Author: Alexandra Abel

Translating the Untranslatable #imaginemed Part 3

This week on PLOS Translational Global Health, Alexandra Abel brings us the final part in the #imaginemed series.

Welcome back to Imagining the Future of Medicine at the Royal Albert Hall.

The final session began promptly as an eager audience clambered to re-take their seats. One man even hopped up on stage in an effort to more speedily access the stage-side stalls seating area! If you’ve been reading from Part 1, you’ll recognise this as our unanticipated stage invasion. Thankfully, hundreds didn’t follow after Dara quipped, “I like the way you climbed up on stage there”. After that tiny bit of excitement, on to session three… Translating the Untranslatable.

Alison talks about Music as a Healer. Photography: Alan Liu

Alison talks about Music as a Healer. Photography: Alan Liu

Someone very accustomed to being on stage at the Royal Albert Hall is Alison Balsom, who wanted to tell us about the healing power of music.

This is something very dear to me as I have always thought of music this way, and at uni, investigated benefits of learning a musical instrument for older people.

Alison started off with, of course, a beautiful trumpet performance, and then explained that a lot people say music can be medicine, but without much thought as to why this might be.

“As a musician, I feel that music is meditation. It’s self-expression. It’s physical. It’s thrill seeking. And it’s cerebral.” – Alison

Brass for Africa empowers young people through music and humanitarian programmes.

Brass for Africa empowers young people through music and humanitarian programmes.

Alison went on to show a video made especially for ImagineMed, filmed during her recent trip to Kampala with the fantastic Brass for Africa. This charity engages children from disadvantaged communities and works with them through music on wider issues they are experiencing. Brass for Africa’s most important projects are in two orphanages, The Good Shepherd Home and the Bethlehem Orphanage; and for the children there, the music project is the highlight of their week. The film showed how music had profoundly affected the lives of these children, and Alison’s message was that music can engage, empower, and repair, and has a vital place in science and medicine.

“Some people would argue that you don’t need music like you need food and water, but I would say it’s about flourishing as a human being, not just surviving.” – Alison

Tali talks about The Surprising Science of Future Thinking. Photography: Alan Liu

Tali talks about The Surprising Science of Future Thinking. Photography: Alan Liu

Next up was cognitive neuroscientist Tali Sharot, who began by asking the audience how they would talk themselves out of eating an imaginary ‘naughty treat’ placed in front of them. Would they think, ‘that will make me fat’, or would they think, ‘I’ll be healthier if I don’t eat that’. Most of the audience went voted for the fat option, but Tali went on to explain how this isn’t the best way to encourage positive behaviour. Along with our natural optimism bias, another focus of Tali’s research, she has found people are also resistant to warnings. We tend to tell ourselves not to worry about things that might happen, rather than implementing early mitigation measures, and we are naturally more receptive to information we want to hear. We appear to have an inability to learn from bad news, and children, teenagers, and the elderly are least likely to learn from warnings.

When a known camera was installed at a hospital to monitor staff’s practice of hand washing between seeing patients, only 1 in 10 people washed their hands. But when an electronic board was introduced, stating how well the ward were doing, i.e. “hand washing rates on this ward are at 60%, higher than average!” hand-washing rates rose dramatically to 90%. This is because of three principles that drive action to progress: immediate rewards, social incentive, and progress.

Katherine talks about How to Have a Good Death. Photography: Alan Liu

Katherine talks about How to Have a Good Death. Photography: Alan Liu

Penultimate speaker of the day was palliative care specialist Katherine Sleeman, who had the audience applauding in the first minute as she explained that despite the incredible advances in health and medicine over the last century, global death rates still remain unchanged at 100%!

Katherine explained that the success of modern medicine has resulted in death being viewed as failure, and just 0.1% of the NHS budget is put towards palliative care. The majority of us will live with, and die from, chronic medical conditions, resulting in a slow deterioration of function. She noted that a ‘good death’ may mean different things to different people, but sophisticated hospital care may paradoxically be worsening, not improving, our quality of life… and quality of death. Palliative care can be very individual, finding out a patient’s worst problems and trying to improve them, but it may not be a case of quality versus quantity as studies have shown palliative care helps cancer patients to live longer.

Palliative care doesn't have to be quality of life versus quantity. Photography: Alan Liu

Palliative care doesn’t have to be a case of quality of life versus quantity. Photography: Viviana Motta

Society needs death as much as it needs new life, and yet it is often so poorly planned for. Katherine’s message was that people find it hard to talk about death, but it is an important conversation to have so we can start ‘saving deaths’ as well as saving lives. I can safely say that Katherine’s talk was one of the most warmly received, and it was fantastic to see such a wonderful reaction to an incredibly important topic generally regarded as morbid or taboo.

“Stop whispering and start talking.” – Katherine

Ben talks about Bad Science. Photography: Alan Liu

Ben talks about Bad Science. Photography: Alan Liu

Our final speaker of the day was Bad Science writer Ben Goldacre. I mean someone who writes about bad science, not a bad science writer as one lovely tweeter noted (thanks, George Ward, for pointing out my grammatical ineptitude early on). Ben is actually a rather good science writer and an excellent science speaker, and it was fantastic to have him close the show at ImagineMed.

Ben outlined the need for, and success of, his popular All Trials campaign, which calls for greater clinical transparency and the results of all trials to be published. He explained that 85% of drugs prescribed today came on the market over 10 years ago, and the trial data for these medications needs to be available now so we can be certain we are using evidence-based interventions. Ben showed us 47 slides in 15 minutes, but his message was simple: access to full methods and results matter.

