WIREDHealth – a few observations

Last week’s #WIREDHealth event was notable for lots of reasons, but one thing in particular stood out to me and that was the number of strong female speakers. No, it wasn’t a 50/50 gender balanced panel, but it seemed to me that the organisers had gone out of their way to make sure that women in STEM leadership roles were well represented. It’s a bit of a shame that so many of the female speakers were from the US, but then I guess WIRED’s remit is international so I’ll forgive them that.

There are some great summaries already available online that’ll give you a good guide on the overall content of the meeting, but I wanted to share some of the stand-outs for me from the main stage of the programme.

Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England gave a compelling presentation about Genomics and its practical applications. “Data driven medicine,” she said, “is all about how we map and understand individual genomic alterations and develop highly personalised treatments.” She highlighted the work of Genomics England and the 100,000 Genomes Project, currently recruiting patients through 13 NHS Genomic Medicine Centres across the country. When what you see of the NHS on a day to day basis are the challenges of its creaking GP and A&E services, it’s good to be reminded of how it is supporting incredible breakthroughs in a novel, entrepreneurial way.

I loved Marko Ahtisaari from the Sync Project for making the audience sit, close their eyes and listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons ‘updated’ by Max Richter as his opener to a fascinating presentation on the potential for music as precision medicine. And I’d urge you all to check out unwind.ai to get a glimpse of the future – and an opportunity to expand their research database.

Jessica Mega from Verily (part of Alphabet, parent company of Google) set out a conceptual overview for what Verily is doing with all the vast volumes of data out there – quite simply put, it’s all about collecting, organising and activating. She made a pleasant contrast in her informed, elegant style to the energetic, enthusiastic Elizabeth Parrish from BioViva Science, who terrified the life out of me with her desire to have us all join the revolution and get our genes tweaked. Mind you, you really can’t knock someone who is so committed to the cause that she’ll take two gene therapies herself.

The best speaker for my money though was Daisy Robinton from Harvard, who took what was extremely complicated scientific narrative around CRISPR, one of the great discoveries of 2015, and made it understandable to the lay person. It raises some uncomfortable questions about gene editing and its ethical application in the future, mindblowing stuff. And no, don’t ask me to explain it to you because I can’t. You really needed to be there. Or of course you could go to www.wired.co.uk and have a poke around…

I came away feeling that there was so much more to learn, having met some fascinating people and had my horizons expanded about at least part of the future of health and technology. What’s really exciting though, is how much of what was presented is already in play – we’re not talking about possible futures, but actual real-world developments. Heady times.

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