Guest Post: Top 10 Innovations at TEDMED

I spent last week in San Diego for TEDMED, the medical version of the TED conference. It was an incredible experience for me, almost overwhelming at times with the quality and number of amazing people there. Singularity Hub wrote a preview of the event a few weeks ago.

Here are my top 10 takeaways:

1. Disability to Super-Ability – Mullins, Kamen, Angle

Three incredible stories, told back to back, left the audience in tears and on the edge of their seats.

Prosthetically augmented athlete Aimee Mullins gave a moving account of how being “disabled” has affected her life in a positive way. She reframed our thinking: “Adversity isn’t an obstacle to get around, it’s part of our life. We adapt.”

Dean Kamen spoke of his passion to build prosthetics for war veterans that are ultimately better than real limbs, imparting super-ability to the wearers.

iRobot co-founder Colin Angle continued the story of augmented reality by demonstrating how robots will become caregivers for elders like his mother. “In 2030, every person under 65 will be responsible for the care of a person over 65,” Colin said. “Can robots help with this?”

Saving lives, restoring functional living: these are inspiring applications of robotics and engineering. I highly recommend watching these three TEDMED talks when they are released.

2. Best iPhone Apps for Health – David Pogue

On a lighter note, New York Times columnist David Pogue gave his run-down of the top health-related iPhone apps. Included on his list:

David’s favorite non-health apps?

  • Twittaround – shows you who is Twittering around you in real time
  • Nearesttube – augmented reality shows underground subways in the UK
  • Ocarina – your iPhone becomes an instrument

3. Putting Geo-Medicine in your EMR – Bill Davenhall

Here’s a simple idea that could change the way you manage your health.

Bill Davenhall of ESRI showed annotated maps tracking his place history (everywhere he has lived in his life) and the prevalence of various toxic chemicals. The correlation was striking, and he discovered that the level of toxicity he was exposed to in his life may have been a factor in his recent heart attack. Had he known about this geography-based risk, he might have taken better care of his health.

Bill advocates for a kind of geospatial medicine in which you and your doctor have access to your place history directly in your electronic medical record. I’d like to add this new dimension to my own Quantified Self tracking.

4. Two Remarkable Women – Kris Carr and Donna Karan

I got to have dinner one night with filmmaker Kris Carr and designer Donna Karan.

Kris is a cancer survivor who runs Crazy Sexy Life, an incredible community and resource to inspire anyone struggling with disease. A self-described “wellness warrior”, she asks the question, “Why, when we are challenged to survive, do we give ourselves permission to truly live?”

Donna Karan took the stage the next day and asked, “How do you find the calm in the chaos and treat the whole patient?” This question is the inspiration for her Urban Zen Foundation, which focuses on wellness, empowering children, and preserving cultures in New York City. There is strong undertone of peace in Urban Zen. I think this model could have a powerful impact if it were replicated across the country and around the world.

5. Two Remarkable Men – Jesse Dylan and Aaron Rowe

These two guys are among the most helpful, genuine people I’ve ever met.

Jesse Dylan is the creative genius behind such projects as the Obama “Yes We Can” video with Will.I.Am. He is also the founder of Lybba, a non-profit dedicated to bringing patients, doctors, hospitals, and researchers together in a collaborative, comprehensive conversation on the world’s medical knowledge. He started Lybba after his family’s experience with Chron’s disease, and wants to empower patients with the resources they need to make better health decisions. Hooray!

Aaron Rowe is a biochemistry PhD student and writer for Wired Science. He has an insightful stream of tweets @soychemist, and if I could bottle half of his helpfulness, I’d be a happy camper. Watch for great things to come from Aaron. His thoughts on the TEDMED conference can be found here.

6. Emotional Learning Curriculum for Kids – Goldie Hawn

As a mother of two daughters, I am very grateful for Goldie Hawn’s foundation and the message she delivered from the TEDMED stage.

“We need to rethink our whole approach to classroom education, integrating neuroscience with the latest social and emotional learning techniques. A peaceful, happy child is the first step toward a peaceful world.”

Social/emotional learning is such an important, often neglected area of human development. This approach should be in the hands and minds of every teacher, every parent, and every legislator, to learn ourselves and to share with our children.

7. What do People Eat? – Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio

Documentary photographers Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio have published a series of provocative books to make us rethink our perceptions of the world. They tackle food consumption, intelligent robots, eating insects, material consumption, and how women live.

Their newest book, due for release next August, is called What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets. They interviewed 80 people from around the world and gathered together all the food each one eats in a single day. After the photo shoot, they meticulously weighed each item and calculated total caloric content for each person’s day. From the 1300 calorie diet of a caloric restriction/life extension enthusiast to the 6600 calorie diet of a recovering meth addict, the spectrum is broad and fascinating.

I love the visual impact of these books, their global message, and the discussions they inspire among people of all ages and backgrounds.

8. Building Organs with an Ink-Jet Printer – Anthony Atala

Yes, this is actually being done in the lab of Anthony Atala today. He is the Director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina. One of the projects they are working on is building functional, beating heart valves, which they exercise in a bioreactor to help precondition them for implantation.

Anthony showed a video of the regular ink-jet printer they hijacked, using cells to print a heart valve that actually started beating! This was one of the coolest TEDMED demos, for sure.

9. Visualizing Depression – Alexander Tsiaras

Futuristic medical visualizations from XVIVO and Alexander Tsiaras’ thevisualMD were peppered throughout the conference. One of the most amazing was this one, showing how depression actually causes structural changes in the brain.

From thevisualMD website, “Regions of the brain that may be affected by depression include the ventricles, corpus callosum, hippocampus, and all parts of the limbic system- which is involved with emotion formation as well as processing, learning, and memory.”

Alexander said these visualizations are helping people understand the changes and processes that are happening in their bodies, which results in more patient compliance and hopefully better health.

10. The Art of the Spoken Word – Sekou Andrews

By far my favorite performance at TEDMED was the opening spoken word piece by the incomparable Sekou Andrews. He elegantly threaded themes from each speaker’s topic into a passionate, soul-bursting anthem engaging the audience to “be well and do good.”

It’s hard to capture in words how electrifying Sekou was, especially from my vantage point in the first row, but I certainly hope I get to see him perform again.

So these are my top 10 takeaways. Honorable mentions go to HopeLab for the games they are developing to help kids understand and improve their health, and to The Fun Theory for their approach to making behavior change fun.

Alexandra Carmichael
Alexandra Carmichael
This is a guest post written by Alexandra Carmichael. She is a co-founder of CureTogether, a Health 2.0 company that brings patients with hundreds of conditions together in overlapping data communities. Alexandra is currently an advisor on the Biotech/Medical Board of the Lifeboat Foundation, a guest blogger at The Quantified Self, and a prolific Tweeter on topics of health and chronic conditions.
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