Today, medicine is changing faster than at any point in human history, and has the potential to completely change the way that we live our lives. We can learn a lot from the latest scientific research.
TED talks are powerful twenty-minute windows into a variety of subjects. They take us through the nature of social relationships to the secrets of creativity and motivation. TED talks also frequently introduce us to cutting-edge technology.
These five TED talks go deep into the medical sciences and hint what a doctor’s visit might look like in ten or twenty years. The talks are a looking glass into the kind of longevity and quality of life that we might one day experience. They also give us an insight into what it’s like to be an active scientist in a world-changing field.
Sheila Nirenberg — A Prosthetic Eye to Treat Blindness
For several years, many forms of deafness have been effectively curable through the use of cochlear implants — cybernetic ears that connect microphones directly to your cochlear nerves, skipping damaged eardrums completely. Attempts to develop similar therapies for vision have been limited by our inability to replicate the processing done by the retina of the eye. Current prosthetic eyes offer only a crude, noisy approximation of vision.
In this talk, Dr. Sheila Nirenberg talks about her project to replicate the retina with a simple, elegant series of equations and build the world’s first true cybernetic eye, raising the possibility of a world without blindness.
Ido Bachelet — How Will Nanobots Change Medicine
Dr. Ido Bachelet introduces this talk with his daughter, Dinah, who has an illness of the kind that his research may soon cure. Knowing this, the talk becomes very personal and very powerful as Dr. Bachelet introduces his research. He describes an incredible new technology that uses DNA molecules to construct intricate nanomachines in the millions. These machines can be loaded with chemotherapy drugs to seek out and kill only cancer cells.
The nanobots can also coordinate and compute amongst themselves, allowing them to respond in real time to changing circumstances in the body. They can even be remote-controlled via WiFi. These nanomachines can already treat several different kinds of cancer by physically reinforcing injured tissue and encouraging growth (as in the case of his daughter). These “nanobots” exist right now and have the potential to radically improve the effectiveness of cancer treatment.
Anthony Atala — Printing a Human Kidney
As life spans increase, a major public health crisis is emerging in the form of organ shortages. For those who do receive transplants, the need for immunosuppressive drugs continues to impact them for the rest of their lives. Most patients on the transplant list for hearts and lungs die without ever receiving an organ.
Dr. Anthony Atala, in this fascinating talk, asks this question: what if we could make new organs from scratch out of the patient’s own tissue? He goes on to show some of the research his team has performed, growing organs from stem cells and advanced biomaterials using 3D printing. Their successes to date include creating working kidneys, bladders, and heart valves. The end of the talk includes a brief interview with a young man whose life was changed by a transplant of lab-grown organs.
Yoav Mendan — Healing Without Cuts
For all the impressive medical advances in our lifetimes, the fundamentals of surgery haven’t changed much in the last century: something is wrong with you, so we cut you open with a knife and fix it. The knife, of course, brings with it risks of infection, permanent scarring, and the need for dangerous general anesthesia.
Dr. Yoav Mendelev introduces a new kind of surgery that he and his team developed that allows doctors to destroy tumors and cysts with powerful ultrasonic beams, guided by MRI. This new kind of surgery doesn’t need general anesthesia, doesn’t risk infection, leaves no scars, and requires no recovery time.
Cynthia Kenyon — Experiments That Hint at Longer Lives
One of the oldest pieces of human literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh, concerns itself with a quest for immortality. Humans have been looking for a way to cure aging since time immemorial — and now, Dr. Cynthia Kenyon may have finally found it.
In studying c.elegans, a tiny nematode worm, she discovered a gene that, when disabled, halved the aging rate of the worm, and thus doubled its lifespan. Furthermore, she discovered that the same trick works in fruit flies, mice, and — potentially — humans. Her research raises the possibility of creating drugs that give humans longer, more youthful lives. Dylan Thomas would be proud.
Do these innovations excite you? Scare you? Do they directly affect someone you love? Let us know what you think in the comments. Tell us about any amazing talks that we missed.