Ali says we must believe in the power of imagination. Photography: Alan Liu

Ali says we must believe in the power of imagination. Photography: Alan Liu

Just before the end of the show, our wonderful director Ali Rezaei Haddad took to the stage to say a few closing words and thank the many people who helped make this event possible. A few years ago, when Ali founded the Avicenna Project, he never thought it would lead to a full day event at the Royal Albert Hall. A children’s cancer lecture series for 50 people at our university led to a general forum on health and medicine for 500 people at the Royal Geographic Society in 2013; and the day after our 2013 event, he picked up the phone and called the Hall (without fear of sounding stupid). Ali’s message was that we must all believe in the power of imagination, or exciting ideas will never take form.

~ That’s all, folks! ~

A very happy team at the end of the show!

A very happy team at the end of the show!

The event was live streamed by the fabulous Be Inspired Films, and we are extremely happy to say that people from 44 different countries tuned in to watch the live stream.

We also hosted a multilingual live blog on our homepage throughout the day. At one point during the show, our server actually crashed because thousands of people were trying to access the website at once!

Thank you to our multilingual live blogging team, Nadia Ceratto, Christina Wong, and Mahiben Maruthappu, and social media coordinator Reena Wadia. Also to our photographers Alan Liu, Vivana Motta, and Ellie Pinney, and programme artist Conor Farr.

Post-show festivities in the gallery. Photography: Zinah Sorefan

Post-show festivities in the gallery. Photography: Zinah Sorefan

Videos of all of the talks and performances are now available to view on the ImagineMed website.

A massive thank you to all of our speakers and performers. And to our host, Dara, who hopefully collected some interesting anecdotes for his doctor-dominated dinner parties.

Thanks to the team at the Royal Albert Hall, including: Chris Cotton and Jasper Hope; Ed Cobbold and Caroline McNamara for their tireless efforts in the planning of this event; Rick Burin for delightful emails and concurrent expert press exec-ing; Mo Crowe for knowing absolutely everything and keeping us all calm backstage; Jess Silvester for never losing patience with marketing requests; Lord Matt Griffin for first-rate digital content management in the face of tricky web CMS; and Ellen Morgan, who managed to get one of our top online game scores, even higher than the girls who set the questions.


The ImagineMed circle.

The Royal Albert Hall really is an incredible place. Not only is it a world-renowned performance venue, it is also a charity dedicated to increasing access to the arts and sciences, supporting the cultural life of the country, and inspiring future generations. Officially named the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences, it has played host to a number of science events featuring leading experts such as Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, even Albert Einstein. And Einstein knew a thing or two about imagination…

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” – Albert Einstein


I hope you enjoyed the #imaginemed series. Thanks for reading, and please do watch the videos when you have the time! Again, you can find them here.


Alexandra Abel is a graduate from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Music. She has a keen interest in both Global Health and Performing Arts. From September, she will be a medical student at Hull York Medical School.

Join her on twitter @alexandraabel

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Medicine Without Borders #imaginemed Part 2

This week on PLOS Translational Global Health, Alexandra Abel continues the round up of her #imaginemed event.

Welcome back to Imagining the Future of Medicine at the Royal Albert Hall.

The Kaos Signing Choir for Deaf & Hearing Children. Photography: Alan Liu

The Kaos Signing Choir for Deaf & Hearing Children fill the stage. Photography: Alan Liu

Straight after the break, The Kaos Signing Choir for Deaf & Hearing Children began their performance, with beautiful renditions of ‘One Earth, One Sky’, ‘True Colours’, and ‘Respect’. The choir is the only integrated deaf and hearing children’s choir in the UK. They quickly got the audience singing and signing along with them, and we were dancing backstage. Their beautiful performance really has to been seen to be appreciated so please do watch their performance when the videos are available.

Time for Medicine Without Borders, a session all about global health and global medical innovation. Session two began with maxillofacial surgeon Leo Cheng, who is quite possibly one the nicest and most inspiring people you could ever hope to meet. Leo told us of his incredible work with Mercy Ships in West Africa where he and other dedicated volunteers offer life-changing and life-transforming surgery as well as medical advice, materials, and training.

Leo talks about Offshore Medicine. Photography: Alan Liu

Leo talks about Offshore Medicine. Photography: Alan Liu

Some of the patients who come for surgery are so demoralised because of the way they have been treated by society. Leo said the first thing he does is go up to his patients, look them in the eye, introduce himself and shake their hand – immediately reminding me of Kate Granger’s wonderful #hellomynameis campaign. This basic human contact and understanding is so important in medicine, especially to these patients; and as Leo so beautifully explained, “all healing starts with acceptance”. Mercy Ships’ aim is to ‘bring hope and healing’ to thousands of people who would never have believed it possible, and Leo’s talk reminded me of the lovely proverb, “he who has health has hope, and he who has hope has everything”.

Leo went on to tell us more about Africa Mercy, a 16 and a half thousand ton ship, the biggest non-governmental hospital ship in the world. There is a library, a gym, a doctor and dental clinic, a school for primary and secondary pupils, and even a Starbucks! Leo explained that there really is a part to play for everyone who wants to help. His wife and daughters have joined him volunteering on the ship. And even those with no medical training are able to help out, for example, preparing food for the people on board. Leo’s message was that anyone can use their compassion to help others in some way, and urged us to turn our emotion into compassion and action.

