Wired Health: Event Report

Amanda Stenbaek joined the OHT team at the Wired Health event, as the winner of our small competition. Read below a detailed report on what seems to have been an amazing health tech conference.

On March 13th I had the pleasure of being invited by One HealthTech UK to attend the annual WIRED Health conference at its new home at the Francis Crick Institute in London. The event hosted a wide variety of talks given by leaders at the forefront of Medtech, with topics ranging from novel cancer therapies to using video games to uncover early signs of dementia.

The event was opened by Bruce Levine from the University of Pennsylvania, who presented his promising findings from clinical trials using the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. The therapy, which uses genetically reprogrammed immune cells called CAR-T cells (Chimeric Antigen Receptor T Cells), has shown amazing reversal of disease in end-stage chronic and acute leukaemia, and last year became the first FDA-approved gene therapy.

The morning was filled with inspiring insights at the cutting edge of medicine. Sarah Teichmann, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, introduced us to the Human Cell Atlas, a high-resolution map of all the cells in the human body, compiled using single-cell RNA sequencing and spatial genomics to uncover the topography of human tissues. Hon. Dorcus Makgato, Minister for Health and Wellness in Botswana, shared an alternative experience of healthcare and why the investments they have made in HIV treatment and eye screening and so important.

 

Nir Bazailai, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, gave the convincing argument that ageing is the most important factor to target to prevent disease. He presented his insights from studying centenarians, showing that those who live longer also have a delayed onset of disease in their lifetime. His research suggests that certain drugs could be used to slow the effects of ageing in animal models, and the TAME (Targeting Ageing With Metformin) trial hopes to replicate these findings in humans.

We also heard from Mary Herbert, from the Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Disease, about the pioneering mitochondrial DNA donation helping eradicate disease in families. Tej Tadi, the founder of MindMaze, explained how VR could be used to activate neuroplasticity following a stroke, and Simba Gill, CEO of Evelo Biosciences, shared with us how important a role the gut microbiome plays in disease, and how we may be able to manipulate it using natural microbes to modulate the immune system.

One of the highlights of the day for me was hearing from Tania Boler, CEO of Elvie, who developed the first smart pelvic floor trainer for women which has been adopted by the NHS. Tania discussed the growing market for technology focussing on female health, which has long been ignored. Smart technologies focussing on menstruation, fertility, conception, pregnancy, postnatal care and menopause are on the rise, and many of these companies are headed up by smart, ambitious women seeking to get rid of the taboo and improve women’s health. Tania shared with us the initial difficulties in getting investors interested in a pelvic floor trainer, but due to both large feminist movements such as the #metoo campaign and a boom in the tech industry, investors are now realising the importance of these technologies and the interest in women’s health is surging.

Later in the day, we heard from Andrew Bastawrous, founder of Peek Vision, about his incredible journey from doing mobile ophthalmology clinics in Kenya to developing a smartphone application to deliver low-cost eye care worldwide, including a pioneering screening programme in partnership with the Botswana government. Surgeon, educator and co-founder of Medical Realities, Shafi Ahmed showed us the potential for technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality and even Snapchat (!) to revolutionise surgical education.

Artificial Intelligence is a hot topic in Medtech at the moment, and its uses within medicine were prominent throughout the day. Claire Novorol, founder of Ada Health, explained how their AI app could aid doctors with diagnosis by recognising symptoms patterns. Jackie Hunter, CEO of BenevolentBio, showed us how AI can be used to process huge amounts of data to aid drug discovery, by understanding complex pharmacological relationships and biological pathways. The system aims to speed up the process of drug discovery, lower the costs and improve the success rate of what is traditionally a trial-and-error based system. Lucy Collinson, from the Francis Crick Institute, introduced us to their crowd-sourced platform, ‘Etch-a-Cell’, which aims to train a computer to learn how to extract the features of a cell from electron microscopy images by having volunteers draw around it. Andrew Steele, also from the Francis Crick Institute, showed us how machine learning can be used to mine data from patient records to predict disease in individuals.

The last talks of the day introduced us to some of the more alternative ideas disrupting the Medtech industry. Robin L. Cahart-Harris, from Imperial College London, discussed the promising results from the Psychedelic Research Group (perhaps the coolest research group name I have heard?) using psilocybin, the active ingredient in ‘magic mushrooms’, combined with a calming atmosphere and music to treat depression. Neuroscientist Michael Hornberger then introduced us to Sea Hero Quest, a VR game which tests spatial processing and navigation, and has the potential to diagnose dementia decades ahead of symptoms, as well as collect big data to help understand the mechanism behind dementia.

Romain Pizzi then gave a refreshing perspective from his life working as a veterinary surgeon, operating on a huge variety of animals including those on the verge of extinction, often in areas of the world with little resources. He described operations where he had to keep costs low by making his own tools and drains, how he had to adjust postoperative care for animals requiring an aquatic environment, and that the main lesson he has learnt that is applicable in human medicine, is that there is complete lack of health problems related to poor diet and lack of exercise in our animal counterparts.

The day was concluded with an emotional presentation by Jack Kreindler and Jess Mills, who founded ACT (Adaptive Collaborative Treatment) along with Baroness Tessa Jowell, who is currently battling Glioblastoma Multiforme. ACT aims to offer patients with cancer the opportunity to access cutting-edge therapies, especially those without the financial advantages.

In parallel, some amazing startups were pitching their organisations, many of which had been recommended by One HealthTech. Though I was in a different session, I heard Katerina Spranger from Oxford Heartbeat won, with her amazing tools to take the guesswork out of surgery.

The event was truly inspirational for anyone interested in Medtech, with speakers from such a large variety of backgrounds presenting novel ideas and research throughout the day. I would like to thank One Healthtech UK for allowing me to experience WIRED Health 2018 and I hope to be back again next year!

 

Amanda Stenbaek, Doctor. Amanda studied medicine at Imperial College London, graduating in 2017. During her time at Imperial, she was involved in several hackathons and entrepreneurial projects and was on the founding committee of MedTech Imperial, a society at the university aiming to unite students from different faculties to work on MedTech projects. She left clinical practice in January 2018 and is currently attending a course on Data Science and applying for masters degrees in molecular medicine.

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