TEDMEDLive at London’s Imperial College – Part One

Following our live posts from TEDMED 2013 in Washington DC, this week we cross the Atlantic and hand the reigns of PLOS TGH over to Alex from the team at TEDMEDlive – Imperial College London.


TEDMED activities kicked off last week with talks from D.C. streamed into our lecture theatres. Finally, on Sunday April 21, after months of planning by dedicated committee members (some had only just got back from enjoying TEDMED stateside), compère Professor Armand Marie Leroi took to the stage to welcome an audience of 500 delegates, representing over 15 countries.

Welcome to TEDMEDLive Imperial College!

Queues formed outside the RGS as the stage was being set.

Delegates wait outside the Royal Geographic Society in the South Kensington sun.

The day encompassed several themes – Innovation, Universal Health, the Mind, and Art – inspired by a quote from Persian polymath and philosopher Avicenna: “There are no incurable diseases, only lack of will”. 




The first speaker of the day was Imperial Professor Roger Kneebone. Roger spoke about the three phases of his career: as a surgeon in Southern Africa, as a GP, and as an academic – he currently heads the UK’s only Masters in Surgical Education (MEd).

Roger Kneebone on stage - first speaker of the day.

Roger Kneebone on stage – first speaker of the day.

Roger’s work in simulation for teaching is wide reaching; its applications have even stretched as far as a performance simulator at the Royal College of Music to help musicians overcome stage fright. He drew parallels with his surgical endeavours and the work of his friend, a bespoke tailor in London, noting that neither one could do the other’s job despite similar requirements in dexterity.

Roger believes there is much to be learned from sharing perspectives: he created his inflatable portable operating theatre with this purpose in mind, allowing others to enter the world of surgery.

“It is our patients and their families who are most important… and we want to see things from their perspective.” – Roger Kneebone

Footage from London’s Big Bang Science Fair showed an 8 year old boy operating a neurosurgical cranial perforator and some fellow classmates watching from the sidelines with worried expressions on their faces.

Emergency brain surgery at Roger Kneebone's workshop.

Emergency brain surgery at Roger’s workshop.

TEDMEDLive attendees entered the inflatable operating room themselves to attempt some emergency brain surgery during the workshop.

Roger ended with an apt T. S. Elliot quote: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”.


Alex Seifalian on stage.

Alex Seifalian on stage.

Next up was fellow innovator, Alex Seifalian, Professor of Nanotechnology and Regenerative Medicine at University College London. Alex and his team are aiming to make organ donation a thing of the past, combining nanocomposite materials with stem cell technologies for the growth of replacement organs.

There aren’t many scientists who have grown human cells on the back of a butterfly wing, but Alex is one of them! He related his efforts to build a trachea for a patient in 10 days – it would normally take months.

“Welcome to the body parts shop… would you like to place an order?” – Alex Seifalian

Home-grown organs.

Home-grown organs at Alex’s workshop.


TEDMEDLive attendees saw Alex’s home-grown organs for themselves during the tissue engineering workshop.






Henrietta Bowden-Jones gave a personal talk explaining her motivations for setting up the UK’s first and only National Problem Gambling Clinic. She shared her experiences of growing up in Milan, where drug use was so rife that she and her friends would collect blood-filled syringes from local parks as a childhood game. It was here she discovered her urge to uncover the underlying psychological vulnerabilities that lead people to addiction.

“I remember as a 6 year old on my way to school, seeing addicts injecting at the side of the road and thinking, why isn’t anyone trying to help them?” – Henrietta Bowden-Jones


Henrietta on stage.

Henrietta presented some shocking statistics: there are 500,000 pathological gamblers in the UK; 84% have committed illegal acts; the average loss made is £150,844.

People call it the hidden addiction – there are no track marks on the arms of gamblers. She also invited the audience to have a go at the Cambridge Gamble Task – a preliminary measure of predisposition to risk-taking.


Universal Health

Lord Robert Winston, Professor of Science and Society, and Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial, gave an expectedly brilliant and eagerly anticipated talk (“How can anybody get pregnant?”) outlining the challenges for IVF and its necessity in the struggle for gender equality in the workplace.

“By tomorrow, Armand Leroi will have produced enough sperm to fertilise every woman in the United Kingdom.” – Robert Winston

Robert Winston on stage.

Lord Winston admirably wore a suit, despite being told by a committee member to come casual. Backstage he advised us not to always go with what people tell you to do if you want to be successful – applicable to facets of life outside of the fashion sphere!





Neil and lord Winston, backstage after the sock symphony.

Neil and Lord Winston, backstage after the sock symphony.

Sonochromatic cyborg artist, Neil Harbisson, gave a unique musical performance… based on socks. Neil helped to design the prosthetic “eyeborg” device that allows him to hear colours – even those beyond the range of human sight.

He brought with him on stage several different coloured socks, which he then used to compose his “colour concert”.

“I hope you enjoy the sounds of my socks.” – Neil Harbisson


Check back tomorrow for #TEDMEDLiveIC Part 2.

Until then,


FringeAlexandra Abel is a Biomedical Science and Global Health graduate from Imperial College London. She is currently studying for a Master’s at the Royal College of Music.

Join her on Twitter via @alexandraabel



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