Ali talks about Smart Healthcare. Photography: Alan Liu

Ali talks about Smart Healthcare. Photography: Alan Liu

Next up was healthcare entrepreneur Ali Parsa. He began his talk with a story about a frog, which pointed to the conclusion: innovation is never about what you have and what you’ve got to give, it is always about what people need. Ali explained that basic access to a doctor is real problem worldwide, particularly in rural areas of developing countries, before unveiling his new app, Babylon, with an exciting on stage demonstration.

“Nowadays, whether you are in Kenya or Kentucky, you can get your music at the same time… can we do that with healthcare?” – Ali

The aim of Babylon is to make peoples’ day-to-day access to healthcare as simple as possible, and the name of the app comes from the fact that Ali has always been fascinated by the Babylonian people. 2,500 years ago, when the people of Babylon were sick, they were asked to go and stand in a square, and for passers-by, it was their civic duty to ask the sick people what was wrong. If they’d come across that ailment before, they would share their wisdom. As a result, Babylonians had the longest life expectancy in the world.


A starfish on the beach in Goa.

Having started his talk with a story about a frog, Ali ended with a delightful story about a starfish. In Goa, where the beach runs for miles, hundreds of starfish are washed up on the shore and bake in the sun. The story goes that one day, a child was picking up these starfish one by one and throwing them back into the sea. An old man came along and said, “child, why are you doing that? What difference will it make, you will never be able to throw all of them back”. The child picked up another starfish, threw it back into the sea, and said, “it made a difference to that one”. This beautiful story represents the way Ali feels about his new venture; he said that Babylon may not be the answer to everything, but if it can go some way to advancing this type of accessible healthcare, he will be happy.

In his post-talk Q&A, Ali explained that Babylon aims to do for healthcare what Amazon did for the delivery of books, and what iTunes did for the delivery of music.

At this point in the programme, we were very pleased to welcome on stage our special guest, Jay Walker. Many will know Jay as the curator of TEDMED, but he is also the creator and curator of The Library of the History of Human Imagination, which holds an impressive collection of artistic, scientific, and historical artifacts. Jay’s library, with its floating platforms, glass bridge, and connecting stairways contains some truly remarkable treasures, including an original 1957 Russian Sputnik, and a 1699 atlas containing the first maps to show the sun, not the earth, as the centre of the known universe (a map that divides the age of faith from the age of reason).

I think I can speak for our entire team when I say that Jay, a noted expert on human imagination, is one of the most knowledgeable men we have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He is also extremely passionate about sharing this knowledge, and using his expertise and experience to benefit others – something that we, and our speakers, truly appreciated throughout the day.

Jay talks about The Next Revolution in Health and Medicine. Photography: Alan Liu

Jay talks about The Next Revolution in Health and Medicine. Photography: Alan Liu

Jay took us on a journey from the moment life began on earth, to the point that humans started to create more sophisticated tools, learn ways to communicate – started to have imagination! At this point, man, above all other animals, takes control of the natural order, and ‘Civilisation 1.0’ emerged from this point, 10,000 years ago. More recently, the dawn of The Scientific Method unleashed a torrent of change in the world, and placed man in control of the entire shape of civilisation.

But Jay provided some evidence to prove how little we currently understand about our bodies. Firstly, for 25% of all people who die of heart disease, the very first symptom is death. Secondly, the smallest cancerous tumour we can find is 100 million cells, and if you have a tumour of 100 million cells, you’ve had cancer for 6 years. So the earliest we can detect cancer is 6 years after it initiates! And thirdly, in our bodies, our own cells are outnumbered 9 to 1 by bacteria, but before about 5 or 6 years ago, we couldn’t even sequence the genome of these bacteria – we knew nothing of the microbiome.

Jay explained that we have reached another turning point, and are entering a new era, ‘Civilisation 2.0’! We are on the cusp of being able to understand what is going on in our bodies internally, but we also being able to take control of it. For the first time in the history of the planet, synthetic biology, the name we give to the manipulation of the data of life, is going to compete with natural selection.

Paul and Jay discuss The Age of Information Meets the Age of Bio-Science. Photography: Alan Liu

Paul and Jay discuss The Age of Information Meets the Age of Bio-Science. Photography: Alan Liu

Imperial’s Paul Freemont, co-director of the EPSRC Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovations, joined Jay on stage for a fascinating discussion about the age of information and bio-science. Paul talked about his work on the development of synthetic biology platform technologies and biosensors. He explained that they have been doing this kind of work for about 10 or 12 years now, but it is accelerating incredibly rapidly, and the applications of synthetic biology are wide ranging, from healthcare to bio-mining.


That’s all for session 2.

Check back next week for #imaginemed part 3.


Alexandra Abel is a graduate from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Music. She has a keen interest in both Global Health and Performing Arts. From September, she will be a medical student at Hull York Medical School.

Join her on twitter @alexandraabel

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#imaginemed: Thinking Outside the Box (Part 1)

This week, PLOS TGH is handed over to the talented and articulate Alexandra Abel. Combining a passion for medicine, global health and the arts, she reports on the recent #imaginemed event, London.


