dysfunction in health care by removing obstacles and burdens that interfere with patient care—that’s the work of today’s American Medical Association.

We’re excited to have Joule, a Canadian Medical Association company, create different health care environments in the Hive, showcasing how virtual care tools can assist in improving access to health care. Experience an aging community on Wednesday, an at-risk community on Thursday, and, a remote community on Friday. Each day, you’ll learn about innovative initiatives and see practical, hands-on examples of physician-led innovation. Interact with cutting-edge innovations, and envision the potential impact these initiatives could have in your own local health care setting and how they can help solve current health care delivery challenges.

 Driving breakthroughs in health care innovation and system change.

Do YOU give a care? The SCAN Foundation is asking the TEDMED Community to add their voice to this important campaign that highlights the role Millennials play as caregivers while helping them create communities of support. They’ll also be hosting a live podcast recording hosted by their CEO, Dr. Bruce Chernof, about supporting younger caregivers to create community and find clarity. You can join the conversation on social media before you get to TEDMED, and share your personal story of providing care for an older relative or loved one, explaining why and how #YouGiveACare.

 Empowering Millennial caregivers across America with knowledge, resources, and supportive communities.

What really matters in health today? This question, along with the role you can play, is what Geisinger will explore with the TEDMED Community this year. Join Geisinger leadership, including President and CEO Dr. David Feinberg, as they tackle some of the biggest questions we face in health today: What is the responsibility of a health system to support the social determinants of health? What is the main barrier to bringing lifestyle medicine into routine clinical care? Can, and should, we have an opioid-free world?

 Providing clear vision on how to change health care nationally, from treatment to prevention.

What is the role that social, economic, and environmental factors play in our health and health outcomes? Join Humana at TEDMED to explore these questions and inspire solutions.

 Collaborating to untangle the complex web of social and environmental factors to design a comprehensive, integrated approach to improve health.

We’re thankful to have such amazing leaders joining us in our mission to help shape a healthier future. We hope you’ll join us and them at TEDMED 2018 to explore big issues and discover new solutions.

Community Change, From the Inside Out

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
—Margaret Mead

From infectious disease to opioid addiction to sexual violence, there’s a myriad of pressing health and social issues facing communities around the globe. Sometimes the global community steps in to help, providing aid where needed, but other times local communities are left to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, low-income and underserved communities not only have limited resources to tackle such issues on their own, but they also often find themselves facing an intricate web of many other deeply-rooted challenges. Despite the injustices of these situations, we often see people within these communities who take it upon themselves to inspire the change they want to see around them. At TEDMED 2018, we’ll feature 4 Speakers and 1 Hive Innovator who are employing innovative ideas and unwavering determination to address the complex challenges facing their communities. Through their work, these individuals are proving that the most sustainable and effective change often starts at the local level—from the inside out.

In Malawi, nearly 1 in 5 babies are born prematurely, and the southeast African country has faced significant challenges supporting these babies with basic functions such as breathing, feeding, and body temperature regulation. Refusing to be a bystander in the face of these heartbreaking statistics, pediatrician Queen Dube and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital have been working with Rice University in Texas, along with other international partners, to test and implement life-saving technologies through the NEST 360 program in order to avoid preventable deaths and save babies’ lives. These technologies are unique in that unlike most medical equipment, they are built to withstand the harsh environments in which many African hospitals operate. In an interview with the BBC, Queen describes one of the life-saving technologies, a bubble CPAP machine, which her hospital uses with premature babies who are struggling to breathe. Between these new technologies, government initiatives, and innovative partnerships, infant mortality rates are now on a steady decline in Malawi.

Infant receiving care at Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital

Sometimes a community is forced to face an onslaught of seemingly insurmountable challenges all at once—such as when it is confronted with a natural disaster. After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico found itself in this difficult position. With power outages that lasted over 8 months and an alarmingly high death toll that wasn’t updated until nearly 11 months after the initial tragedy, many Puerto Ricans reported feeling a lack of support in their efforts to rebuild after the storm. Fortunately, amidst the devastation, there were community members like Christine Nieves who rolled up their sleeves and got to work. A few weeks after the hurricane, Christine and other community members opened Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo Mariana (Project for Mutual Aid Mariana), a “comedore social” (social kitchen) in La Loma that not only provides the community with rainwater collection and filtration for cooking, solar panels, and free Wi-Fi, but also serves up to 300 meals per day. As Christine put it, she saw “Hurricane Maria [as an] opportunity to see the power is in ourselves and not in America.” Following in the footsteps of Christine’s community-led approach, buildings across the island now display a new motto: “Puerto Rico se levanta” (Puerto Rico raises itself). Not only is Christine’s work helping to revive a struggling community, but it is also instilling a strong sense of community pride and inspiring more community-led recovery projects across the island.

