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Clinical research is all about numbers. A new informatics network called SHRINE could help make it easier to get find out if the numbers of patients are there to answer complex questions. (victoriapeckham/Flickr)

Ed. note: This morning at 8:15 EDT, Isaac Kohane, MD, PhD, will tell the audience at TEDMED 2013 about his goal of using every clinical visit to advance medical science. 

To preview his talk, we’ve updated a past Vector story about SHRINE, a system Kohane helped develop to allow scientists to use clinical data from multiple hospitals for research.

Clinical research really comes down to a numbers game. And those numbers can be the bane of the clinical researcher. If there aren’t enough patients in a study, its results could be statistically meaningless. But getting enough patients for a study, particularly for rare diseases, can be a daunting challenge.

The Shared Research Information Network (or SHRINE) could help solve this vexing problem. Developed through Harvard Catalyst by a team led by Isaac “Zak” Kohane, MD, PhD, director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Informatics Program, SHRINE links the clinical databases of participating Harvard-affiliated hospitals—currently Boston Children’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital—letting researchers at those hospitals see how many patients from those hospitals meet selected criteria.

Why is this important? Full story »

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A tissue engineered cartilage tube ready for implantation.

Tissue-engineered repairs and replacement parts aren’t just concepts out of science fiction – they promise to provide the ideal solution for thousands of children born each year with congenital anomalies or who suffer devastating injuries. A study released yesterday in The Lancet and covered on NPR reports on the latest tissue engineering advance.

Anthony Atala, a former Children’s Hospital Boston urologist and now director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, reports on five young boys in Mexico City whose damaged urethras he replaced with laboratory-grown urethras over five years ago. The patients had suffered damage to their urinary tracts from auto accidents, leaving them unable to urinate without a catheter.

In an approach he began at Children’s back in the late 1990s, Atala and his colleagues took a biopsy of bladder tissue from each boy, and expanded the cells in the laboratory until there were approximately 100 million cells Full story »

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Concept for a new kind of surgical robot (click to enlarge)

Inventors and engineers tend to come up with ideas and technologies first, then say, “This is cool, what’s it good for?” Clinicians tend to say, “Here’s my clinical problem, how can I solve it?”

This was roughly the thinking that brought together Boston University engineer Pierre Dupont and Pedro del Nido, chief of Cardiac Surgery at Children’s Hospital Boston.

Dupont had a vision for a next-generation surgical robot. del Nido had a vision of doing complex cardiac repairs in children while their hearts are still beating. Could they create a viable technology? Full story »


TEDMED, Wurman, Nurjana BachmanTEDMED was fascinating, and it was a great experience for the Children’s team who attended. Based on the conference attendees and the intimate size of the gathering, it offered our constituents ample opportunity to interact with peers from other fields, policy decision makers, media influencers, future collaborators and potential sponsors in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in any other setting. Full story »


syringeThis is how Dean Kamen, the consummate inventor, framed his talk on Day 3 at TEDMED. If this is the definition of genius, then Marc Koska, who developed a syringe which cannot be reused and also spoke yesterday, certainly is one. The syringe and the associated public health campaign he ran in India and other parts of the developing world to raise awareness about the danger of reusing needles, common practice in these countries, is credited with saving 10 million lives.

Both Kamen’s and Koska’s presentations touched on a theme that hasn’t been discussed much here: the interface between the technology inventor and the private sector industry that develops, manufactures, markets and distributes products. Full story »

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In this aquarium in Japan, staff bow to the whale. (Image by gwaar, via Flickr)

What did my inner child learn today from 32 speakers?  Just one special word:  R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Clifton Leaf, a journalist and author, demonstrated that while the reported age-adjusted rate of cancer appears to be decreasing, the gross cancer death rate actually is increased. The message was clear: we underestimated this disease. Anna Barker, former deputy director of the National Cancer Institute, echoed this message in recounting our war on cancer. Our lack of respect for the disease’s complexity misdirected our efforts and resources. Full story »

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During breaks at TEDMED, Children’s Hospital Boston is demonstrating a sampling of its technologies. Medgadget, the Internet Journal of Emerging Medical Technologies, came by to watch and posted these videos.

Above, Children’s engineer Pierre Dupont describes a new way of fixing children’s hearts — with enhanced, robot-guided catheters and tiny surgical tools that he’s developing with Pedro del Nido, chief of Cardiac Surgery. We hope these tools (shown at their true miniscule size and in large models) and the robotic system driving them will allow children, especially babies, avoid the rigors of open-heart surgery. Instead, a short-stay catheterization procedure could be performed while their hearts are still beating.

Here, Children’s epidemiologist-informatician John Brownstein explains some of the new features of HealthMap, an Internet-based infectious-disease tracking system. He zeroes in on Haiti’s emerging cholera outbreak, in which a “crisis mappers” community on the ground is sending real-time data to HealthMap via iPhone and iPad.

Read more about innovations at Children’s on our website, and stay with Vectorblog and our Twitter feed (@science4care) for continuing TEDMED coverage.

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From the Fasciculus Medicinae (c. 1495), via Medicá, a free iPhone app

Some of the presentations I’ve enjoyed most at TEDMED were those that combined the arts with health and medicine.  For example, the amazing medical book collection of Jay Walker (founder of and a zillion other Internet-commerce related businesses). Using themes like “freedom,” “beauty” and “patterns,” he illustrated how medical art and illustration have evolved over the last several hundred years, and in many instances how imagination has helped to fuel it. (Check out his library.)

Perhaps most amazing, Jay didn’t just use PowerPoint to show the images; he brought the actual books, Full story »

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Image by Steve Case via TwitPic:

Before Children’s Hospital Boston’s own Frances Jensen, Director of Epilepsy Research, took the stage yesterday, Richard Saul Wurman, organizer of TEDMED and the TED conferences, spoke warmly of Children’s participation and sponsorship of this year’s event. A generous gift from the Hassenfeld Family Initiatives enabled that participation, and Wurman thanked the Hassenfelds and Children’s for bringing “such interesting people” to TEDMED 2010. With that, Jensen began her talk about the importance of understanding the developing brain. Full story »

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Image by aussiegall (Louise Docker) via Flickr

Eight hours of talks from 30 speakers, from various walks of life… Was it overwhelming, boring or excessive? Not in the least. Today’s TEDMED talks were thought provoking, leaving us much to contemplate about death and disease. Today’s theme was accepting our responsibility for many of the diseases we are facing today.

Peter Daszak, a disease ecologist, reminded us that many devastating human diseases came from animal reservoirs. Full story »

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