The day before show day, like true scientists, we stood up in the gallery at the Royal Albert Hall contemplating what could possibly go wrong. We recalled the time that over 100 members of the audience decided to join Pete Doherty on stage during his solo performance in 2008, but swiftly noted we did not anticipate the same problem at our event. As exciting as cardiothoracic and maxillofacial surgery are, particularly to us, they don’t generally trigger mass stage invasion. Not during lectures anyway.

A pre-show view from the ImagineMed stage. Photography: Alan Liu

A pre-show view from the stage. Photography: Alan Liu

The following day, while setting up and trying to keep to time, I think we all took at least one unscheduled moment to appreciate just how breathtakingly beautiful the Hall really is. When we worked with Focus Active Learning to make our online game, we learned a lot about the Hall in the process.

For example, there are over 13,000 letter ‘A’s around the Hall to commemorate Prince Albert, over 6 million red bricks make up the Hall’s distinctive exterior, and there are 14 bars (as in drinking ones) in the Hall. But no fun facts compare to standing on the stage looking up at the tiers and the fluted aluminium roof and looming diffuser discs.


Meanwhile, over at the Sir Alexander Fleming Building of Imperial College London, an important inaugural event was already underway. Biotech showcase The Cell, in partnership with NeuroPro, sought to showcase a variety of innovative healthcare technologies, and Neuropro showcased their EEG headset, NeuroTrail, which wirelessly monitors real-time EEG. Fifth Sense introduced Scentee, a smartphone attachable olfactory device that can be used to examine users’ sense of smell and indicate anosmia.

Delegates try the Hypnagogic Light at The Cell. Photography: Ellie Pinney

Delegates try the Hypnagogic Light at The Cell. Photography: Ellie Pinney

One of the most lively exhibits was serious games company Focus Active Learning, where delegates tried their hand at several board games including The Nutrition game and Infection Control Game. Among other companies in attendance were socially-minded software company uMotif; Imperial’s MSk Lab; the HELIX Centre, a collaboration between the Royal College of Arts and Imperial looking at design in healthcare; Light Eye Mind, who maintain the UK’s only publicly available Hypnagogic Light; and the revolutionary GoodSAM App for first responders.

The biotech showcase was only our morning activity, and Cell-goers went on to join other attendees as they selected their seats in the Hall. At 2pm, the lovely Dara Ó Briain, who kindly gave up his Easter Monday to host the event, took to the stage to welcome our four thousand strong audience to Imagining the Future of Medicine (ImagineMed)!

Welcome to ImagineMed! Photography: Alan Liu

Welcome to ImagineMed! Photography: Alan Liu

Dara, whose wife is a surgeon, is no stranger to being outnumbered by doctors at social gatherings; and, of course, many attendees were doctors (or medical students), but there was also a number of non-medical, even non-scientific, individuals with an intellectual curiosity, eager to hear about the future of healthcare from the people involved in shaping it.

The first session was called Thinking Outside the Box. Hollywood screenwriter Ira Steven Behr once noted, “…usually when we use that cliché, we think outside the box means a new thought. So we can situate ourselves back in the box, but in a somewhat better position”. Following on from this analysis, and in the spirit of ImagineMed, I like to think ‘outside the box’ represents human imagination. The speakers in this session have certainly all put their imagination to good use, and provided important new perspectives in their areas of expertise.

Francis on stage. Photography: Alan Liu

Francis talks about Looking and Seeing. Photography: Alan Liu

First up was cardiothoracic surgeon Francis Wells, who developed a new way to repair mitral valves after being inspired by the medical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci. Francis noted that in an age where everyone is risk averse, it sets the challenge of ‘how do you make new advances?’ He went on to outline three interconnected principles that have helped him overcome this challenge: 1) Ask the right questions. If we begin with the ‘why’, we can then begin to understand the ‘how’ and the ‘what’. 2) Looking and seeing. We are surrounded by visual data all the time, but turning looking into seeing and perceiving is really important.

“Drawing is a line around a think.” – Francis’ daughter

Francis, a keen artist, explained that drawing and thinking are intimately related, and went on to show some of da Vinci’s astonishingly accurate medical drawings. 3) Form and function in nature. All of us are formed by the forces acting upon us; those forces can be genetic, gravitational, osmotic, or emotional, but everything in nature is a diagram of the forces acting upon it. Francis described how in 1515, da Vinci determined the vortex mechanism by which heart valves close, and five hundred years later, a publication in Nature proved him right. Now with imaging technology, many other vortices have been discovered in the heart leading to a whole new way of looking at how the heart functions as it begins to fail.

Jamil talks about building a brain stethoscope. Photography: Alan Liu

Jamil talks about building a brain stethoscope. Photography: Alan Liu

Second speaker of the day was Jamil El-Imad, Chief Scientist at Swiss-based company NeuroPro. Jamil’s background is in software engineering, but his fascination with neuroscience began when his friend began doctoral research at Imperial College five years ago. He and his friend engaged in an extensive discussion one evening, and came up with their hypothesis: if a healthy brain is rhythmic, then an unhealthy brain must behave in a non-rhythmic fashion. They thought that if they attempted some pattern matching to brain signals, they might learn something new. This approach is very similar to using anti-virus software, which looks for any patterns corresponding to known viruses detected in the past. They wanted to build a brain stethoscope!

They decided to first target epilepsy, a disabling condition that affects 1% of the world’s population. When a seizure strikes, physical injuries result from people losing control and hurting themselves as they fall. Jamil and his friend imagined a portable device, or mobile technology, that can monitor the patient’s EEG readings in real time, and give a prediction or warning before a seizure strikes, allowing the patient to lie down comfortably and safely. Their concept for predicting seizures led to the construction of a headset that can be universally used, to building a mobile lab that can speed up research trials, and some amazing visualisation tools to assist diagnosis.

