Start your engines: A fleet of GoBabyGo cars, customized by therapists and parents to give disabled children mobility and help strengthen weak muscles. (Courtesy Cole Galloway)
TEDMED2014 focused on a powerful theme: unlocking imagination in service of health and medicine. Speaker after speaker shared tales of imagination, inspiration and innovation. Here are a few of our favorites:
$100 plastic car stands in for $25,000 power wheelchair
In the first (and likely only) National Institutes of Health-funded shopping spree at Toys R’ Us, Cole Galloway, director of the Pediatric Mobility Lab at the University of Delaware, and crew stocked up on pint-sized riding toys.
Galloway’s quest was to facilitate independence and mobility among disabled children from the age of six months and older and offer a low-tech solution during the five-year wait in the United States for a $25,000 power pediatric wheelchair.
The hackers jerry-rigged the toys with pool noodles, PVC pipe and switches, reconfiguring them as mobile rehabilitation devices to promote functional skills among kids with special needs. Full story »
A mouse surrounded by computer screens turns its head when it notices lines moving across one of them, as a camera captures this evidence of visual acuity. A chamber similarly equipped with video cameras tests social interaction between mice. A small swimming pool, with shapes on its walls as navigational cues, lets scientists gauge a mouse’s spatial memory. A pint-sized treadmill, with a tiny camera to watch foot placement, measures gait.
Here in the Neurobehavioral Developmental Core at Boston Children’s Hospital, managed by Nick Andrews, PhD, the well-tended mice also have opportunities to play: “If you have a happy mouse,” says Andrews, “researchers get better, more consistent results.” Full story »
The word innovation gets thrown around a lot these days by people trying to set their products and ideas apart in the marketplace. But when everything is innovative, is anything really innovative? And if there really are innovative ideas, are they simply flashes of brilliance that can’t be planned for or predicted?
The answer to this last question is “no,” as I see every day at Boston Children’s Hospital, where I lead the Innovation Acceleration Program. The real trick is creating an innovation culture that supports great ideas—but that also supports the not-so-great ideas that teach us almost as much.
So what are the attributes of an innovation culture? Full story »
Fixing a real problem, even a small one, can transform health care.
What can innovators do to work with investors and industry to move an idea toward commercialization? Speakers at the upcoming Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards, hosted by Boston Children’s Hospital, have some simple advice: Don’t think your innovation has to be sexy.
Health care is plagued by problems that aren’t necessarily sexy or compelling, says Mandira Singh, MBA, of AthenaHealth, who will speak at the Summit’s Mobile & Digital Health panel. More than many other industries, it still depends on outdated technology. For example, it’s the only industry that continues to rely on fax machines. “These are small problems that need to be fixed,” Singh said recently at a Boston Children’s Hospital forum.
Instead of focusing on everyday challenges, innovators often think far out into the future—to where they think health care will be in 10 years. That can be a trap: Full story »
Technology sometimes unfolds at a slow, measured pace and sometimes at lightning speed. Right now, we are witnessing what is arguably one of the fastest moving fields in biomedical science: a form of genome editing aptly known as CRISPR.
CRISPR allows researchers to make very precise—some would say crisp—changes to the genomes of human cells and those of other organisms. You might think of it as a kind of guided missile. Its precision is opening the doors to a wide variety of research and, hopefully, medical applications. Indeed, the possibilities seem to be bound only by scientists’ imaginations.
“For a long time, we have been accumulating new knowledge about which gene mutation causes which disease. But until very recently, we haven’t had the ability to go in and correct those mutations,” explains Feng Zhang, PhD, a core member of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, and one of the method’s pioneers. “CRISPR is one of the tools that is starting to allow us to directly go in and do surgery on the genome and replace the mutations.”
CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. While this name is a bit verbose, it points to the technology’s origins: a set of genetic sequences first discovered in bacteria. Full story »
The bigger the idea, the greater the risk of failure.
Bruce Zetter, PhD, is the Charles Nowiszewski Professor of Cancer Biology at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and a member of Boston Children’s Vascular Biology program. He has made significant contributions to cancer research and worked as Chief Scientific Officer at Boston Children’s Hospital. A frequent advisor to biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, Zetter will be master of ceremonies at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards (Oct 30-31, 2014).
By now, we have all seen a surfeit of articles on how to foster a culture of innovation in the workplace. Unfortunately, with our words, actions and tone of voice, most of us do just the opposite; we stifle innovation at every turn.
For the record, I run a cancer research lab at Boston Children’s Hospital, and innovation is our stock-in-trade, the one quality on which our performance as scientists is measured. There are no silver medals for coming in second in science. Yet even professional innovators can stifle the creative urge in their colleagues, their direct reports and even in their supervisors.
It’s easy to thwart a culture of innovation. Here are a few ways it can be done: Full story »
Academic and industry partners are explicitly working to fill pharma pipelines.
Academic researchers and physician innovators are great at making research discoveries and developing inventions at an early stage. But if you were to fund them to turn their research findings into a product, would they have the expertise and experience needed to be successful? Most would not.
The investment community talks about the innovation funding gap, a.k.a. the “valley of death.” But there is also a knowledge gap on the part of academic researchers when it comes to transforming their technologies into therapeutics. Most want their findings to lead to new treatments for patients, but they lack the experience and expertise that companies have to advance early-stage research to a clinical stage. That includes expertise in designing pre-clinical experiments and navigating regulatory pathways for commercial development.
Academics often enter agreements with pharmaceutical companies, many of which are early-stage research grants. Often, these industry-sponsored research projects end with a scientific publication and are unsuccessful in generating new therapeutics—a subpar outcome for the company investor. Full story »
Understanding the genetic causes of nephrotic syndrome could lead to better drug treatments that reduce the need for dialysis or a kidney transplant. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
Nephrotic syndrome is one of the worst diseases a child can have. It strikes the filtering units of the kidney, structures known as glomeruli. There’s no good treatment: Steroids are the main therapy used, but 20 percent of cases are steroid-resistant. In the syndrome’s most severe form, focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), children are forced onto chronic dialysis and often require a kidney transplant—often only to have their disease recur in the new organ.
My father had a favorite bit of advice as we embarked on our adult lives: “Go big or go home.” Going big is exactly what OPENPediatrics is doing, empowering physicians and nurses to care for children across the globe.
The Web-based digital learning platform was conceived 10 years ago by Jeffrey Burns, MD, MPH, chief of critical care at Boston Children’s Hospital, and Traci Wolbrink, MD, MPH, an associate in critical care. It concluded a year-long beta test in April 2014, and version 1 has now been launched.
Developed to impart critical care skills, OPENPediatrics uses lectures, simulators and protocols to deliver training. In the process, it has helped save lives. Full story »
With initial help from her mother, Kailee West, 6, quickly masters the basics of Puddingstone Place, an interactive virtual environment that helps children with autism develop language skills.
In the 1990s, Facilitated Communication (FC), in which assistants “facilitate” the typing of thoughts by minimally verbal children by supporting their hands, began raising hopes in the autism community. The unproven procedure caught fire, and Syracuse University established a nationally recognized Facilitated Communication Institute.
Upon closer examination, though, doubts emerged. The messages were surprisingly sophisticated and written by children who often were not even looking at the keyboard. Critics charged that the words were actually those of the facilitator rather than the patient. Studies and organizations began discrediting FC. Full story »