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Top Minds In Health Care Gathered In S.D. For TEDMED

Audio

Aired 11/2/09

Some of the smartest people in the fields of health care and medicine were in San Diego last week to participate in the TEDMED conference held at the Hotel Del Coronado. We speak to the president of TedMed, and one of the local conference participants, about the goals of the conference, and the innovative ideas that were discussed.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Usually, a brainstorming session involves a group of like-minded people tossing around ideas. It can be productive, it can open up some avenues of thought, but it rarely introduces a wild new insight. But wild insights and game changing ideas are just what the TEDMED conference hopes will happen at their events. That's why the mix of people is so eclectic. People like actress Goldie Hawn, magician David Blaine, home-expert Martha Stewart trade ideas with technology columnist David Pogue or the chairman of neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Hospital. It's in an effort to shake out some society changing ideas in medicine. The 2009 TEDMED conference was held last week at the Hotel Del in Coronado. Joining me to tell us who was there and what ideas worth spreading came out of the event are my guests. Marc Hodosh, he’s president of TEDMED. Marc, welcome to These Days.

MARC HODOSH (President, TEDMED): Thank you. Glad to be here.

CAVANAUGH: And Greg Lucier is chairman and CEO of Life Technologies, a global biotechnology tools company based in Carlsbad. Life Technologies was one of the sponsors of the conference, and Greg also participated as a speaker. Greg, welcome to These Days.

GREG LUCIER (Chairman and CEO, Life Technologies): Thank you, Maureen. Great to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Marc, tell us, what is TEDMED. What are the goals of this conference?

HODOSH: Well, it’s really about bringing together, as you said, an interesting group of people to share ideas, inspire others, and to, particularly in a field that’s full of conferences already, what makes us kind of stand out a bit is that we are so diverse with leaders from the field. Specifically, there’s a conference around cancer or there’s another conference around cardiovascular diseases or the brain but what we really do is try to cross pollinate all the leaders from many different areas and that can have a powerful effect.

CAVANAUGH: And what actually does TEDMED stand for?

HODOSH: Well, TED was created – TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, was created by my partner, Richard Saul Wurman nearly 25 years ago. He’s since sold the TED conference but held onto another conference which we have partnered on together called TEDMED so it’s a, while a separate organization, it’s very similar in terms of its style and format except that our focus it focuses on anybody who intersects us with medicine and technology.

CAVANAUGH: You know, it’s fascinating looking at the list of speakers who participated in this conference last week. I mean, as I say, you have Martha Stewart and you have all these eminent doctors and philosophers and magicians and – what is the point of bringing such diverse people into this conference to speak about medicine and technology?

HODOSH: Well, there’s a couple of different reasons but everybody that you just mentioned actually has a very relevant connection to medicine and healthcare. A good example is magician David Blaine, who had the world record for holding his breath. It was 17 minutes, 14.4 seconds, which is really how long we gave him to talk. And we basically thought that David had a story to share. He’d never shared it before last Friday at TEDMED. And there’s a lot to learn, so every doctor that he had gone to said it was impossible, he couldn’t do it, and he really did a lot of research and figured out really a method to hold his breath, learned about carbon dioxide and different ways of controlling the heart. And he actually taught like about 20 people the night before, in the auditorium, how to hold their breath for over four minutes. In fact, one girl went over – for over five minutes. Pretty much everybody beat Houdini’s record.

CAVANAUGH: Wow.

HODOSH: So it’s about, you know, it’s about finding new ways to learn about the body and people that have done things with it.

CAVANAUGH: Greg Lucier, I’d like to get your take on this. You were at the conference, you spoke at the conference. What do you think were some of the most innovative topics that were discussed?

LUCIER: I was particularly impressed with the work going on in regenerative medicine. There was a speaker from Wake Forest University that was talking about their work to regenerate a bladder, and I think this is just amazing science that will have real impact on extending people’s lives as they encounter disease. And that was one. The other one was that really impressed me was Craig Venter’s talk about synthetic biology, about how we can really put biology to work to solve some of society’s toughest challenges like biofuels, like better fertilizers to make crops have higher yields, and so it’s just an amazing array of science that I think will really impact society to such a positive extent.