“Computing has become a utility like electricity and water… opening up a whole new space for us in pursuing opportunities in personalised healthcare.” – Jamil

In his post talk Q&A, Jamil noted that the headset technology can be used for a variety of functions – at the moment, they are using it monitoring coma patients.

Mark talks about Caring Outside the Box. Photography: Alan Liu

Mark talks about Caring Outside the Box. Photography: Alan Liu

Our third speaker of the day was consultant neurosurgeon and prehospital care specialist Mark Wilson. Mark used the stories of his Nan, and a man called Dan, to illustrate how different care is appropriate in different contexts. Nan, one sunny summer’s day, surrounded by family, had ‘keeled over’ in their back garden. Mark’s initial reaction to this situation wasn’t to start CPR. “I thought, wow, what a wonderful way to die,” said Mark, to many chuckles from the audience. Dan is a young man who wrapped his car around a tree a few years ago and suffered a brain injury. Patients like Dan might not look that unwell, but there’s a time-critical emergency going on in their head. Dan had a subdural hematoma (a blood clot on the outside of the brain pushing over the brain).

Mark explained that there is a constant loop between what you can find out from extreme physiology and critical care, and his advice to anyone hoping to find something new is to look off the beaten track. People have extreme physiology immediately following an accident, and it’s an area we don’t do much research on firstly, because we’re often not there; and secondly, when we do get there, it’s often dangerous, or it’s raining – it’s not conducive to research. But it’s an area where Mark believes we can make a massive difference. The best time to minimise secondary brain injury is in the first few minutes following an accident, but patients die because we’re not 100% at managing these secondary injuries. He believes if we can intervene at this early stage, outcomes would be much better.

“If you’re not dead when the emergency services arrive, you shouldn’t die.” – Mark

Nan's fine, she's over there! Photography: Alan Liu

Nan’s fine, she’s over there! Photography: Alan Liu

Fortunately, Dan made a good recovery, and was even sitting in the audience with his girlfriend; but at the ward round Mark did that morning, he had 10 patients very similar to Dan. Trauma is the commonest cause of death worldwide in under 45s, and brain injury is the commonest cause of that trauma. Dan went through a system of care: pre-hospital care, emergency care, intensive care, surgery, and then rehab. Mark believes that care is the most valuable thing doctors do, but it doesn’t appear on any tariff, and therefore, what makes good quality of care is difficult to define. Mark said he feels very privileged to be able to care for people with brain injury because is not like other types of injury – it can change a person profoundly, and he is very passionate about maintaining people as they are.

So what happened to Nan? Luckily, she had only fainted, and was also sitting in the audience.

Talented teenagers from Islington Community Theatre. Photography: Alan Liu

Talented teenagers from Islington Community Theatre. Photography: Alan Liu

Final speaker of the first session, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, brought 25 teenagers with her to illustrate her interesting research on the teenage brain. But they weren’t just any teenagers; they were very talented members of Islington Community Theatre, who created a unique performance. Sarah-Jayne explained that during adolescence, we develop a very strong sense of self, especially social self. Research shows that teenagers feel worse than adults do after being ‘left out’, suggesting that adolescents are hypersensitive to social exclusion. This might also help to explain why some adolescents are more prone to taking risks, especially when they’re with their friends.

Brain-imaging studies have shown what happens in the brain when we think about other people are thinking and feeling – this is called mentalising. The social brain network is involved in this mentalising, and the social brain undergoes significant change during adolescence. When adults and adolescents do the same mentalising tasks, different brain regions are shown to be active. Sarah-Jayne said these findings show that the adolescent brain is not broken or dysfunctional, it is just activating differently.


That’s all for the first session.

Thanks to Cell Coordinator Zinah Sorefan for her information on the activities of The Cell.

Check back for #imaginemed Part 2!


Alexandra Abel is a graduate from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Music. She has a keen interest in both Global Health and Performing Arts. From September, she will be a medical student at Hull York Medical School.

Join her on twitter @alexandraabel

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Wearable. Edible. Huggable. #WIREDHEALTH

This week we hand over to regular blogger Alex Abel – who recently returned from London’s WIRED Health.

Earlier this year, in a blog post for the World Economic Foundation, Jamie Ferguson said:

“The so-called revolution in digital health has been slow moving for many years, more like an undercurrent. But, lately it has become a tide, with all stakeholders fully invested and ready to catch the wave.”

We were certainly riding the face of that wave at London’s WIRED Health.

Main Stage talks took place in the comfortable Brunei Auditorium.

Main Stage talks took place in the comfortable Brunei Auditorium, hosted by editor David Rowan and science editor João Medeiros.

This inaugural event was held at the Royal College of General Practitioners on 29 April, and focused on innovation in the health sector.

Unsurprisingly, how we can collect, analyse, and benefit from our individual health data dominated discussion at both the Main Stage talks hosted by David Rowan, and the parallel Bupa Startup Stage where a range of companies gave 9-minute pitches to a panel of judges.

