Health & Medicine
The DLD Collection
Good health comes down to many factors. Lifestyle, food choices and a gift from nature – having the right mix of DNA – all play a crucial role. So there’s a lot that you can do. What does science say about living long and staying healthy? How can medicine and technology help you heal when something does go wrong?
Watch experts share their insights, live well and prosper.
Couch potatoes take note: There’s a surprising number of things we can do to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, strengthen our immune system and avoid damage to our body. Much of it comes down to eating the right food, getting enough sleep – and keeping the body moving.
No, there are no miracle foods. But yes, it does matter what you eat. Drawing from studies that show the benefits of foods like soy and cooked tomatoes in fighting cancer, Dr. William Li, CEO and co-founder of the Angiogenesis Foundation, presents a compelling case for how food impacts our health defenses.
In this DLD Sync follow-up to his DLD Munich 2020 talk, Dr. William Li explains how our immune system resembles “an army of super soldiers that defend our body against viruses, bacterias, and even cancer cells of growing inside us” – and why it’s so crucial to provide these super soldiers with the best nutrition you can find. “’We’re now beginning to realize we can lean into the foods, we can explore what Mother Nature has imbued foods with to our benefit”, Dr. Li says.
Brain imaging and affordable genomic analysis help scientists better understand the causes and development of dementia, neurologist Dr. Lisa Mosconi explains in her DLD 2016 talk. While DNA does play a role, our behavior has enormous influence on the brain’s aging process. “Genes load the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger”, Dr. Mosconi points out. “The risk of dementia is increased by lack of exercise, by smoking, too much alcohol, some drugs, lack of social interactions – but most importantly a poor diet.”
As we get older the body loses its ability to regenerate damaged cells, Prof. Shai Efrati of Tel Aviv University explains at the outset of his presentation. But, as his research has shown, there are ways to revitalize the body – and particularly the brain – through Hyperbaric oxygen therapy. By stimulating stem cells with oxygen, Shai Efrati notes, it is possible to help the brain regenerate – for example after a stroke. “When we speak about ‘reverse aging’ we’re not aiming for immortality”, he points out. “What we want is a good quality of life.” His research promises to make a significant contribution to medicine achieving this goal.
“Why do we spend so much money on health care, fixing something that is broken, instead of investing health itself – in keeping people in good shape?” And the best way to do this, Esther Dyson explains, is to teach children how to stay healthy, by avoiding junk food, for example. Over a period of ten years, her nonprofit Welville project aims to achieve just that.
Be Your Best
In conversation with Yossi Vardi, author and physician Dr. David Agus pulls together the most important ideas from his bestseller The End of Illness to show how we can live better and longer by following certain rules. He explains the importance of a regular sleep rhythm, why it’s better to avoid snacking throughout the day and also when to eat and what to eat.
Understanding nature and the human body lies at the heart of progress in the field of medicine. For hundreds of years, doctors could only speculate why people fell ill. The existence of bacteria and viruses was unknown until the late 19th century. Today, with the help of advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, scanners and sensors, scientists are finding ever more ways to better diagnose diseases and treat them more efficiently.
Developing a Covid Vaccine
In his DLD All Stars presentation, Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, illustrates how his company managed to develop a Covid-19 vaccine at record speed. “This was only possible because of a decade-long research on mRNA vaccines, and because of the competences we had built in our personalized cancer vaccine approach”, he said. Sahin’s DLD talk from 2015, also included in this collection, explains this mRNA technology in detail. The approach was highly versatile, Sahin said, making it possible to quickly respond to virus mutations. “We are positive that mRNA vaccines can enable a fast adaptation of the vaccine to newly emerging Sars-CoV-2 variant, if they are needed.”
The Future of Cancer Treatment
Cancer develops when cells “multiply in an uncontrolled fashion”, Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, explained at DLD Summer 2015. In many cases, traditional therapies fail to bring the disease under control. That’s why cancer is so deadly. In the future, odds may be greatly improved by “coaching immune cells to fight cancer”, Sahin says. Greatly simplified, the idea is to strengthen the body with the help of messenger RNA, which teaches the immune system to specifically target tumor cells. BioNTech’s success in developing a highly effective Covid-19 vaccine with its partner Pfizer illustrates the great potential of this immune therapy approach.