While it’s no secret that the United States has an unfortunate history of exploiting its farmworkers, many might be surprised to learn that there are still American farms utilizing slavery practices today. Greg Asbed co-founded the Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW), a worker-based human rights organization, to help end the systemic abuses he was seeing in Florida’s tomato fields. In the years following, Greg helped to expand CIW’s standards into a broader framework called the Fair Food Program (FFP), a unique partnership between farmworkers, Florida tomato growers, and select retail buyers. With the help of Gerardo Reyes Chavez—who was a farmworker for most of his life and is now a key leader of the CIW and FFP—the organization has helped to liberate over 1,200 farmworkers from farms where they were being held against their will and forced to work. Additionally, the CIW has gotten major corporations such as McDonald’s and Whole Foods to sign “Fair Food Agreements,” in which the companies agree to only do business with tomato farms that provide workers with fair pay and labor, education, complaint management systems, health and safety agreements, and more. Greg and Gerardo’s Worker Driven Social Responsibility model is now being applied beyond the agricultural industry—as far away as in garment factories in Bangladesh. In addressing and improving the unfair food system, Greg and Gerardo are giving a voice to an underserved community and paving the way for large-scale social impact.

CIW-organized farmworkers’ protest

Affecting community change often demands addressing systemic challenges head-on. Toyin Ajayi co-founded Cityblock Health to tackle the barriers to good health facing people in underserved areas and to provide these populations with the personalized care that they require. Driven by the belief that truly serving a community means extending healthcare services beyond the doctor’s office, Cityblock Health works to become active and responsive members of the communities they serve—providing its member base of those who access Medicaid, who are dually eligible for Medicaid and Medicare, as well as people living in underserved city neighborhoods, with high-quality care where-needed and when-needed. The company’s tech-enabled model not only effectively meets the complex care and social needs of its members, but it’s also helping to shift care away from the reactive, hospital-based acute healthcare system and toward a system that is more focused on prevention and community support. By providing customized local health care, Cityblock Health is improving the health of its community, block by block.

When it comes to driving meaningful change, sometimes it takes someone on the inside to clearly identify the problem and to find the best path forward. From Queen’s work implementing life-saving new technologies in Malawi, to Christine’s inspiring community resilience efforts in the wake of Hurricane Maria, to Greg and Gerardo’s victories in improving working conditions for Florida’s tomato farmers, to Cityblock Health’s implementation of personalized and localized healthcare solutions for underserved neighborhoods, TEDMED 2018 will showcase individuals who are not accepting the status quo. These outstanding Speakers and Innovators are stepping up to the plate and solving health and social challenges from the inside out.

How Ethics and Morals Bring Clarity to a Chaotic World

The terms “ethics” and “morals” are often used interchangeably, but there are important differences between the two. Ethics require a group consensus of some form, whether formal or informal, whereas morals is for the individual to decide. Of course, one impacts the other, with a sort of chicken-and-egg effect, and both have an enormous impact on how we approach difficult subjects and navigate complex problems. TEDMED 2018 Speakers Adam Waytz, Rabiaa El Garani, Sherry Johnson, and Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin are each tackling moral and ethical dilemmas and sharing their wisdom from the Stage this November. Whether through research or lived experience, these Speakers will share stories of exploring, grappling with, and resolving health-related moral and ethical dilemmas on both individual and societal levels.

Adam Waytz, a psychologist and associate professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, is interested in uncovering what motivates a whistle-blower, or a person who decides to come forward to report someone else’s unethical behavior. Adam and his colleagues have conducted research to discover the psychological determinants of whistle-blowing in order to shed light on the factors that either encourage or discourage a potential whistle-blower to come forward. Their findings revealed that there are two basic moral values at odds when someone decides whether or not they will speak out about an offense: fairness and loyalty. People who prioritize fairness over loyalty tend to show a greater willingness to be a whistleblower, while those who prioritize loyalty show more hesitation to speak out. Through his work, Adam is lending new insight into how the guiding principles of ethics and morals can vary so much from person to person and contribute to drastically different decisions.