Sensors and self-monitoring

Maneesh’s wearable counts step, but also notifies him of tube delays. Image via @ManeeshJuneja

Maneesh’s wearable counts step, but also notifies him of tube delays. Image via @ManeeshJuneja

With the vast array of wearable sensors available ( even launched a wearable tech store last month), we can now keep track of every waking (and sleeping) moment of our lives. My friend Jing noted that there seemed to be so many health-tracking devices that he couldn’t quite see the need for all of them. How many, and what kinds of tools, do we really need? But Sonny Vu, founder of Misfit Wearables, more than adequately addressed this common question with a nice analogy:

“I’ve heard people say, oh wearables, that’s a really crowded space. No. That’s like saying in 1997 that the Internet is really crowded because there’s a lot of websites.”

Aside from keeping check on general health, sensors have huge potential to aid the management of chronic disease as people with chronic conditions are already self-managing 8700 hours a year, and only 3 hours a year with their clinician. Andrew Thompson explained that when a patient swallows a Proteus pill, it connects and communicates with their mobile phone, letting them know if they are responding properly to the medication. The sensor in this smart pill is made of silicon, copper, and magnesium – designed to be cheaply and easily embedded into any product. Andrew hopes that ‘digital pills’ will enable patients and doctors to better monitor and treat chronic conditions without the need for endless physical checkups.

From management of complex chronic disease to prediction… Jack Kreindler of the CHHP has been using expensive biosensor technology for a very long time, helping David Walliams swim the length of the Thames recently, but he explained that self-tracking devices used by elite athletes can now be used to predict major health problems, reducing unnecessary hospital admissions.

Jing and I meet Teddy the Guardian, a huggable sensor for children.

Jing and I meet Teddy the Guardian, a huggable sensor for children.

A particular favourite of mine from the Startup Stage was Teddy the Guardian. Certainly the cuddliest sensor tech around, Teddy can measure a child’s temperature, heart rate, and oxygen levels through his ‘smart paws’ in about six seconds. When Teddy’s owner checks their pulse, the bear’s LED heart beats at the same rate, a soothing effect intended to create a bond between child and bear. Teddy data is transmitted in real-time to a mobile app where data is analysed, managed, and downloaded by medical staff and parents.

Apps, wearables, and even edibles empower people to manage their own health and wellness, but we need to aid and guide the take up and use of these devices. As Sir Mark Walport explained, “Science without the social science will not reach its maximum”. The main message of the day can be nicely summed up by the content of one slide, which read: Sensor technology + big data + expert support = success. The challenge becomes how we can best harness our data for personal and global health purposes, and how to secure this expert support when and where it is required.

“We want indiscriminate, continuous, multi-sourced data streams to really realise the global health impact and great potential of digital health.” – Leslie Saxon

And the winner is…

Startup Stage winner was Peter Hames for his novel insomnia-fighting CBT app Sleepio. Their placebo-controlled RCT was published in Sleep in 2012, showing Sleepio users had improved sleep efficiency compared with the online placebo course, and those who continued with usual treatment for insomnia.

Fun fact of the day

Catherine Mohr (Intuitive Surgical) on stage. The dog's nose is a key talking point.

Catherine Mohr (Intuitive Surgical) on stage. The dog’s nose is a key talking point.

A dog’s nose is an amazing diagnostic tool. Dogs can detect ovarian cancer with 90% accuracy. Billy Boyle, Co-founder of the exciting Owlstone Nanotech, told us how this keen chemical analysis has led to their creation of diagnostic sensors that can ‘sniff out’ a range of cancers.

Sharp statistics

One in three couples that have IVF could conceive naturally (Claire Hooper, DuoFertility).

Someone in the world develops Alzheimer’s disease every 6 seconds (Elli Kaplan, Neurotrack Technologies).

Most inspiring statement

“Never under-estimate your ability to make a difference.” – Elli Kaplan

Visit #WIREDHEALTH in 2015

WIRED Health's partner Cisco showcase their Internet of Everything #TOMORROWstartshere

WIRED Health’s partner Cisco showcase their Internet of Everything.

There were twenty-two incredible talks in one day, but every speaker captivated me and made me want to learn more about their work.

After a thoroughly enjoyable day at the RCGP, I was inspired to walk the five miles home, monitoring my heart rate the old fashioned way because I’m a bit short on wearables.

The talks are now available to watch via the WIRED UK YouTube Channel.

WIRED Health will be returning to London next year, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone.

Many thanks to João Medeiros for inviting me, and curating such a wonderful programme. Congratulations to the entire organising team, and best of luck for 2015!


Alexandra Abel is a graduate from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Music. She has a keen interest in both Global Health and Performing Arts. From September, she will be a medical student at Hull York Medical School.

Join her on twitter @alexandraabel

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Warwick TEDx – everything is real, there is no audience

This week on Translational Global Health, regular guest writer Alexandra Abel returns to share her experiences at the recent TEDxWarwick event. Alex embodies multi-sectoral, Global Health – with academic degrees and a deep interest in both the arts, and population health. 


Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to visit Warwick Arts Centre to attend TEDxWarwick.

Empty seats before the doors open. Image via @Zena_Agha.

Empty seats before the doors open. Image via @Zena_Agha

Having hosted its first event in February 2009, TEDxWarwick is easily one of the most respected and long-standing TEDx events in the UK. Since inception, the event has grown in scale and scope year-on-year into the 8-hour programme, 1,200-strong audience, and 17-speaker line-up of 2014.