By allowing consumers to have their DNA analyzed, Californian company 23andMe gives its customers a chance to better understand their personal risk of developing diseases caused by hereditary factors. But the aggregate information of millions of DNA profiles also promises to advance medicine in general, as 23andMe founder Anne Wojcicki explained in conversation with New York Times columnist Kara Swisher. “Over 80 percent of customers opt in to research”, she said, allowing her company “to crowdsource this incredible community of genetic information”. Her hope is that insights from this treasure trove of data will help to “usher in true personalized healthcare”.
Speeding Up Drug Discovery
Massive amounts of clinical data vastly increase the chance of find a cure for many diseases – but the amount of information also poses problem. “It’s impossible for even the most learned scientists and research teams to keep up”, Joanna Shields, CEO of BenevolentAI, observed at DLD19. “But it represents a perfect machine learning opportunity.” To speed up the development of new drugs, Benevolent AI analyzes vast amounts of data from patent applications, studies and clinical trials, trusting that smart algorithms can detect patterns and connections that would otherwise remain hidden to the human eye. There’s proof that the concept can yield enormous benefits: Mere weeks into the Covid-19 outbreak, in February 2020, Shields and her team identified a drug called Baricitinib as a potential treatment for the disease. In November 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the treatment.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, this talk that U.S. virologist Nathan Wolfe gave at DLD 2012 feels downright prophetic. “Now we live in a world where animals and humans are in this giant sort of viral mixing vessel where viruses have the potential to spread from one spot to everywhere in the world”, he told the audience. “They also have the potential to meet each other and mix and match [recombining] their genes and creating novel viruses.” That’s why he proposed building a digital platform for “epidemic intelligence”.
Preventing the Next Epidemic
Viruses are “extremely simple, and that’s the key to their success”, Alexander Kekulé, explains in his DLD Summer 2015 talk. “Because they are so simple they can be fast.” Kekulé, one of Germany’s leading virologists, draws lessons from the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa to illustrate how future pandemics could be prevented. One crucial insight is the need for early detection of viruses that might become transmissible from animals to humans. Advances in laboratory technology will be key to this task, as Kekulé explains.
“Do you know that when you fall sick, your smell changes?”, Koniku founder Osh Agabi asked the audience at DLD19. “In fact, there are some dogs trained to detect cancer.” Agabi’s biotech startup is taking this idea to the next level: Koniku has developed a sensor that can be programmed to detect certain organic compounds in the air. This can be traces of explosives – useful for airport security, for example – or changes in body odor that indicate the development of a disease, even before the illness becomes apparent. Early trials have shown that the “Konicore” sensor is able to detect signs of Covid-19 as well, prompting the prospect that the technology will be used in sports stadiums and concert venues to make such events safer for attendees. Our interview with Osh Agabi also includes a brief video explaining this breakthrough technology.
A Better Body Scanner
With her company Openwater, founder Mary Lou Jepsen is developing an alternative to common MRI scanners. Openwater uses infrared light to make the invisible visible, and artificial intelligence to create a holographic image of the human body. The goal is to identify tumors and other diseases in a simpler way, with more accuracy, 1000 times cheaper than a traditional MRI. In the future, the technology could even serve as a non-invasive interface for brain-computer communication, Jepsen says in her presentation at DLD New York 2018.
Imagine a pair of glasses that can tell you what you’re seeing, thanks to a built-in camera and advanced image recognition technology. That’s what OrCam VP of Research & Development Yonatan Vexler presented at DLD 2014. The technology has since revolutionized the lives of thousands of visually impaired people around the world. It’s also an early example of the benefits of medical grade wearbles. In 2020, football star Lionel Messi became a technology ambassador for the company founded by Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram, the Israeli tech pioneers who also created Mobileye.
Mapping the Human Body
Precision medicine requires precision knowledge of the human body. Surgical procedures can be grateful improved with the help of digital technology, as Stefan Vilsmeier, CEO of Brainlab, illustrates in his DLD19 presentation. Vilsmeier’s company has developed a digital imaging system that builds 3D models of a patient’s anatomy – so that surgeons can better visualize life-saving procedures even before they head into the operating room. (Read our interview with Stefan Vilsmeier for more.)
