Last week I had the opportunity to attend TEDMED 2017 in Palm Springs and want to share some highlights of the experience. This certainly isn’t a comprehensive summary, but rather highlights of some of the themes that were most interesting to me.
Understanding the Brain
In order to make significant progress on mental illness and neurological disorders, we need a better understanding of how the brain works. Several speakers shared progress and innovation in understanding the brain. Geneticist Steven McCarroll discussed drop-seq, an innovative method for understanding which cell types have which molecules. Using this technology, his team has been looking at what genetic variations in individuals with schizophrenia may tell us about the underlying biology of the disease. Chee Yeun Chang and Yumanity Therapeutics are using yeast to better understand how improper protein folding relates to brain disease. Dan Sobek of Kernel discussed how electrical stimulation may be used to “tune” the brain both as a method for addressing brain diseases as well as increasing performance in normal brains. Guo-Li Ming talked about creating organoids which are essentially mini-organs created using stem cells. These organoids have been used to look at neural development and the Zika virus. Jill Goldstein discussed sex differences in brain development and how that relates to disparities in the prevalence of some mental illnesses between sexes. Collectively, it is amazing to see some of the progress that is being made on some very difficult diseases.
Delivering Healthcare on the Frontlines
Some of the most touching stories came from those on the frontlines of healthcare. Dr. Farida shared her stories as the only OB-GYN left in Aleppo and what it meant to put herself and her family in danger to ensure women still had access to care. Camilla Ventura is a Brazilian ophthalmologist who first connected ocular damage to Zika infection. Dr. Soka Moses shared stories from the Ebola outbreak in Liberia and the challenges of delivering care with severe shortages of equipment, staff, and supplies. Agnes Binagwaho returned to her home country of Rwanda following the genocide and told her story of rebuilding her country’s healthcare infrastructure. Each of these stories was inspiring and a testament to humanity at its best.
The Opioid Crisis
There were a number of talks as well as a discussion group focused on various aspects of the opioid crisis. Perspectives were shared from law enforcement personnel, those working on harm reduction programs such as supervised injection sites, and treatment programs for addiction. One of the most moving talks was given by Chera Kowalsky. Chera is a librarian in the Kensington area of Philadelphia, an area that has been hit hard by the opioid crisis. They’ve instituted an innovative program where librarians have been trained to deliver naloxone, and she shared her personal story of using naloxone to help save the life of one of the library’s visitors. Despite the challenges posed by the crisis, it was uplifting to see the range of solutions being proposed as well as the commitment of those working on them.
One of the most interesting aspects of TEDMED was the Hive. Each year, a selection of entrepreneurs and start-ups come to TEDMED to share their innovations in healthcare and medicine. These companies were available throughout the conference to talk with attendees. There was also a special session on day 2 where each entrepreneur had two minutes to share their vision with the audience.
Finally, perhaps the most valuable part of the experience was all of the people I had a chance to meet, each of whom is playing a unique role in the future of healthcare.