TEDMEDLive at London’s Imperial College – Part Two


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. 


TEDMEDLive had seen a fantastic start to the day and delegates were looking forward to a further five speakers. During the breaks there was time to get an EEG brain scan from Emotiv Lifesciences, and visit the human parts art display by artist Gina Czarnecki.

Welcome back to TEDMEDLive Imperial College!


Talks streamed from D.C. included Eli Beer’s story of United Hatzalah – a fast response team of paramedics in Jerusalem; David Solomon’s account of illness and identity; and Zubin Damania (a.k.a. ZDogg MD), who held the London audience in fits of laughter.



Justyna on stage.

Justyna on stage.

Swedish cancer researcher Justyna Leja gave an inspiring account of her efforts to crowd fund clinical trials of a novel neuroendocrine cancer treatment – an oncolytic virus (genetically modified adenovirus) – developed during her PhD studies.

“I realised I had developed a treatment I could not use. This happened two years ago and it has been in the freezer ever since.” – Justyna Leja

They called the ongoing crowd sourcing campaign iCancer – secretly in the hope that Apple would sue them and give them wider exposure! No such luck. So far the campaign has raised £250,000 for the oncolytic virus fund, but their desired goal is £1 million.

“These days, to develop one drug it takes as long as it did in Ancient Eygpt to build a pyramid!” – Justyna Leja



Our surprise guest of the day was Imperial graduate Suman Biswas – anaesthetist, lyricist, vocalist and pianist. Suman delighted the audience with medical parodies of popular songs.

Suman on stage.

Suman on stage.

“Once upon a time I took pride in my job, but now I think it’s time to depart, ‘cause I just sit here everyday and listen to blips of the heart…” – Suman Biswas (The Anaesthetist’s Hymn)

“Total Eclipse Of The Heart” became “Blips Of The Heart” – the musings of a disillusioned anaesthetist – and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” became a pitch for the miracle drug, Paracetamoxyfrusebendroneomycin (“It’s our brand new wonder drug we think you’ll find enticing…”). Suman has become one of the world’s most famous anaesthetists through his comedy musical exploits.

“There’s Lithium, Fluoxetine, and also Amitripyline; Paroxetine, Digoxin, GTN and Azathioprine; Miconazole, Atenolol, and also Chloramphenicol and if you want to overdose there’s always Paracetamol…” – Suman Biswas (The Drugs Song)


Universal Health

Plastic, reconstructive and burns surgeon Mohammad Ali Jawad took the stage to dispel the Nip/Tuck stereotype. Mohammad was the surgeon who restored the beautiful face of British model, and acid victim, Katie Piper.

“For me beauty is in restoring human dignity.” – Mohammad Jawad


He went on to describe tragedies of acid violence against women in his home country Pakistan – one of the global humanitarian challenges to which he could respond. The Oscar-winning 2012 documentary Saving Face followed his journey as he sought to provide free reconstructive surgery for these acid victims.

“When I heard about this kind of violence in my homeland I knew I must do something.” – Mohammad Jawad



Music psychologist Victoria Williamson gave a fascinating account of the extraordinary power of musical memory, illustrated with the Tale Of Three – the Star, the Survivor and the Miscreant.

“Your memory is more than just a mental store cupboard – it is the glue that holds you in the present moment.” – Victoria Williamson

Vicky on stage.

Vicky on stage.

The Star is Italian conductor Toscanini who held the ability to recall entire symphonies in seconds. The Survivor is British musicologist Clive Wearing who suffers both anterograde and retrograde amnesia following serious illness. Clive still recalls how to play piano and conduct a choir despite having no recollection of his musical education. The Miscreant is an earworm – an involuntary musical memory (a song stuck in your head on repeat), and 90% of people report experiencing this peculiar phenomenon at least once a week. After Suman’s performance, I had Paracetamoxyfrusebendroneomycin earworms for hours! Vicky runs an international survey called the earwormery – where you can tell her all about your own earworms.

Vicky explained that music resides deep within our minds across multiple systems, cleverly maximising its chance of survival, and outlined potential applications for our everyday feats of memory. She did not come dressed as an earworm like she’d promised me in rehearsals, but looked lovely nonetheless.


Popular pickpocket, magician and hypnotist James Brown closed the show… by glueing one of our students to the stage.

The audience get "glued".

The audience get stuck.

“You have the optimist who believes the glass is half full and the pessimist who believes the glass is half empty; I’m the opportunist, I simply laugh and drink water.” – James Brown

James sought to demonstrate the power of belief by first asking the audience to imagine their index finger and thumb stuck together with glue. While many attendees proudly wiggled their fingers, claiming, “I’m immune to suggestion!” there were some who genuinely could not escape from their ‘glued’ position.

James and his volunteer.

James and his volunteer.

James invited one of these suggestible individuals to participate in ‘The Magic of Belief’. Pritesh, or ‘grit’ as he’d be nicknamed through an introductory miscommunication, joined James on stage where he experienced the inability to move either of his feet from the floor, or even remember his own name.

James explained that for years the concept of hypnosis and suggestion has been shrouded in an unnecessary air of mystery. The process is actually straightforward (as we saw on stage). He concluded with how these techniques may be employed more effectively (not deceptively) by medical professionals.


“45 minutes to remove someone’s fear of spiders is 35 minutes too long.” – James Brown


Goodbye from TEDMEDLive Imperial College.

Goodbye from TEDMEDLive Imperial College.

We have come to the end of a fantastic day, featuring inspirational speakers and interactive workshops. The 20 student volunteers (surprisingly, predominantly non-medics) who helped make this day possible were able to enjoy the success of their incredible efforts over the past few months.

TEDMEDLive Imperial is over… until 2014!


To experience the first half of #TEDMEDLiveIC, take a look at Part One.

I hope you enjoyed TEDMEDLive Imperial College as much as we did.




Alexandra 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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