There are some issues around which morality and ethics are seemingly clear-cut. For instance, Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) is widely recognized as a serious crime and human rights violation. Unfortunately, SGBV is still a common occurrence in far too many places in the world. As an international investigator of SGBV and a member of the Justice Rapid Response-UN Women SGBV Justice Experts Roster, Rabiaa El Garani has traveled to places that are experiencing deep moral and ethical conflict surrounding SGBV—including Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and the Central African Republic. In the JRR-UN Women documentary Evidence of Hope, a survivor who shared her traumatic experiences with Rabiaa underscored the importance of Rabiaa’s SGBV investigative work, saying “After I met [her] I realized that there are some people in the world that care about us.” Rabiaa’s work is bringing justice to survivors of SGBV, voicing their stories, and laying the groundwork for a new code of ethics in parts of the world where SGBV is often ignored or even accepted. 

While SGBV is considered a crime in every state across America, many people would be surprised to learn that child marriage is not. Sherry Johnson is a survivor of child marriage who was forced to marry her rapist at age 11, and by age 27, she was a mother of 9. Today, Sherry advocates for the fair treatment of children and fights for the abolishment of child marriage in the United States. After spending the past several years lobbying the Florida legislature on the issue of child marriage, Sherry recently achieved a major victory with the signing of SB 140 into law, which restricts marriage in the state to those who are at least 17 years old. However, the fight is far from over—almost all states still have some legal variation for children to marry.  

Another ethical debate that concerns America’s young people surrounds the practice of vaping, which is the inhaling and exhaling of aerosol (also referred to as vapor) through an e-cigarette or similar device. Vaping and e-cigarettes were initially considered to be a less harmful alternative to smoking tobacco cigarettes, however recent studies have shown their effects to be much more deleterious than originally thought. Furthermore, with advertising that appears to target youth, candy-like flavors like mango and fruit medley, and devices that pack an alarmingly high nicotine content, the vaping industry has become the subject of extensive ethical scrutiny in recent years. Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin is a biobehavioral scientist and a professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine whose research focuses on the bio-behavioral understanding of vaping and substance use behaviors in young people. By digging deeper into teen vaping behavior, Suchitra is uncovering important information that can be used by policymakers as they look to regulate the e-cigarette industry in an effort to help keep children away from the highly addictive and harmful habit.

From health and wellbeing to human rights and policy, we look to ethics and morals to help bring clarity to our often chaotic world. Although the lines between right and wrong may seem clear to many, such as in the cases of child marriage, SGBV, and teen vaping, the fact is, these are not universal truths. Furthermore, given the individualized psychology behind how we establish our morals, we may never be able to see eye to eye on some things. We’re excited to continue exploring the complexities of ethics, morality, science, and behavior from the Stage this year and to gain a deeper understanding of these concepts from TEDMED 2018 Speakers Adam, Rabiaa, Sherry, and Suchitra. We hope to see you there!

The Creative Potential of Data

When you think of the word “data,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Maybe statistics, graphs, or evidence? How about creativity? Probably not. In fact, many people think of creativity and data as polar opposites. However, what if that wasn’t necessarily the case? Just think about it: analyzing data requires imagination, finding hidden patterns, and translating information into relatable and digestible stories. Today’s Speaker Spotlight focuses on three TEDMED 2018 Speakers who are approaching data creatively and translating their findings to yield new insights in their areas of expertise. Whether it’s hacking the human genome, revealing how data informs behavior, or creating art from MRIs, these Speakers are telling fascinating stories through data in unique and exciting ways.

Data privacy is a hot topic today, but discussions of the issue are rarely focused on the importance of protecting our genetic data. However, genealogy expert Yaniv Erlich and his team made a shocking discovery when they found a privacy loophole that enabled the re-identification of allegedly anonymous male research participants using just internet searches and their Y chromosome. Dubbed the “Genome Hacker” by Nature, Yaniv’s work has pushed the science community to think about genealogy privacy from different angles and to find new ways to utilize our genetic data to inspire positive scientific progress. Yaniv is also responsible for assembling the world’s largest crowdsourced family tree, which includes information from 13 million people, as well as developing the website, which has gathered the genotypes of over 100,000 individual donors. With this complex layering of data, Yaniv is paving a path toward establishing a digitized genetic connection between every human alive.

