Date: October 1st, 2012
TEDMED is most known for its annual conference--a medical spin-off from the TED conference where people come to share big ideas and foster new ones. But TEDMED is also a community of people who are all passionate about the future of health and medicine, but in amazingly different ways.
At the TEDMED conference, leaders from countless backgrounds come together to share and explore. According to the TEDMED organizers, it’s the “only place where a Nobel Prize winning neurobiologist has a conversation with a four-star general…where an opera singer (with a double lung transplant) chats with a NASA space physician…and where a ballet dancer talks to an exoskeleton designer.”
All of the talks from its 5 years are made available on-line and some of the most popular videos include magician and endurance artist David Blaine sharing how he broke the world record for holding his breath; Anthony Atala, MD talking about growing organs; health and wellness guru Deepak Chopra, MD giving his thoughts on how everyone can heal and be healthier; Ozzy Osbourne talking about his genome; Cookie Monster learning about the value of eating veggies; and Katie Couric and Billy Jean King promoting Stand Up to Cancer and cancer prevention. And this year, the Alliance for Aging Research’s own Daniel Perry joined the distinguished TEDMED alumni.
The Common Denominator
TEDMED left its home in San Diego this year to debut at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.--and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
The speaker line-up was full of big names, sharing big ideas--ranging from designing new DNA, to using mathematics to personalize cancer treatments, to the shift of the scientific method in the face of a data-dominated world.
Dan Perry’s talk on whether or not Cells Have a Mid-Life Crisis offered a unique glimpse at the potential of aging science to give us healthier, longer lives. His talk was based on the idea that science is poised to tackle multiple chronic diseases of aging at once, allowing us to live longer in better health. The key to these discoveries is an understanding of the common denominator of these diseases--aging itself.
“Biologists tell us that evolution does not select for a death gene. There is no pre-ordained program for the winding down of the whole organism. And that means we have the latitude to affect our own aging. Perhaps with technologies and interventions that humans might devise,” said Perry.
So instead of a program for decline, what happens is the processes of aging impacts our adult cells and tissues--causing them to lose their exquisite balance between cells turning over, dying, regenerating, and repairing. As Dan pointed out “damage accumulates and repair mechanisms falter as we begin to lose our battle with sources of biological stress. This is so, in part because we humans insist on breathing oxygen, on converting food to energy, and living at 98.6° Fahrenheit.”
A Needed Shift in Thinking and Funding
The good news is that science is ready to change all of that. Dan told the TEDMED audience the story of how he started off in Washington working on Capitol Hill and ended up launching the not-for-profit Alliance for Aging Research to advance the science of human aging. Along the way he saw both the potential of science to impact aging in a way that would lengthen our healthspans, and one of the roadblocks to those advances--the way we currently fund and organize research--disease by disease and silo by silo.
Excitingly, we are seeing progress in removing this roadblock. The recently formed Geroscience Interest Group (GSIG) within the National Institutes of Health, has brought together more than 20 of the institutes and centers to promote discussion, share ideas, and coordinate activities related to geroscience and its connection to age-related diseases.
Dan shared some of the science that is poised to propel the field forward and challenged the TEDMED audience to imagine what we could accomplish “if scientists were collaborating and pursuing answers to aging in an integrative, cross-cutting environment.” While a lot remains to be done, it looks like we are “tantalizingly close” and may not have to imagine for long.
The Healthspan Campaign
Much of Dan’s talk inspired and grew out of the Alliance for Aging Research’s Healthspan Campaign; which is helping close the gap between promising research and actual advances in health and healthspan. Scientists now generally agree that aging is changeable and capable of being slowed--that it’s possible to make life at 80 feel more like life at 60. But we need to know more and that’s where raising awareness and encouraging funding comes in.
The Healthspan Campaign is targeting consumers, policymakers, scientists, and more in an effort to shift thinking. Check out www.healthspancampaign.org to learn more and consider subscribing to the newsletter and following the Facebook page, and joining the Alliance as we encourage the science that will help ensure that the “good, vital, and productive years of our life are abundant and full.”