San Diego’s TEDMED Advancements Coming Into Medical Technology

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P1010152The TEDMED conference took place last week in San Diego but it took me this long to digest all of the content and follow up on all the connections I made there.

Both TED and TEDMED were founded by Richard Saul Wurman, who apparently experienced seller’s remorse after he sold both conferences and each expanded well beyond his original vision. While the two events are now completely independent, they follow a similar formula: the red TED logo, speakers who are either famous or should be, polished presentations interspersed with some entertainment and long breaks, and a venue that is far enough off the beaten track that the speakers hang around for the entire event rather than helicopter in just for their talk. As at TED, the audience is sufficiently varied and interesting that any random conversation in the coffee line or at lunch will always result in an interesting conversation and often lead to a long-lasting connection. In addition to the expected practicing doctors, hospital executives and entrepreneurs I met a researcher at MIT building medical devices for the developing world and a number of designers, artists, and authors.

The Masters of Ceremony were Marc Hodosh, who had shared that role with Richard in past years, and Jay Walker who purchased the conference this year. Jay was the founder of Priceline.com and a long-term TED participant who seems to have found his calling on the TEDMED stage as he interspersed introductions and lively Q&A with showing materials from his extraordinary library of rare books.

The general theme of the conference can be summed up in two sentences:

  • There are amazing advances coming in medical technology.
  • These may or may not make it through the FDA approval process in time to save your life.

P1010029This was one of the few conferences where it made sense to go to every session. A representative sampling:

  • Eythor Bender of Ekso Bionics demonstrated an exoskeleton that allowed a paraplegic to walk.
  • Daniel Kraft showing what medicine can learn from other fields such as aviation.
  • Calvin Harley of Telome Health describing how we might halt the aging process by regrowing the DNA on the end of your chromosomes. (A Russian researcher on aging cautioned me that you might not want to rush out and start gobbling down the “nutritional supplement” quite yet  – remember Vitamin E?)
  • Architech Michael Graves now in a wheel chair, decribing his frustration with poorly designed hospital rooms,
  • Lance Armstrong describing the decisions he and his doctor needed to make in treating his cancer.
  • Quyen Nguyen of UC San Diego, showing a video of a flourescent dye that binds to tumor cells to make them more visible during surgery (photo at right).
  • Diana Nyad describing her attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida and her encounters with box jellyfish.
  • Paul Stamets on medicines derived from mushrooms.
  • Gabor Forgacs of Organovo demonstrating an inkjet printer that was modified to “print” organs from a supply of cells.
  • Yoav Medan of InSightec describing one of the breakthroughs that did get FDA approval: a device that uses focused ultrasound to do surgery without making an incision in the patient.
  • Mehmood Kahn, Chief Scientifc Officer of PepsiCo arguing that we needed processed foods (albeit of higher quality) if we were to feed the earth’s seven billion inhabitants. (Although e-Patient Dave tweeted that this does not explain high fructose cory syrup.)
  • P1010090Dean Kamen describing his frustration in trying to get FDA clearance for a robotic arm he developed for war veterans. (Photo at right).
  • Nate Ball, an engineer and beatbox artist demonstrating how he makes all those sounds. On stage. By having Dr. Nguyen thread fiber optics through his nose so we could see an image of his vocal cords as he made various sounds.
  • Charles Pel, Physcient describing a new model of retractor that uses force sensors to back-off before it damages bones or tissue.

Next year, the conference moves to Washington, DC. In a move that can only be described as audacious, Jay Walker plans to double the size of the conference and take on the DC establishment. If anyone has the enthusiasm and resources to do it, it would be Jay.

Christopher Herot
Chris Herot has been the founder and CTO or CEO of several Boston-area software companies, most recently Convoq/Zingdom Communications, where he provides strategic and technical advice to clients worldwide in the areas of audio, video, and social media.

Ever since he left what is now MIT's Media Laboratory, he has been building interactive systems to enable people to create and communicate. What he enjoys most is learning about new technologies and finding ways to deploy them to solve human problems. To do this, he has started three companies and formed new entrepreneurial businesses within larger enterprises.
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One Response to San Diego’s TEDMED Advancements Coming Into Medical Technology

  1. Chuck Pell November 14, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

    Cool article. One correction: “Pell” is spelled with 2 “L”s….

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