A good life is a life in balance. Make sure that your brain and body are in harmony, and you have a much better chance of avoiding unnecessary visits to the doctor’s – while enjoying life to the fullest. But don’t take our word for it. Just listen to what the experts have to say.
Coping With Covid
What psychological toll has the coronavirus taken on our daily lives, and how best to cope with the months-long crisis? “At this moment, we are primarily focused on maintaining our sense of security, stability and risk avoidance”, psychiatrist Esther Perel observed in her DLD Sync session with Scott Galloway. “As a result, we lose that sense of spontaneity. Every spontaneous encounter could lead to a spontaneous contamination.” In the video, Esther shares many more valuable insights and gives advice on how to deal with the permanent stress due to remote work, the Covid-19 threat and couples suddenly seeing more of each other than they’re used to.
The Art of Reduction
In this fascinating talk Benedikt Böhm, CEO of sports equipment maker Dynafit, describes how mountaineering helps him make difficult decisions in both work and his personal life. In mountain climbing, focusing on what’s essential is necessary for survival. “If we were sitting there in base camp”, Böhm told the audience, “and the target was maybe 16 hours up and down with almost nothing, the hardest decision was: what do I not take up? What do I leave away?” Böhm applied this philosophy to his role as CEO as well. In his first year at Dynafit he cut the company’s product line by half, thereby securing the company’s survival.
Beatie Wolfe shares the story of her “The Power of Music & Dementia” project and what inspired her to start this. She shows us what she experienced while touring a few caring homes and we will see how the power of music can transform and improve the life for people living with dementia. (Read our article about Wolfe’s work for more.)
Bestselling author Deepak Chopra, a pioneer in the field of mind-body medicine, shares insights on the “consciousness approach” to healthy living. He explains how awareness to mind and body can restore health, heal the body and even reverse the ageing process. It is vital, Chopra explains, to look at the body “as a process, not as a thing”.
Rest & Recharge
Arianna Huffington explores with author and futurist Alex Pang how to be more creative and productive while you rest, recharge and work less.
Evolution made us who we are, but who says we need to accept the outcome? Biotechnology offers a slew of possibilities for humans to shape who they are, what they are and how they want their offspring to look like. We can use gene editing to reprogram our natural abilities, implant electronics and try to upgrade our bodies in other ways. But should we?
In his riveting DLD20 talk, Jamie Metzl, author of Hacking Darwin, makes the case that IT, genetics and biology are converging. “The code of all of life, including our own, will be readable and writable and hackable, because biology is another form of information technology”, Metzl says. “Suddenly we have the ability to remake all life on Earth.”
The Future of Human Evolution
Biotechnology, in particular gene editing, hold great promise in medicine and health – but also brings up ethical issues. This DLD Sync session brought together three thought leaders in this field: Ellen Jorgensen, Chief Science Officer and co-founder of Aanika; George Church, a pioneer of genomic science, who leads Synthetic Biology at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute; and Jamie Metzl, author of Hacking Darwin. In their hour-long session they discussed whether the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to accelerate novel treatments, what the future of human evolution may look like once we start editing our own DNA, and what the nature of what we call “nature” is to begin with. (See our recap of the session for details.)
Today, brain-computer interfaces allow disabled people to control artificial limbs; tomorrow they might be part of a routine upgrade to our natural abilities as humans. Neuroscientist Dr. Divya Chander gives an mindbending overview of what’s already happening in labs and where we’re headed in the future. “Where does the organic human end and the digital one begin?”, Dr. Chander asks. And “if we keep on digitizing humans, will it make it more possible to hack them?”
The Next Human Species
Did you know that humans almost died out before our ancestors made an incredible comeback? Author and scholar Juan Enriquez takes the audience along for a fascinating ride through evolution. Ultimately, he explains, gene editing and other technologies will allow the human species to completely reinvent itself. “We’re creating a new type of hominid… This is a hominid that directly and deliberately engineers itself and its evolution, and the evolution of other lifeforms.”