CAVANAUGH: And can you tell us, Greg, what your company, Life Technologies, does and why you wanted to participate in the conference?

LUCIER: Our company this year will do just under $4 billion in sales and we’re a technology enabler, so we’re behind a lot of these great scientists and these great laboratories around the world doing things like regenerative medicine, doing genomic sequencing, doing synthetic biology. And our goal is really to be out in front, look at what technologies are going to be needed, and then develop them and provide them to the people who actually then go do the work.

CAVANAUGH: Marc, I hear that it’s impossible these days to talk about medicine without also talking about technology. Would you agree?

HODOSH: I agree.

CAVANAUGH: And why is that?

HODOSH: Well, as Greg said, particularly in the field of genomics, you can see the impacts that technology has had. You know, it used to cost a billion dollars to sequence a human genome and we’re now down to, you know, certainly under $100,000, maybe under $10,000, and it’s just getting less and less expensive every day, in large part because of technology. You know, Greg referred to Anthony Atala, one of our speakers in regenerative medicine who really just blew everyone’s mind when he talked about printing organs with a typical ink jet printer. Again, that’s another use of technology and I think that it’s got a big role to play in the way medicine’s going to move forward.

CAVANAUGH: And were there other highlights in this conference for you, Marc?

HODOSH: There were many. Many, many, whether it was Dean Kamen talking about the – his new prosthetic arm. Only at the end of his talk to have Craig from the Veterans Administration roll up in an iBOT and express his appreciation with a moving moment to, you know, some of the entertaining aspects of Herbie Hancock playing piano onstage, you know, after a really interesting medical talk on the brain. So it was a mix of so many things that it’s hard to pick one.

CAVANAUGH: Marc, I’m interested in how, when you approach someone, someone who’s perhaps a celebrity in their various fields, if it’s entertainment or science, and ask them if they want to participate, if they want to be a speaker, what kind of reaction do you get, especially someone who’s not in the medicine or technology field?

HODOSH: Yeah, I think the interesting thing there is that medicine and healthcare really affect all of us. We all know someone who’s been touched by cancer, we all know someone who’s been affected by a disease. One of our speakers is Laura Ziskin, who is a celebrity Hollywood producer. You know all her movies. She has cancer. She’s been affected by it personally. And so when you reach out to people, whether it’s Dave Stewart from the Eurhythmics or Herbie or David Blaine, everybody can relate, I think, to this topic. It’s something that connects all of us and most everybody really wants to get behind it and this is an ideal platform and conference for them to do that.

CAVANAUGH: And, Greg, I know that you spoke at this conference. I’m interested in finding out what is it that you spoke about.

LUCIER: What I tried to do with the conference was paint a picture of how the technology was going to enable some of these great scientific breakthroughs such as when we get down to a $1,000 genome, what will that enable scientists and doctors to do in terms of the cure for cancer? Well, I think it’s going to be quite profound, and I shared with them a before and a future story of a woman we call Sarah, who was battling breast cancer and how, with today’s medical technology, while certainly her survival rate has improved, it’s still not where anyone would like it to be. But with genomic sequencing and other genetic testing, we really have the opportunity to potentially stop breast cancer from really ever impacting anyone’s life.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Greg Lucier. He’s chairman and CEO of Life Technologies. And Marc Hodosh. He’s president of TEDMED. We’re talking about the 2009 TEDMED conference that was held last week at the Hotel Del in Coronado. We do have a caller on the line. Jonathan is calling from Boston. Jonathan, welcome to These Days.

JONATHAN (Caller, Boston): Oh, thank you so much, Maureen. Appreciate it.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, how can we help you?