Hiba from our team tells people about Imagining the Future of Medicine

Hiba from our team tells people about Imagining the Future of Medicine


Aside from its reputation as a must-see show, I was keen to attend TEDxWarwick because I am part of the team organising a somewhat similar event called Imagining the Future of Medicine to be held at the Royal Albert Hall on the 21st of April 2014. The Warwick team kindly invited us to tell attendees about our own event during the breaks at theirs.

As we queued to enter the magnificent Butterworth Hall, where the 2012 and 2013 events were also held, we encountered an impressive piece of art, a large oak and metal sculpture, which read, EVERYTHING IS REAL. THERE IS NO AUDIENCE. In 2009, artist Mark Titchner was approached to make this work for the newly refurbished Butterworth Hall, and he developed the text as an allusion to three things…

Oak and metal sculpture outside Butterworth Hall, Warwick Arts Centre

Oak and metal sculpture outside Butterworth Hall, Warwick Arts Centre

Firstly, the phrase that begins a monologue from William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, which states, “All the world’s a stage”, spoken by the melancholy Jaques in Act II Scene VII. The speech compares the world to a stage, and life to a play. Secondly, journalist Steve Lamacq’s questioning of the authenticity of the Manic Street Preachers. In an interview with NME, Steve confronted the band, questioning their authenticity and their true dedication to punk-rock ethics. Welsh lyricist and rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards tried to convince Steve the band were ‘for real’, and eventually used a razorblade to carve the phrase “4 REAL” into his arm, requiring 17 stitches. And thirdly, the broader cultural question of the digital age regarding the relationship between audiences and live performance.

Recordings of the talks from TEDxWarwick should be available to view online in a few weeks time. Until then, here’s what happened throughout the day…

The TEDxWarwick audience await the start of the show. Photo credit: Dana Muntean

The TEDxWarwick audience await the start of the show. Photo credit: Dana Muntean

The first of four sessions was called Crafting a Vision, and opening the show was statistician Nic Marks with his talk ‘Happiness Works’. Nic previously gave talk at TEDGlobal 2010 on The Happy Planet Index, which tracks national wellbeing against resource use – an alternative to GDP as a measure of progress. Nic estimates that unhappiness at work in a 100-person business costs $1 million per year, and convincingly made the case for happiness promotion as a cost-effective investment.

Second speaker of the day Maria Saridaki made us all feel more playful with her talk on games. Maria organised the international street games festival Athens Plaython, and reminded us that the freedom of public space is a beautiful thing – every city can be a playground.

The Sensory Homunculus

The Sensory Homunculus

I managed to resist the urge to initiate a giant game of tag; but only because it was time for third speaker and doctoral student at the MIT Media Lab Gershon Dublon. Gershon showed us caricatured depictions of the ways we interact with the world around us: Smartphone Homunculus had one giant eye, and one giant finger (for texting etc.), whereas Sensory Homunculus had large hands and mouth, showing what the human body would look like if built in proportion to its sensory significance.

The last speaker of Session one was filmmaker and artist Kristina Cranfeld who challenged the concept of the ‘perfect’ citizen, and played her warmly received short film ‘Manufactured Britishness’, based on the ‘Life in the UK’ test, which examines skills for integrating into a British Society. You can watch the trailer for this film below; it doesn’t give much away, but you can get a feel of Kristina’s fictional future world, where hopeful citizens-to-be are tested on their ability to queue (of course!), remain calm and polite, build a brick wall, and hold the Union Jack steady. Largely concerned with immigration and human identity, Kristina’s art helped us remember that we are all global citizens, and that creative disciplines do have a place in political discussion.

Session two was called Roots of Inspiration and featured five speakers, all of whom have been inspired to create something new. First up was designer Jim Reeves who developed GravityLight, a $6 device that harnesses the power of weight and gravity, requiring 3 seconds charge for 25 minutes or power, instantly available with no running costs. There are currently 1.5 billion people in the world who have no access to reliable mains electricity, and rely instead on biomass fuels. This simple, but effective lighting innovation is a viable alternative to hazardous, but ubiquitous, kerosene lamps.

Alison Benjamin, Society Editor for The Guardian, and co-founder of the social enterprise Urban Bees, left the room buzzing with her talk on how urban Bee Keeping can positively affect people and communities, and change the way you see the world. Alison showed us how bees are great ambassadors for nature, with 1 in 3 mouthfuls we eat pollinated by bees”.

Green Graffiti: Starbucks logo washed onto pavement

Green Graffiti: Starbucks logo washed onto pavement. Image via @Pittachu

Next, Jim Bowes spoke about sustainable advertising, and surprised the audience with the exciting idea of monetising dirt through reverse graffiti. Reverse graffiti is the process of ‘cleaning’ text or a logo onto a surface such as the pavement or a wall, and people who write, “wash me” on particularly dirty vehicles are inadvertently participating in this art! Jim’s unconventional advertising, Green Graffiti, has a lower impact on the environment and a higher impact on the audience. I think we all looked at dirt a little differently after his talk.

Nahji Chu had the audience in fits of laughter from the start with her ‘fake’ Vietnamese accent, but swiftly brought them to tears with stories of her time spent as a refugee and her move to Australia in 1978. Nahji described her journey as a food entrepreneur and an immigrant. She even uses her refugee visa as the logo of her company, misschu tuck-shop. Nahji appreciates the role and power of humour in society, and “You ling we bling” is the slogan used to promote their home delivery service.