Yaniv Erlich- Whitehead Institute from PMWC Intl on Vimeo.

In today’s digital world, health data isn’t being used exclusively by doctors and scientists. There are apps, devices, and home tests that enable the anyone to collect, monitor, and track their personal health data. David Asch, a behavioral economist at the University of Pennsylvania, warns that we should not look to these “quantified self” datasets as primary drivers of health behavior change, but instead we should view them as promising facilitators. In a 2015 JAMA piece, Asch and his co-authors noted that while wearable health tracking devices “are increasing in popularity, little evidence suggests that they are bridging that gap” between simply “recording and reporting information about behaviors such as physical activity or sleep patterns” and actually “educat[ing] and motivat[ing] individuals toward better habits and better health.” By diving deeper into the realities of quantified self data outcomes, David is working to move past the hype and to communicate what is most effective in inspiring positive health changes.

Of course, gaining insight into our health often requires more intensive measures than self-tracking, and many people undergo diagnostic tests such as CT scans or MRIs to see what’s going on inside of their body. While many people find getting one of these tests to be an unsettling experience, artist Marilène Oliver finds beauty and opportunity in diagnostic scans. Inspired by Hans Moravec’s idea that the Digital Age could one day enable us to download our consciousness, Marilène took the concept one step further and asked, “what about our bodies?” Finding that this question couldn’t be answered solely in virtual sculptures or fully physical structures, Marilène now creates work that strives to bring digitized bodies to life. Marilène’s art not only spotlights new and explosive ways to interpret our medical data, but it also helps us to more deeply explore questions surrounding our health, wellbeing, and physical body.

Marilene Oliver. Portfolio of Selected Work 2003-2013 from Marilene Oliver on Vimeo.

Data collection and interpretation has become a dynamic and creative process. With the power of a search engine, a smartwatch, or a PET scan, we are now able to glean insights into health and medicine that were previously unimaginable. For Yaniv, David, and Marilène, data has been the fuel that helped them to establish important new connections and to reconsider how they think about health. By unleashing the creativity and possibility inherent in data, these three speakers are inspiring us to look at information in new ways and to answer the question: how will you think about data?

Policy @ Home: How are you going to change America’s health for the better?

Often when we think about public policy, we think about lawmakers. After all, they are the ones who can make the change. However, we have found time and time again that changing public health policy is not limited to those serving in government offices. For researchers, medical practitioners, and community members, what it takes to be a change maker is finding your answer to the question, “How are you going to change America’s health for the better?” Each of our Speaker’s in this week’s Speaker Spotlight have found unique answers to how they are impacting change in America and helping to build a healthier future. Whether it’s from the Senate Chambers or a research lab, each of these Speakers will share their vision for how public policy can create a healthier United States.

As the 20th Surgeon General of the United States, Vice Admiral Jerome Adams is faced with a monumental task: improving the health of the American people. Specifically, Dr. Adams is responsible for overseeing the operations of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and providing the public with the best scientific information available regarding how they can better their health and reduce their risk of injury and illness. Since he took office in 2017, Dr. Adams has had to confront major national public health issues ranging from opioids to hurricane relief effort to health and national security s, which he has approached from a science-first perspective. Additionally, Dr. Adams is focused on demonstrating the connection between health and economic prosperity at the individual, organizational, and community level. Dr. Adams believes in the power of forming non-traditional partnerships, such as with law enforcement and private businesses, to address America’s most difficult health challenges and build healthier communities.

Dr. Adams at the NIH

Affordable and accessible health care is an important piece of the policy puzzle, too. Irene Papanicolas is a health system performance analyst who asks the important question “Why is health care spending in the United States so much greater than in other high-income countries?” While many have asked that question before, Irene has examined the data behind several theories, finding that issues with the prices of labor and goods, as well as high administrative costs are the main drivers of the differences in spending. Her research, which digs deeper into the strengths, weaknesses, and intricacies of different health care systems around the globe, is providing policymakers with critical data and inspiring new ways of thinking about the future of the US healthcare system.

Sometimes, the most effective policies are already on the books. April Zeoli, an associate professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University, has conducted extensive research on the association between laws addressing intimate partner violence (IPV), gun violence, and intimate partner homicide (IPH) rates. With her work, April digs into important questions such as what are “the risks of firearm access and use in IPV?” as well as what is the “effectiveness of interventions designed specifically to reduce firearm violence in intimate relationships”? Importantly, April has found that some states have policies that have proven to reduce instances of IPV and IPH — which have the potential to be adopted in other states as well.

