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4 Exciting Ideas We Heard at TEDx Beacon Street


Nancy Oriol, HMS Dean for Students, receives a standing ovation at TEDx Beacon Street. Photo via @CRICOtweet.

This past weekend we attended TEDx Beacon Street. While there, we heard a lot about innovation and medical technology (which, as you know, we love). Here are some of our takeaways from Sunday’s talks:

1. The 3-D Printing Revolution is in Full Swing

On Sunday, “3-D printing” was the phrase of the day as several speakers mentioned the increasingly popular technology. Emily Whiting, an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth, spoke about using the technology to print complicated three-dimensional objects. What made Whiting’s work stand out, though, was that she also prints objects with deceptive physical properties. By printing objects that are composed of several different materials and whose densities vary within the object, Whiting was even able to print a heart that could spin like a top.

So what does all of this have to do with medical technology? Innovators like as David Sengeh, who spoke later that day, have already created various medical devices using the technology. Sengeh, a doctoral student at the MIT Media Lab, harnessed the technology to print a prosthetic limb socket that was more comfortable for amputees. If the rise of 3-D printing continues and researchers such as Whiting and Sengeh pioneer new ways of using it, this may be the first of many biomechanical applications.

2. “Enchanted Objects”: Coming to a Medicine Cabinet Near You

Talking mirrors and dancing teacups may sound like fairy tales, but they could soon be reality. David Rose, a researcher at the MIT Media Lab, delivered a talk about the potential of everyday “enchanted objects.” No, the objects aren’t actually enchanted, but they do have enough digital intelligence to appear enchanted. Rose argued that with a little bit of programming, many household objects could gain useful functions. Umbrellas could “know” when it is going to rain, pens could record conversations, and forks could prevent you from eating too quickly. Um… what?

The application we’re most excited about is called GlowCaps. These enchanted objects are regular prescription bottles with one modification: when it’s time for patients to take their pills, the caps glow. Though this may not sound like a big deal, GlowCaps have the potential to greatly impact human health. In a preliminary study on the novel technology, patient adherence rose 27% when regular prescription bottles were given GlowCaps. Now that’s a number we can get behind.

3. Better Patient Dummies Will Help Doctors & Students Alike

Nancy Oriol, the Dean for Students at Harvard Medical School, gave a moving talk on Sunday that covered a lot of ground, from health disparities to training physicians. In particular, Oriol focused on her experiences with a patient simulator, which is essentially a high-tech dummy that health professionals can practice on. Though patient dummies are nothing new, technological advances have allowed them to become more realistic and medically accurate, helping physicians practice without putting an actual life on the line.

But these dummies have uses way beyond helping physicians. In a pilot program that brought them to lower-income schools in Boston, students were more engaged in science classes when they got the chance to apply scientific concepts by performing mock procedures on the dummies. One student said that after learning about signs of stroke through an interactive activity with a dummy, she was able to recognize signs of her grandparent having a stroke in real life and called 911 quickly.

4. Policy and Innovation Can Work Together More Effectively

It’s no secret that policy and innovation are occasionally at odds with each other. But according to policymaker Lisa Ellman, it doesn’t have to be this way. Ellman, who works primarily on the policy behind the domestic use of drones, sees potential for policy to encourage innovation in a process called – you guessed it – polivation. Policy making can be “reactive and slow,” as Ellman put it, but she argued that policy can and should favor innovation and set general rules for the protection of the public. Though there aren’t many specifics yet on how to make polivation happen, we certainly look forward to a world where policy and innovation are more collaborative.

Brendan Pease

Brendan Pease

    Brendan Pease was MedTech Boston's first ever editorial and events intern. He is now a junior at Harvard University where he studies Molecular and Cellular Biology. He’s also the Co-Editor-in-Chief for the Harvard Science Review. Previously, he worked as a Market Intelligence intern at athenahealth and as a research assistant in the Goldberg Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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