From November 3 to 6 this year, I savored the pleasure of being a media participant at the FutureMed Conference at the historic Hotel del Coronado by beautiful Coronado Beach in San Diego, California.
For four days, I mingled with and learned from luminaries in medicine and the health sciences. Leaders, innovators, scientists, physicians, entrepreneurs and thinkers from all over the world, who are creating and driving the future of medicine and healthcare through game-changing, disruptive, exponential technologies, took the stage and showcased their most recent work.
The plush white chairs and cushy beanbags in the luxurious, all-white theater-in-the-round-like space amplified the sense that I had just been transported into medical “geek” heaven.
This is FutureMed after all, the trailblazing specialist executive program organized by Silicon Valley-based Singularity University, whose mission is “to educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.”
FutureMed is distinct in its focus on empowering leaders to create high-impact technology innovations that can solve the world’s most intractable problems in medicine and global health. The program puts together the most brilliant and passionate health-care workers in the planet in one tiny geographic space, very much like a magical force field. This year was the program’s third edition.
Some burning topics discussed were how to “bioprint” or craft functioning organs made from human tissue using 3D printers; how the plunging cost of sequencing a human genome is opening up a whole new world of personalized medicine; how the trillions of bacteria that exist within the human body can be mapped as complex dynamic systems that can now be understood in ways previously not possible; how newest advances in imaging technology enable scientists to see the body with finer detail, resolution, brilliance, dimension and in real time.
We saw how advanced robotics is transforming the practice of surgery toward the minimally invasive; how nanodevices small enough to swim inside a person’s bloodstream can gather diagnostic information on a continual basis; how doctors will one day prescribe mobile apps with drugs, or mobile apps instead of drugs; how artificial intelligence can simplify the complex due diligence required of physicians; how smartphones equipped with attachments can enable nearly any literate person to perform a complete physical examination quickly and accurately—no doctor required!
We delved into these topics and so much more with one end in mind—the good of the patient. Or rather, as the founding executive producer of FutureMed and VP of strategic relations at Singularity University Robin Farmanfaraian puts it, “the unpatient”—referring to the growing numbers of intelligent, inquisitive, take-charge healthcare consumers of today.
In her talk on “The Empowered, Engaged Patient” she revealed that, as a young girl, she was misdiagnosed by her doctor and suffered six major surgeries. Those early years, she tried to figure out what was wrong with her but was frustrated with the lack of information.
Today, however, with the technological advances currently available in software, hardware, imaging, diagnostics and medical science such as genomics all taken together, she says what had been her condition when she was a teenager could be resolved easily and without any invasive surgery. Thus, she knows firsthand that “Technology is hope.”
With portable diagnostics, wearable scanners, tomorrow’s health consumer can have unprecedented access to her own health data. MC10, for example, is a company that specializes in epidermal electronics. “Slap on a Tattoo and go!” it says. That tattoo is actually a sophisticated piece of electronics that can monitor a person’s health metrics on a continuous basis.
It means people can now have access to accurate unbiased continuous data on their bodies. They can then take action as key decision-makers, the CEOs of their own healthcare. The power dynamic between patient and doctor will change. The bar of interaction between healthcare consumer and physician will be raised and the practice of medicine will never be the same.
Dr. Dean Ornish, the New York Times bestselling author, also spoke about how a healthy lifestyle can treat disease, not just prevent it. He was able to demonstrate this by studying and working with a large group of men diagnosed with prostate cancer; the disease could, in fact, be reversed through the adoption of a healthy lifestyle.
He also spoke eloquently about how loneliness and isolation are among society’s greatest epidemics. And how love and social connection greatly increases the ability of a person to achieve reversal of a disease state.
My interest in the program can be traced back to early this year when I was introduced to the thinking of Dr. Peter Diamandis. Diamandis is coauthor of the New York Times bestselling book “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think.” According to GeekWire.com, the book was one of Bill Gates’ favorite reads in the summer of 2012.
Diamandis is one of Singularity University’s two visionary cofounders, and CEO of the XPrize Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity through the design and operation of large incentive-prize competitions. The XPrize website tagline, “Making the Impossible Possible,” should give you an idea of what Diamandis is all about.
“Humanity is now entering a period of radical transformation in which technology has the potential to significantly raise the basic standards of living for every man, woman and child on the planet,” Diamandis wrote. “Within a generation, we will be able to provide goods and services, once reserved for the wealthy few, to any and all who need them. Or desire them. Abundance for all is actually within our grasp.”
Abundance for all? Even for those ravaged with natural disasters such as the Philippines? Yes. Diamandis says progress continues despite sometimes heartbreaking events, such as the recent Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) that swept and devastated the islands of the Visayas.
History demonstrates that a state of scarcity can be transformed into a state of abundance through the deployment of disruptive, game-changing, exponential technologies. Diamandis proves it by offering solutions or solutions-in-the-making for each of the world’s most difficult problems.
When I learned about FutureMed just this month, I applied immediately (FutureMed participation is by application only). What an honor it was to be accepted.
One of the fascinating people I met is Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom, chief impact officer and executive VP of operations of Singularity University, who I was amazed to find out, is Filipino.
Emeline is coauthor of the book “Realizing Tomorrow: The Path to Private Spaceflight” published by the University of Nebraska Press and which happens to be a US Air Force Chief of Staff 2013 Professional Reading List Selection.
How terrific to meet a powerful Filipino woman in Silicon Valley involved at the frontier of private space flight! Emeline is a graduate of BS Physics at the University of the Philippines. She studied Space Science in Canada for graduate school and later met Peter Diamandis in a spaceflight-related training program. This happens to be the program on which the educational programs of Singularity University are loosely based.
It was Emeline who mentioned the extra-strong storm barreling toward the Philippines, but I did not give it a second thought, because we all know that the country is visited by storms all too often. I was oblivious when Yolanda hit, which was about the same time as the last day of FutureMed.
When I found out about it through Facebook a couple of days later, mixed with the grief was the realization that a great deal of what was shared at FutureMed could offer much in the way of developing more evolved predictive and relief systems in the event of such disasters.
Some of the greatest challenges facing Leyte, Samar and others most adversely affected by the typhoon are related to public health. And many of the technologies discussed at FutureMed, such as interconnected mobile diagnostics, geomedicine and environmental health mapping, or even the use of AUV flying robots to pinpoint survivors and deliver medicines, to name a few, can all be part of a more highly efficient disaster prediction and recovery system that can prevent deaths and save thousands of lives. Imagine if cutting-edge design thinking was applied in developing such systems.
I believe that if Filipino innovators had access to the knowledge and contacts such as those offered at FutureMed, it could make a significant impact not just for the Philippines but for the rest of the world. Mitigating disaster risk and disaster recovery are but two potential applications of cutting-edge technologies that can help make emerging countries like the Philippines into leaders and innovators in such critical subjects.
Filipino ingenuity, passion and compassion harnessed to help solve humanity’s greatest challenges in health and medicine have the potential to astonish and, yes, change the world. See you at the next FutureMed!