Denisse Rojas’s work also has the potential to change policies in a major way. Denisse grew up as an undocumented immigrant and saw firsthand the issues that marginalized populations in the United States face when it comes to health care — experiences that have inspired Denisse to pursue a career in both medicine and public policy. In addition to her commitment to influencing immigration and health policy, Denisse is dedicated to helping other aspiring medical students navigate the DACA program through the organization she co-founded, Pre-Health Dreamers. With her educational fate in the hands of the government, Denisse is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School in the hopes of influencing immigration policy, and its health impacts on undocumented people, for the better.

Denisse testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee, October 2017

Whether it be research, advocacy, partnerships, or law, there are many ways to answer the question, “How are you going to change the health of Americans for the better?” Dr. Adams, Irene, April, and Denisse have all chosen different paths to address public health concerns in the US. Progress does not come without struggle, which each of these Speakers shed light on the incredible challenges we face as a nation, as well as individuals. However, their stories and research spark hope that there are clear ways to change policy to pave the way to a healthier future.

When Our Bodies Have the Solution

The human body is the beautiful coordination and collision of complex systems. While there are some systems that we understand on the deepest levels, other systems have continued to elude us. In the process of unlocking that knowledge of these elusive networks, researches have been able to find solutions to some of our most challenging problems. By amplifying the power of these systems within our bodies, scientists are finding ways to slay the dragons of paralysis and cancer. Coming to the TEDMED stage this November, we have 3 scientists who have found inspiration from within the human body to develop solutions that maximize the impact of the immune and musculoskeletal systems and developed life-changing therapies and technologies for their patients.

Since he was young, Tim Lu was interested in computer programming. He found a way to channel that talent into biology, where his research focuses on engineering bacterial and human cells to perform new functions. Considered one of the founding fathers of synthetic biology, Tim has been working with the Synthetic Biology Group at MIT on designing synthetic gene circuits that encode in DNA. These circuits can be designed to do many things, including distinguishing various cancer cells from non-cancerous cells. With concerns around growing resistance to traditional antibiotics, Tim has looked for inspiration within the body to research how to utilize a person’s immune system to attack the cells that do not belong using bacteriophages. Tim’s research has also focused on immunotherapies for a range of cancers, using synthetic gene circuits that activate when it detects two specific cancer markers. Manipulating the body from the inside out, Tim is leading the way through the synthetic biology revolution.

Also finding inspiration from the human immune system, Carl June designed the CAR T cell immunotherapy for lymphoid leukemia while leading the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at the Perelman School of Medicine, and the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at the University of Pennsylvania. This immunotherapy is the first FDA approved personalized cell therapy for cancer in the US. Carl weaved together his experience as a Navy-funded HIV researcher and his research experience studying cancer to develop the idea of using genetically engineered T cells. Using the body’s own immune system, Carl saw an opportunity for a modified HIV virus to deliver modified DNA to a tumor. While thinking outside the box, Carl dove deep inside of cells and is one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2018. While the therapy is focused on specific types of leukemia, for now, this gives us hope that may more cancers will be able to be treated using similar therapies.

While Carl and Tim design therapies from the inside out , Kathleen O’Donnell has been designing solutions from the outside in. As an Industrial Designer at the Wyss Institute, Kathleen focuses her work on designing and programming a robotic exosuit to mitigate, or ultimately eliminate, challenges to mobility, such as the impact of partial paralysis caused by stroke. Through a robotic device attached to a patient’s lower limb, the exosuit allows for gait correction and prevents the development of maladaptive compensatory strategies, such as limping. As the team member leading the effort in getting this technology to a clinical setting, Kathleen is working with ReWalk Robotics to mass-produce the design for physical therapy clinics.

The human body is an extraordinary set of systems and has evolved to overcome nature’s most complex problems. Just like we look to optimize our systems to maximize our health, Carl, Tim, and Kathleen have found ways to support powerful systems in our body and guide them to perform in ways that can cure illnesses and impairments that were once thought impossible to overcome. The human body still holds many secrets, but we know that some of the solutions to our most difficult challenges lie within it.