JONATHAN: Well, I’d been in touch with a couple of people from your studio who had mentioned they wanted to hear about the BIL:PIL conference that also happened in San Diego over at San Diego State University Bioscience Center where we actually had also a lot of great healthcare speakers. I really enjoyed hearing Marc and Greg’s description of TEDMED, which is a fantastic conference by all accounts. But BIL:PIL was a conference conceived to be a free and open option for those who were fascinated with healthcare innovation and to do that, we basically made it entirely open to the public and even webcast the proceedings. We just got the numbers today. We actually had over 1200 people watching, a number of speakers including several who were TEDMED speakers, Jason Hwang from Insight Institute. Daniel Kraft, as I mentioned, regenerative medicine, Daniel Kraft, a leader in stem cell science, as well as David Rosenman from…

CAVANAUGH: Well, Jonathan – Jonathan, thank you for this. There’s some sort of echo chamber that we’re in here with your phone call, which we can’t continue but I do appreciate your call and it sounds like, Marc, your idea, this TEDMED idea, is taking off in smaller offshoots in different places. Do you find that that happens across the country?

HODOSH: Oh, I think so many people would love to be a part of it and, unfortunately, there’s only so much space. We’re very supportive of the open model and that’s why we’ll take all our talks, Greg’s talk and everyone else’s talk and put them online on our website so they’re freely available to the public. So all the videos in a couple months will be on the TEDMED website and we’ll also be sharing them with the TED.com website, so TEDMED.com and ours so…

CAVANAUGH: So that’s really exciting. So even if you didn’t go, you’re going to be able to get to see all the speakers?

HODOSH: Absolutely. Everybody’ll be able to be a part of it, and we hope that that message around the world, that people get to watch these talks and get inspired and get to learn on a variety of topics. You know, I just want to say Greg gave a talk that is an ideal example of the kind of talk that’s given at TEDMED because we asked these speakers to give a talk they’d never given before. We asked them to be vulnerable and they really put a lot of effort into it. Greg’s presentation was honestly superb and well thought out and so it’s – you can listen to the most scientific talk on the most relevant technology whether it’s genomics or something else and actually understand it, get motivated, get inspired, and that’s what these talks are about and we want to share them with the world.

CAVANAUGH: And, Greg, I’m wondering, do you think this experience is going to help you in your company in the future?

LUCIER: Oh, most definitely, really on two levels I would say. First, with respect to our company, we were able to make a lot of new connections, get a lot of new insights about what’s going on in the broad field of healthcare technology and so we walked away with a few kernels of wisdom, if you will. The second point I would make is that this TEDMED conference was really good for San Diego. We brought in, from around the world, the really incredible leaders around technology and healthcare and they saw San Diego and I think it just continues to build San Diego’s reputation as being a great biomedical research hub.

CAVANAUGH: And, Marc, I’m – I know that this is the – this was the fifth TEDMED conference. Tell me, have you heard from like what people heard in the third conference and the fourth conference that they’re – actually changed the way they’re approaching their science? What they’re doing? Any kind of breakthroughs or innovations because of TEDMED?

HODOSH: Sure, I’ll talk about two things. One is, yes, there were four previous conferences although it’s been a bit of a hiatus since the last one and from this point forward, we’re relaunching it into an annual event, so we’re annual from this point forward. We’ll hold it again next year at the Hotel Del. In fact, we’ve already opened up the registration. But the previous conference, in fact, the previous conferences that my colleague Richard founded, a lot of the TED ones, there are numerous stories of things that were unveiled or a result of the conference, including Wired magazine, the MIT Media Lab, the company Google, I believe, was presented for the first time, the movie “Shrek.” There are, you know, just so many examples of new ideas forming from – by crossing different disciplines. You know, NASA’s well known to have, I think, helped form contact lenses. And those are, you know, two different fields and we hope that as we mix leaders in our fields, new ideas and some problems are solved.

CAVANAUGH: Gentlemen, I want to thank you both so much for talking with us today.

LUCIER: Thank you, Maureen.

HODOSH: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with Marc Hodosh, he’s

president of TEDMED, and Greg Lucier, chairman and CEO of Life Technologies. And if you’d like to post a comment about this segment, please do at KPBS.org/TheseDays. Coming up, two new lavishly illustrated books dip into the archive of the Library of Congress. That’s next as These Days continues here on KPBS.

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