Newsmakers of the Week: A new tally of global health; a doc rapper goes viral, and a magician’s secret

If  a media time grab could give a snapshot of the unique and varied personalities that comprise the TEDMED community, these past couple of weeks might suffice.

Ankita Rao of Kaiser Health News, in collaboration with USAToday, profiled physician/rapper/community healthcare innovator Zubin Damania, who spoke this April, about his often, um, “indelicate” viral videos that poke fun at pop culture while at the same time delivering valuable PSAs on health, or offering acerbic commentary on the state of healthcare. His wit has a serious side, though:

Damania delivered a talk at the 2013 TEDMED conference in Washington in April called “Are Zombie Doctors Taking Over America?” In it, he offered his take on the physician lifestyle right now: a hazy mix of rounds in the hospital, hours on the phone with insurance companies, tedious paperwork and getting home late, only to worry about mistakes made somewhere along the way.

“There are so many pieces, but fundamentally the human relationship is ignored in this system,” he said.

How does the world die? In a piece titled, “Life, Not Death, is Focus of New Health Metrics,” Discover magazine reported on Christopher JL Murray‘s breakthrough global health data measuring system and it’s surprising revelations about how disease risk factors vary according to where and how we live, and new definitions of infirmity and wellness. As Jeremy Smith wrote:

Around the world, for example, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease claimed roughly twice the number of lives as HIV/AIDS in 2010, but HIV/AIDS was much more fatal to young people, and therefore appears higher in the DALY ranking. Likewise, as risk factors, not eating enough fruit out-rivals illicit drug use. For years, experts have said that most of the world’s major childhood diseases could be eliminated with clean water. What global burden suggests is that while lack of access to water and sanitation is a concern, five times worse for the world is indoor smoke from cookstoves, a major contributor to respiratory illnesses, communicable diseases, cardiovascular problems and cancers.

Watch Murray discuss and see more examples from his TEDMED talk:

Another maverick, TEDMED 2013 speaker Sandeep Kishore, appeared in the pages of Weill Cornell Medicine magazine in a piece by Beth Saulnier, titled, “The Doer,” about Kishore’s global health activism. He’s the founder of The Young Professionals Chronic Disease Network, a group promoting research, policy and advocacy work targeting NCDs; has worked on a half-dozen submissions to the WHO; serves on the board of the NGO Universities Allied for Essential Medicines; has won a Howard Hughes Fellowship — and he’s still in med school.

And TEDMED Managing Editor Lisa Shufro offered a peek behind our stage curtains in the Huffington Post, profiling David Blaine — who gave one of TEDMED’s most watched talks ever in 2009 — and what might scare him even more than repeatedly risking his life on death-defying stunts.


Call for ideas: What should a 21st-century doctor look like?

In 1900, the leading causes of death in the U.S. were flu, tuberculosis and gastrointestinal infections. Today, they are heart disease, cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases, with stroke and diabetes in the top ten – largely preventable conditions.*

The problem is, our healthcare system, devoted as it is to acute, curative care, still thinks it’s 1900, with disastrous results. As Ali Ansary, Sandeep “Sunny” Kishore and Jacob Scott, all TEDMED 2012 speakers, wrote in The Huffington Post,

“With increasingly tragic consequences, the reactionary medical paradigm has not provided the preventive care or chronic illness management that our culture needs. Healthcare spending currently consumes 17 percent of our GDP and without a radical shift in thinking, this number may grow even higher.”

Change begins with conversation. To that end, the three have launched a movement called Tomorrow’s Doctor, in which they call for ideas on how to reimagine medicine of the future, starting with med ed.  We must re-align priorities, they say, and take advantage of gains already made in technology and public health.

Above all:

“We need to stop the “imaginectomies” and help, collectively, step by step, to make creativity, imagination and compassion the 21st century standards of medical education.”

Read the full article here and visit to contribute ideas.

Sources:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; New England Journal of Medicine

What will a lateral thinker be when he grows up?

