February 2nd, 2011
08:46 AM ET

TEDMED: A meeting of minds

Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert couldn't attend TEDMED this year, but the conference did benefit from the wit and expertise of its own hosts: Marc Hodosh and Richard Saul Wurman. Colbert talks about some of the 2010 highlights, including the results of Ozzy Osborne's genome mapping and David Blaine's magic tricks.

Hodosh moved to Boston, Massachusetts, originally to attend medical school, but didn't pursue that as a career. Instead, he started consumer products companies, selling to places like QVC and Toys R Us. And while he was leading the Archon Genomics X PRIZE, a challenge to create better ways of sequencing genomes, Wurman approached him about relaunching TEDMED, which hadn't taken place since 2004.

Wurman, an architect and the author of more than 80 books, created and chaired the TED conferences from 1984 to 2002. TED stands for "Technology, Entertainment, Design," and it aims to bring together the world's most fascinating "thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes)." These include inventors, scientists, physicians, entertainers and fashion designers. TEDMED, which focuses more on health, is a spin-off.

The two innovators took about one-and-a-half years of planning to start TEDMED 2009, which they envisioned as a "cross-pollination of leaders" - in other words, a place where amazing people can meet and start collaborations. This event took place in October 2009 in Coronado, California

"We really look for people who have something novel to talk about. Someone who can share a story or idea they haven’t shared before," Hodosh said. "We look for connections that people might not always think about."

In the coming weeks, CNN will be pairing videos of speeches from TEDMED 2010 with interviews with the speakers about their passions and goals.

Speakers aren't necessarily doctors, but have some connection to health - even if its their own. In 2009, magician David Blaine shared the story of how he broke the world record for holding one's breath, cracking the 17-minute mark through rigorous training.

The conference organizers typically have an understanding of what the speakers will talk about, and they don't like PowerPoint presentations with a lot of text.

"It’s more about telling a story in the right way, and we certainly will coach and work with presenters," Hodosh said.

Some of Hodosh's favorite moments from 2010 included opera singer Charity Tillemann-Dick's performance of an aria, followed by her moving story of having a double-lung transplant. The same night, Dr. Shaf Keshavjee brought a breathing pig lung on stage for audience members to observe and even touch.

The most powerful moments of TEDMED don't necessarily happen in the lecture hall, Hodosh said. And the audience is just as distinguished as the speakers - Martha Stewart, AOL founder Steve Case, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak were among those who were just there to listen to the talks in October.

Those unique  TEDMED moments  can be  sitting around a fire pit on the beach, or taking an elevator together, or snacking on organic cereal between talks. That's when researchers and thinkers from disparate fields meet one another and realize they can collaborate in meaningful ways beyond the conference.

Because of TEDMED 2009, Greg Lucier and Dr. Eric Topol decided to collaborate to establish the College of Genomic Medicine at the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California, which is slated to open this year. Topol is the director of Scripps Translational Science Institute, and Lucier is CEO of the gene-sequencing equipment company Life Technologies.

TEDMED 2009 is also where the idea to sequence Ozzy Osbourne's genome took root. Results were presented at TEDMED 2010, with Ozzy and wife Sharon Osbourne on stage talking about the process.

As for TEDMED 2011, Hodosh promises mysteriously that the conference will "really grow in a number of ways, and I don’t mean people per se."

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Thomas in Vancouver

    While the article was informative, I feel a bit of the old "Bait & Switch" with the promise of Stephen Colbert in the headline.

    February 2, 2011 at 09:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Thomas in Vancouver

    Is it just me? Am I cursed? Why won't the video play?

    February 2, 2011 at 10:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • r

      Did you try again? And it's your computer or connection that may be giving you trouble. You aren't cursed. Unless, of course, you are.

      February 2, 2011 at 16:05 | Report abuse |
  3. Tina

    The cost to register for TEDMED 2011 is $4,000. Not transfers, no cancellations.

    Congratulations to the TED folk for creating another organization that seeks to "help" the world while simultaneously excluding anyone who is not wealthy.

    February 3, 2011 at 18:41 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.