Session two came to a close with the powerful and poignant poetry of Zena Agha. Zena addressed the complex concept of identity, and performed a poem called ‘Writing Identities’. It is hard to believe that Zena started writing poetry only 18 months ago in a library in Warwick. At the TEDxWarwick Salon (women) event, a smaller gathering prior to the main show, Zena spoke about how Islam made her a feminist. You can watch her Salon talk, and experience some of her original performed poetry in the video below.

Session three was called Unchartered Territories, and came to an audibly powerful start with beatboxing sensation THePETEBOX. Pete demonstrated some of his characteristic vocal acrobatics before performing an impressive piece from his album ‘Future Loops’. Next up was Christian Guy, Managing Director at The Centre of Social Justice, a think tank that seeks effective solutions to poverty in Britain. Christian told us stories of a parallel Britain, and why we must put poverty centre stage. He argued that we all have a duty to engage in British politics, and not to abandon it, something with which host Siobhan Benita heartily agreed.

Kenneth Cukier, Data Editor at The Economist, spoke about Big Data dystopia. Big Data is a term that seems to be popping up everywhere in a variety of contexts, from healthcare to international security, but Kenneth gave us a better understanding of the concept itself, and the kingdom over which Big Data inevitably rules. If someone is deemed to be 95% likely to commit a crime in the next week, what should be done? Could someone really be arrested for statistical culpability?

Will the legal standard of probable cause become probabilistic cause?” – Kenneth Cukier

Martin shows different stages of human regeneration

Martin shows different stages of human regeneration

Session three ended with Martin Birchall, one of the world’s leading Otolaryngologists, who co-led the pioneering research team that carried out the first transplant of a human windpipe reconstructed using stem cells. Anyone looking to gain further insight into Martin’s fascinating work (highly recommended) can watch his Royal Free London NHS Trust talk Building organs from stem cells.


Nicola plays some Bach on her Stradivarius violin

Nicola plays some Bach on her Stradivarius violin

The final session of the day was called Conquering Mountains, and began with the stunningly talented Nicola Benedetti, most sought after violinist of her generation, and winner of a string of awards (no pun intended), including Best Female Artist at the 2012 Classical BRIT Awards.

Nicola started off by, of course, performing, and then stepped into the red circle for her first ever public speaking appearance. Nicola related her musical journey to a delighted audience, from the moment she truly emotionally connected with classical music at the age of 6, to becoming a proud ‘big sister’ to Sistema Scotland children. Nicola ended by once again picking up her Gariel Stradivarius, made in 1717, and playing unaccompanied Bach, music of almost identical age to her instrument.

Next up was photographer Matej Peljhan who told us of Luka, a little boy with muscular dystrophy who wanted to be photographed doing the things he could not do in reality. Matej made Luka’s wish come true, taking photos from above with Luka strategically positioned on the floor, images of Le Petit Prince, and received a well-deserved standing ovation from several members of the audience.

The imaginary world is not an escape, but a part of our reality, a never ending source for our creativity.” – Matej Palijhan

George's drawing of 11 year old Halid as he told his story. Image:

George’s drawing of 11 year old Halid as he told his story. Image:

Penultimate speaker of the day George Butler shared his passion for drawing and the incredible stories he’d uncovered through this art. George recounted tales of his time in Syria, where he travelled specifically to location draw. He spent some time with the Free Syrian Army, and returned to record stories amongst the refugees and the field hospitals. He heard unimaginably heartbreaking accounts of conflict from civilians, including 11-year-old Halid who had witnessed the brutal killing of his entire family only two weeks earlier. I have to say, I found George’s talk particularly moving, and thought he offered a unique and under-reported look at life in a state of prolonged conflict. It is remarkable how something so simple allowed him to take a step into the lives of others and make such a strong connection.

The final speaker of the fourth session, and of the day, was Kah Walla, the first woman to ever run for presidency of Cameroon. Kah’s talk was titled ‘Daring to invent the future of Africa’. She spoke about development, corruption, and governance – telling us Africa is not poor, but poorly run – and described her personal and political struggles.

No matter what type of violence and brutalities we face, we still have power.” – Kah Walla

Kah’s passionate speech, and show finale, also received standing ovation, and she exited the stage to rapturous applause. This level of appreciation continued in recognition of the organising team, as all 26 of them took to the stage to thank the audience for their participation and thank the speakers for their time and efforts.

I always feel that one of the downsides of TED and TED-style events is the limited opportunity to ask questions, although the Warwick programme did include ‘breakout sessions’ at lunch with a couple of speakers, and superficially, this dialogue now continually takes place in the twittersphere. I’m a big fan of Q&A, but I also appreciate that this kind of event is more of a show than a conference, and the intention is to inform and inspire, rather than debate.

TEDxWarwick 2014 is over for another year. Image via @Em216H.

TEDxWarwick 2014 is over for another year. Image via @Em216H

This unique story-telling style has rapidly captured the attention of a global audience, and continues to excite and engage people of all ages and backgrounds. Only so much can be achieved in a day; and TEDxWarwick managed to achieve a lot. Undoubtedly, many people (including me) are already looking forward to 2015.

Many congratulations to the team!


Alexandra Abel is a graduate from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Music. She has a keen interest in both Global Health and Performing Arts, and in her spare time, enjoys performing with her local theatre company. She is also part of the team organising the aforementioned ‘Imagining the Future of Medicine’ event at the Royal Albert Hall in London in April. From September, she will be a medical student.

Join her on twitter @alexandraabel

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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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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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