This is a guest post by Sandeep Kishore, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School and TEDMED 2012 speaker.

Recently, I’ve been struggling on how to explain to other folks what it is that I do – or what it is that I am attempting to do.

I still don’t really know.

But I have found some clues recently via a Harvard University website called the Catalyst. It effectively catalogues all people at 17 schools and hospitals associated with Harvard University (from those studying anthropology to appendicitis, from molecules to masses), ‘catalyzes’ new connections, and provides pilot grants to help incent people to work on problems together.


What I like most is that the translation agenda via this website. It provides a useful frame for PhD basic scientists to communicate with MD clinicians and with the policy/public health community.

In the university community, and certainly in training, there are rifts between bench scientists and the clinical docs. Now add in the fact that the biological/pathogen model is old news, mental models are shifting and there are new behavioral/social issues that add to the canonical biomedical approaches, and now we have a real and urgent need for translation.

The Catalyst profiles a translation agenda labeled T1 thru T4:

T1: Basic Scientific Discovery to Clinical Insights

T2: Clinical Insights to Implications for Practice

T3: Implications for Practice to Implications for Population Health

T4: Implications for Population Health to Improved Global Health

This provides a useful continuum and includes tools to broker linkages along the way. And the curation of resources begins the moment any staff member joins Harvard University. In a moment, your publications, your topic areas, people who publish/think like you and even people who physically sit next to you are highlighted. The website is designed to foster creativity and collaboration – and is blind to exactly where those insights might come from. Anyone, from student to president, can participate and link-up.

Best of all, the site is public so that anyone else can view, learn and engage. This is the sort of multidisciplinary effort that we will need for complex health challenges –and I’m delighted that it’s housed at a major university with access to ideas, young blood and energy.

I connected with Dr. Lee Nadler and Dr. Elliott Antman, founders and leaders of the platform, to learn more on the origins and functions of the Harvard Catalyst. I was looking for practical outputs of this network. They relayed one challenge where engineers and researchers were searching for practical applications of next-generation imaging techniques; and one in which radiologists were searching for, well, next generation imaging modalities. Both groups were unintentionally boxed in their professional silos. The Harvard Catalyst challenged the community – write in 250 words, one big idea to bridge the gap, identify how a biological/medical problem could be solved by imaging techniques.

They expected maybe 30 submissions across the 12,000 people unified on the platform. They received 500.

Next, they arranged a poster session where 150 people presented their idea over three evenings. New ideas including novel ways to image islet cells of the pancreas emerged. Success: People not aware of each other’s existence came together; new teams were formed and there was even a bit of funding for pilot grants to try out the best, most promising ideas. As Drs. Nadler and Antman say, their vision is not to bring institutions together; it is to bring people together.

Sandeep Kishore at TEDMED 2012

TEDMED and a network I co-founded, the Young Professionals Chronic Disease Network (YP-CDN) provide some examples of the sort of ‘safe spaces’ for incubation, networking, curation and then translation of ideas to action. Particularly for the way we train the next generation of university students. These initiatives are exciting in that they provide a new nidus for meet ups that foster imagination, innovation and inspiration and that move us beyond hardened paradigms. This is critical for this generation, and even more so for the next.

It all reminds me of the quote by the playwright Edith Wharton relayed to me by an old mentor: “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

These incubators serve as mirrors that help focus, amplify and merge our individual lights of inspiration. This is a neglected, but vital function, for translators. Maybe I’ll grow up to be a mirror?

Announcing nine more 2012 speakers

Our latest additions to the 2012 speaker lineup will offer a truly panoramic view of health and medicine today and far, far into the future. Through these amazing folks, we’ll have a peek at the wonders of human biology; understand the intricacies of surgery, robotics and neuroprosthetics; hear about novel, visionary tactics aimed at conquering public health challenges like aging, cancer, and tobacco use; and assess the very way we go about knowledge-sharing in the U.S.