TEDMED 2014: The First Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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