Scary marsupials and intimate stories from TEDMED
October 28th, 2010
04:27 PM ET

Scary marsupials and intimate stories from TEDMED

SAN DIEGO, California - TEDMED 2010 has taken us on a journey from diseases in exotic animals to the most intimate stories of dying humans.

The conference posed this question: When it comes to spreading new diseases to humans, what's the scariest animal in the world?

According to Peter Daszak, director of EcoHealth Alliance, it may be the sugar glider, a small marsupial mammal that resembles a flying squirrel.

The sugar glider is more closely related to humans than any snake, although the former may appear more menacing, Daszak said at TEDMED, after bringing living examples of the sugar glider and a large yellow snake on stage Wednesday night. The cuter creature is being caught in tropical habitats where disease emerges, and shipped around the world, "straight into our homes, where we hold them, kiss them, and cuddle up to them," he said.

Trade in wildlife has spread serious viruses such as SARS and HIV, he said. In fact, some 120 million animals come into the United States every year, he said.

Tuesday night at TEDMED also included an illuminating presentation by Alejandro Berenstein, whose techniques have helped many children with face and neck tumors with innovative non-surgical procedures.

Then, this morning, the tone of the conference turned from intellectual to deeply emotional when Antje Duvekot got up with her guitar and sang about her grandmother descent into Alzheimer's disease. Twitter revealed that I wasn't the only one who was holding back tears - Duvekot's song was all too relatable for those of us who have watched loved ones slip away. "And Anna tries to form a thought / But at the end she's forgotten where she started from / There's something she would like to say / But the words in her head seem to have got away," she sang.

Following Duvekot's intimate portrait of her grandmother was another deeply personal story from Alexandra Drane, founder of the nonprofit Engage With Grace, which encourages end-of-life conversations. Drane shared the story of her sister-in-law Rosaria, who died of a glioblastoma at age 32 in 2004. "Death just wasn’t something you talked about in our family," Drane said. After hospitalization, the family decided to take her home. Drane spoke of a moment when Rosaria held her daughter in an intimate moment of mother's love, a moment that may have been missed if she hadn't gone home. Drane's mission now is to help others get a sense of their family members' end-of-life wishes long before the ending nears.

Charity Tillemann-Dick ended an emotional morning with the song "Someone to Watch Over Me" by George Gershwin.

TEDMED is an annual event that brings together dozens of luminaries from a variety of fields to "demonstrate the intersection and connections between all things medical and health care related: from personal health to public health, devices to design and Hollywood to the hospital." TEDMED 2010 is taking take place from October 26 to 29 in San Diego, California.

soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. YouTube/RCEMS629

    SAN DIEGO, California, that is a Sugar Glider illegal State. Also, it is illegal to ship Sugar Gliders from their Native Country of Australia. Where is any documented proof other then common dog and cat types of disease that a Sugar Glider has transmitted a disease that a common dog or cat could not transmit? There is documented proof of this happening with primates but where is it on Sugar Gliders?

    October 28, 2010 at 17:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Illiterati

      I believe that the vast majority of sugar gliders in the United States are captive bred, and thus haven't been exposed to the vile diseases the article claims they harbor.

      A little research isn't impossible before posting something like the above article.

      October 28, 2010 at 19:33 | Report abuse |
  2. Raccoon

    How the heck did this article get published on CNN.com? This is an attrociously written article that makes little to no sense. It's all over the place – quite unprofessional. I am just appalled by the lack of qulaity here. Ms. Landau, learn how to write.

    October 28, 2010 at 18:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • FoolKiller

      "How the heck did this article get published on CNN.com? This is an attrociously written article that makes little to no sense." Why ask a question, then answer it in the next sentence??

      October 29, 2010 at 09:09 | Report abuse |
    • MrsAlphonse

      I completely agree . What the heck is this article about? diseased sugar squirrels snakes with emotional alzheimers named Anna?!!! CNN is really dropping the ball on editing......everyday!

      October 29, 2010 at 09:09 | Report abuse |
  3. Bubba

    Holy cow! Racoon hit it on the head......... I had to go back to the top of the story and make sure my web browser didn't have a glitch and 'bash' together two different stories. Stick with a topic and flesh it out..... I'm sure that there was a lot more information to be had, rather than to switch to a review of the entertainment....... confusing and badly written.

    October 28, 2010 at 19:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Illiterati

    Sugar gliders are sweet inoffensive little creatures.

    And when the report comes out of California, a State that severely limits exotic pets, and thus would want to discourage ownership of such animals, it's just suspect on its face.

    October 28, 2010 at 19:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Reader

    I couldn't make heads or tails of this article. Was it talking about animals, illness, or dying? Very poorly written!

    October 28, 2010 at 23:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. A person


    October 29, 2010 at 01:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Julie

    What's TEDMED and how did it go from allegedly disease carrying sugar gliders to someone with a guitar singing about her grandma?
    Some writer of articles needs to be fired. There's plenty of new grads capable of telling a coherent story who need work.Or old ones.

    October 29, 2010 at 01:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. TrippinRaincoats

    This article is very misleading. It makes no sense at all...

    October 29, 2010 at 08:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. monah

    I'm relieved that I am not the only one who found the article confusing. I read it twice just to make sure I was reading it correctly. I thought maybe it was too early in the morning for me to read and comprehend. The article still makes no sense but at least I'm not the only one who thinks so. OMG, I just now remembered I had forgotten that I have handled sugar gliders in the past. I knew my past would eventually catch up with me.

    October 29, 2010 at 09:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Improve Concentration

      You are definitely not the only one who couldnt understand it

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      October 30, 2010 at 14:14 | Report abuse |
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  10. Darby

    I think you are all missing the point! Millions of animals are imported into this country every year and no one is testing these animals for zoonotic diseases. Another major issue is the introduction of invasive species on natural habitats. Lastly, if you don't know what the TedMed conference is all about then do some of your own research and check out the website http://www.tedmed.com.

    October 29, 2010 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • monah

      You make a very good point and I agree with you that we have a problem with animals being brought into this country illegally. The article states it was posted on the 28th and updated at 4:27 p.m. on the same day, however, I believe the article was rewritten since then as it makes a lot more sense now. Based on all the comments posted before mine everyone said the same thing; the article didn't make sense and was poorly written.

      October 29, 2010 at 14:54 | Report abuse |
  11. petvet

    I didn't see this article before 4:27 yesterday and read it for the first time this after noon. I was still confused and thought it was the most poorly written article I'm ever seen outside a college or grade school newspaper. everyone has a bad day...

    sure there js a problem with animals being imported and smuggled into the country, but the article wasn't about that. It jumped from topic to topic. I guess it was an attempt to describe the happenings at a TedMed conference, but it just rambled from one thing to another.

    October 29, 2010 at 18:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Improve Concentration

      I agree. Couldnt figure out where they were going/

      Improve Concentration

      October 30, 2010 at 14:12 | Report abuse |
  12. Improve Concentration

    This article is quite weird – seems all over the place.

    how to Improve Concentration

    October 30, 2010 at 14:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. elandau

    Hi everyone, this was a roundup of ideas presented in the first couple of days of the conference TEDMED. It has been updated with a description of what this event actually is:

    TEDMED is an annual event that brings together dozens of luminaries from a variety of fields to "demonstrate the intersection and connections between all things medical and health care related: from personal health to public health, devices to design and Hollywood to the hospital." TEDMED 2010 is taking take place from October 26 to 29 in San Diego, California.

    October 31, 2010 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
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