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TEDMED 2012: Dessert!

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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In an earlier post I tackled some of the tougher issues that made the stage at TEDMED. Now it’s time for dessert and I’ll share an array of the tasty treats that were presented in Washington.

One of the highlights for me, already mentioned in my first post, was the acrobatic performance of Traces by Les 7 doigts de la main. There is now a video of their performance at TEDMED; the troupe was masterfully athletic and artistic, illustrating the power of the human body at its finest.

Welcome, rejuvenating interludes were brought by Robert Gupta, a neurobiologist, violinist, and founder of the Street Symphony organization, which brings music to homeless and mentally ill on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. In addition to his talk and videos of his beautiful music, you can hear Gupta’s interview with Jay Walker, who noted, “Your violin is an instrument of change…your voice is an instrument of hope.”

Then we had Diane Kelly, a researcher at University of Massachusetts in Amherst, who wowed the crowd with graphic details about the anatomy of the penis and erections. Since I follow Ed Yong, Carl Zimmer, and other science writers who occasionally write about duck penises, corkscrew vaginas, and other oddities, I wasn’t quite as dismayed as some others. But I’d never thought of a penis as a hydrostatic skeleton. You can count on creative scientists to help you see things differently…and kudos to Kelly for her composure and ability to talk about such a sensitive topic in this new light.

And we had techie toys. Dr. Miguel Nicoleilis, a Duke neuroscientist, wowed with video of a monkey with a brain implant who learned to operate a robot—in Japan. This work raises the hope that people with strokes or spinal injuries will be able to manipulate prostheses or robots via their thoughts—a computer-brain interface.

David Icke’s techie toys particularly grabbed my attention. He described a number of novel flexible and “conforming” electronics with wide-ranging applicability, from monitoring seizures to cardiac function. Such tiny devices might be used not only to diagnose illnesses or monitor organs (such as cardiac rhythms), but also to deliver drugs more directly to a target. I’m all for less invasive devices, since many of the patients I treat have healthcare-acquired infections.

As I took breaks and wandered over to the “Social Hub” for caffeine and treats, I would pass by and watch Regina Holliday at work for brief periods. She’s an incredibly creative artist whose work focuses on patient advocacy. In addition to her topical painting at TEDMED, I’ve enjoyed learning about and seeing her Walking Gallery, with each wearable creation carrying a patient’s story.

A final treat for me were the moments that host Jay Walker shared artifacts from his Library of the History of Human Imagination, including this EKG tracing from the Apollo moon landing.

There were many other memorable moments—the three days were actually a bit overwhelmingly compressed—but these were some of my favorite treats after days focusing on brilliant scientists. I’m grateful for having had this opportunity, and hope you’ll check out the many videos of the sessions, available at TEDMED.

Credits:  Photos of Traces, Robert Gupta, Diane Kelly, Miguel Nicoleilis, and David Icke courtesy TEDMED; photo of Regina Holliday courtesy Regina Holliday.
“Molecules to Medicine” banner © Michele Banks

Judy Stone About the Author: Judy Stone, MD is an infectious disease specialist, experienced in conducting clinical research. She is the author of Conducting Clinical Research, the essential guide to the topic. She survived 25 years in solo practice in rural Cumberland, Maryland, and is now broadening her horizons. She particularly loves writing about ethical issues, and tilting at windmills in her advocacy for social justice. As part of her overall desire to save the world when she grows up, she has become especially interested in neglected tropical diseases. When not slaving over hot patients, she can be found playing with photography, friends’ dogs, or in her garden. Follow on Twitter @drjudystone or on her website. Follow on Twitter @drjudystone.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. promytius 10:54 am 06/19/2012

    I’m sorry, but the whole “TED” thing is just annoying. First people talk way too fast to make any single point noticeable. Second, 8 or 10 or whatever minutes is not enough time to even set ground rules, never mind carry on a meaningful presentation. It won’t last though because I’m people think they are too long, and soon the world’s favorite program with be TWIT Universe, where everyone gets 55 characters to communicate, the length of my first sentence, which means you never would have gotten to: dumbing things down is the dumbest idea ever.

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