Fixing Old Problems With New Ideas

I’ve just returned from Wired Health 2018 – an exploration of disruption through technology discovery in healthcare, this year taking place in the heart of the Knowledge Quarter in London, The Francis Crick Institute.

You might think trying to summarise 20 talks would be a challenge, and you’re not wrong. From the transformation of cancer care, the re-definition of ageing, and how advanced technologies like VR, AR and AI are being applied to our own health, this was a mind-blowing and truly inspiring line-up.

Funnily enough, though, one thing really stood out to me as I left the meeting yesterday. We celebrate technology, but what we are truly thankful for is that people still possess a hunger to learn and to evolve the way we do things, even when we think it not possible.

This was really about fixing old problems with new ideas.

Sadly I can’t write about them all, I’m sure someone will, so here are a few that stood out.

Take Bruce Levine and his team at the Centre of Cellular Immunotherapies at the University of Pennsylvania. He took a single idea, that you can use your immune system to attack cancer, and has ushered in a new era of synthetic biology. In his words, treating cancer has been like ‘trying to find a dull needle in a haystack’, and we are fighting a losing battle against our own bodies. His journey is a truly remarkable one, as are the success stories of those that have received his CAR-T treatment, and others like it. In particular, the story of Emily, a young girl living with advanced lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), sums up why Bruce persevered from the benches to the trenches to change people’s lives. (A link to her story is below, along with a number of the other projects on show)

Peek Vision has a simple mission, to connect the world to sight, and they use mobile phones to do so. The technology is interesting, but the real power is the movement Andrew Bastawrous and his team have started. Emerging from the platform to bring better eyesight to millions in underprivileged countries, is a new model of funding technology innovations so they might be more sustainable, centred around a human need. Hats off to the technology, but a standing ovation is needed for everything else they are doing to transform healthcare.

Embodying this though was my personal highlight of the day (sorry…I had many!). With no slides, the Hon. Dorcas Makgato, Minister of Health and Wellness for the Government of Botswana, stood in front of the packed auditorium and amazed us all as she detailed how Botswana has truly created a paradigm shift in the delivery of healthcare. By creating a Universal healthcare system, they now offer free HIV treatment for all. To a population where 29% are infected by the virus, this is a remarkable achievement, signalling healthcare is about sustaining a population and this is only truly possible by prevention. Many could learn from this model of bold decision making.

Shout-outs also go to the team at Elvie for breaking stigmas and changing the way we look at new technology, and Gilead, for continuing to push HIV care forward. The importance of seeing a patient, a doctor and industry on-stage together shaping the narrative around what good healthcare should and can be cannot be underestimated. Long may this type of discussion continue.

People might think technology is finding new problems, but this just simply isn’t true. It’s fixing old ones and transforming the way we live our lives. The challenge for us all is embracing this change and all that enables and comes with it. What’s more, at heart of all of these are clear and simple goals and incredibly powerful outcomes (some not even there yet). They know they’ve made or are making a difference, and that’s something we also pride ourselves in at Aurora. No matter how big or small, we make sure we demonstrate the outcomes that prove success – so get in touch if you want to find out more.

Thank-you to all who I met and spoke with, to all the incredible speakers and to Wired for putting on such a great event. I wonder if we’ll be any closer to fixing some of these old problems next year?

Finally, if you want to learn more about some of the interesting programmes from the day, here are some links below.

The story of treating incurable cancers: The Emily Whitehead Foundation.

How the smartphone can provide eyecare for all: Peek Vision.

Etch-a-Cell: citizen science.

Using microbes to fight disease.

The rise of Femtech.

Using VR to rebuild futures.

Disrupting drug discovery.

The AI doctor.

Training the next generation of doctors with new technologies.

Can VR diagnose dementia: Sea Quest Hero 

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