Meet the 2018 Session Hosts

The countdown to TEDMED 2018 continues, and we’re thrilled to announce the personalities who will guide us through this year’s stage program: The 2018 Session Hosts.

These Hosts connect the stories and ideas shared by our speakers and help us navigate themes and relationships throughout the program. This week, we’re happy to introduce our Hosts below. Next week, we will announce the Sessions they’ll host, including the Speakers in each and the themes that tie them together, so keep an eye out!

All of our Hosts also helped shape this year’s program as a part of TEMDED’s Editorial Advisory Board (EAB). They, and other members from the EAB, are looking forward to meeting you in Palm Springs, CA. If you haven’t already registered, there’s still time – register today to join us at TEDMED!

We’ll reveal more about TEDMED 2018 each week as we count down to opening night – If you haven’t yet secured your spot at TEDMED 2018, don’t hesitate to do so today.

Q&A with Sian Leah Beilock, Performance Under Pressure Sage

Sian Leah Beilock is exploring the science behind why people “choke” in pressure-packed situations. Specifically, she examines factors in the brain and body that influence performance in stressful situations ranging from test taking, to public speaking, to sporting events. Using a variety of research methods, including assessing test performance to neuroimaging techniques, Sian’s work is aimed at better understanding how our cognition and reasoning skills change when we are under stress. Sian’s research is routinely covered in the media, including CNN, NPR, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2017, the National Academy of Sciences honored Sian with the Troland Award, in recognition of her pioneering work in experimental psychology. Sian has published two books and over 100 papers though her research. After serving as Executive Vice Provost of the University of Chicago, Sian was recently appointed as the eighth President of Barnard College. She spoke at TEDMED 2017, and you can watch her Talk here.

TEDMED: You were an athlete growing up, and in your talk you speak a lot about the pressures that athletes feel when it’s game time. How do you see athletic performance relating to the other types of performance pressures that people feel, such as those in the classroom or in the boardroom? Is there anything interesting to note in how these pressures are alike and how they’re different?

Sian Leah Beilock: I did spend a lot of time on the soccer field during my youth, and I learned, often the hard way, how the mental and the physical are linked. Later, as a scientist, I’ve studied this connection closely. Dealing with pressure is a universal. It doesn’t change, whether you have a golf club in your hand or a pencil. It’s the same. Accomplished athletes learn how to thrive when all eyes are on them—and by observing how they manage that and the strategies they use, we can learn a lot about how students survive the pressure of tests and how we can cope with other pressures of everyday life.

TM: In your Talk, you share how overthinking performance and trying to control the situation causes many people to flub under pressure. However, many people at the top of their fields are often considered to be “Type A” or even “control freaks.” It would seem that these people would suffer from what you call “paralysis by analysis,” and yet many seem to be thriving. How do you explain this seeming contradiction?

SLB: There is a time to focus on the details and a time to, as Nike regularly reminds us, “just do it.” When you are practicing and learning your craft, of course you have to pay close attention to the step-by-step process—that can be very important, even critical. But, my guess is, in the moment, when even the most Type A leaders excel, they are trusting their instincts and focusing on the outcome rather than the process. They are always keeping the big picture in mind.

TM: From practicing under the conditions you’ll be performing under to taking the time to write down all the worries and self-doubts circling around in your mind, your TEDMED Talk gave us some valuable strategies to employ when we’re looking to perform our best under pressure. We have a feeling that you have many more good tips, would you mind sharing a few more?

SLB: Well, here’s one tip that I try to use myself. Think about why you should succeed—rather than entertain the reasons why you might fail. I also recommend reinterpreting the signs that your body is giving you. Rather than your sweaty palms and increased heart beat being signs that you are freaking out, remind yourself that these physiological reactions are important and useful. They are shunting resources to your brain and body so that you can think and perform at your best.

TM: What was the TEDMED experience like for you? It would be especially interesting to learn more about how you prepared for the pressure of memorizing and presenting your Talk!

SLB: Believe me, I feel pressure like everyone else (maybe even more powerfully since that’s the crux of my research), but I also try to practice what I preach. Practicing— not just by yourself, but under the same conditions you are going to encounter when you perform—is what matters. It gets you used to what you are going to experience in the big moment. I talk about it as closing the gap between training and competition. I did this to prep for my TEDMED talk and it helped. I practiced on my own, but also in front of others—people I trust and whose opinions I value. I promise you it was nerve wracking every time, but it made the big day a little less daunting.