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Google Aims to Reinvent the Housecall

by Teresa on October 24, 2014

housecall

The modernization of medicine has all but eliminated the housecall, but Google aims to bring it back – after a fashion – with it’s “Helpouts” offering:

Google’s “Helpouts” product — a service where people can search for experts and talk to them over video — is running a trial program in which people who are searching for symptoms like pink eye and the common cold can video-chat with a doctor. The company is working with medical groups including Scripps and One Medical, which are “making their doctors available and have verified their credentials,” according to a spokeswoman.

Telemedicine is  an old concept. Doctors have been using the telephone since the telephone was invented. And they have been sharing X-ray images and using videoconferencing for at least 40 years, according to the American Telemedicine Association.

“This year, between 800,000 and one million consultations will be done over the Internet directly to consumers in the United States,”  said Jonathan Linkous, chief executive of the American Telemedicine Association. “So clearly consumers want this.”

The next time I’m running a fever or suffering from some mystery pain, it would be utterly delightful to be able to speak with a doctor by video conference instead of having to leave the house. I guess I’m Google’s target market. But I wonder how soon this service will be available so that I can speak to my doctor. Continuity of care is really important, especially when patients are taking multiple medications and seeing multiple specialists. Talking to a doctor one-off in a special situation is one thing, but the real revolution will come when I can talk to a doctor who actually knows me.

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Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.

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Denter of the Week: Dan Shapiro

by Teresa on October 23, 2014

Each week from now through December, we’ll pose several short questions to a member of the Dent family and share their answers with you. This week’s featured Denter is Dan Shapiro. Dan is (most recently) CEO and founder of Robot Turtles.

Say it in a sentence: Whether you’ve met your biggest goal or it’s still ahead of you, how would you like to be known for having dented the universe?
It’s a cliche, but I’d rather be known for my passionate, smart, kind, and happy kids than anything I’ve done.

What would I know about you after we’d worked together for a year?
I have a terrible habit: I don’t worry about the same things as you.

This seems insane on its face. You come to me and tell me that the most important thing right now is Problem X. The solution is three months late, the team is working overtime, we need to hire two more developers yesterday.  I’m going to listen, nod, and ask how I can help. Then I’m going to ask you about problems F, Q, and Ö (yeah, that’s an umlaut). Why am I concerned with everything except Problem X?

Because you’ve got that, of course. You’re clearly more concerned about it than anyone, and I trust your capabilities, and you’re obviously focused on it.  So I want to help however I can… then be sure that everything else is covered, because while you’re taking care of the top priority, someone’s got to keep an eye on the rest of the pack.

What fault in others do you have the most patience for?
I love collecting data. I’ve forced myself to move past “Let’s just try one more thing before we decide…”, but when I see it in others, I have buckets of sympathy. I’ll let people experiment happily for a long time (probably too long) before I gently intercede and ask for progress.

If your 18 year-old self could see you now, what would surprise him most?
I thought I was going to be a physicist, then a patent attorney, then a politician. I’m 0/3.

Who else is doing interesting, universe-denting work right now?
Kristin Hamilton at joinkoru.com is reinventing the college degree. That’s pretty amazing.

If failing is a key to success, what was one of your most substantive failures and what did you learn from it?
My first attempt at a startup – 2000 – was a dismal disaster. We went out to launch a massively multiplayer online game. I say “launch”, but we really had a 40-page specification and nothing else. My cofounder and I had no idea what we were doing.  We couldn’t get meetings with anyone, and this was the height of the bubble!  After months of flailing around, we somehow convinced the Navy to put together a million dollar funding round for us to develop this. The administration changed and so did our sponsor at the Navy. The project went nowhere.

The list of what I learned is long, but it includes:

  • Make progress at all times, no matter what else is happening
  • Deals fall through; when you’re not working on a deal, work on the backup
  • Don’t bet on politics.

What question would you like to ask next week’s featured Denter?
What were you proudest about this week?

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Dan Shapiro is the CEO and primary turtle wrangler at Robot Turtles, LLC, a company created when he accidentally launched the bestselling boardgame in Kickstarter history. Dan spent the last two years leading a Google subsidiary that operates comparison shopping products. Shapiro landed at Google when they bought his previous company, Sparkbuy Inc, where he was founder and CEO. Sparkbuy was a comparison shopping website that offered a happy fun face on top of scary good data.

Before Sparkbuy, Shapiro was founder and CEO of Ontela, a pioneering mobile imaging company, where he was named CEO of the Year by MobileBeat. Ontela was frequently recognized including the Dow Jones Top 10 in Wireless list, the CTIA award for Best Social Networking Application, and Breakthrough Startup of the Year by the WTIA. Ontela is now a part of Photobucket Inc.

Prior to founding Ontela, Shapiro managed development of the RealArcade service at RealNetworks, enabling thousands of end-users to play classic games such as Monopoly, Scrabble and Rollercoaster Tycoon on their desktops. He arrived at RealNetworks by way of Wildseed, where he managed software development for the Identity Cellular Phone. Shapiro started his career at Microsoft working on Windows 98, Windows 2000, and Windows XP.

Shapiro’s articles have been published in the Washington Post, Wireless Week, and the Seattle PI, and he is a frequent speaker at conferences and events. He serves on the board of the nonprofit Washington Technology Industry Association. He is a mentor for the Founder’s Institute, 500 Startups, and Techstars. He has been awarded eleven US patents, and received his B.S. in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College.

Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.

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Prosthetic Limbs that Can Feel

by Teresa on October 22, 2014

prosthesis

Phantom Limb Syndrome is most commonly thought of as a painful and distressing disorder, in which an amputee experiences pain, tingling, or other unpleasant sensations in a lost limb. The phenomenon is thought to originate in the cortical homunculus, the collection of neurons that represent a map of the body in space. Even after a limb is severed, the neurons that represent that limb still exist in the brain.

Now scientists are using the phantom limb to develop prosthetics that can not only be moved by an amputee, but that can actually experience sensation in the phantom limb:

We show that implanted peripheral nerve interfaces in two human subjects with upper limb amputation provided stable, natural touch sensation in their hands for more than 1 year. Electrical stimulation using implanted peripheral nerve cuff electrodes that did not penetrate the nerve produced touch perceptions at many locations on the phantom hand with repeatable, stable responses in the two subjects for 16 and 24 months. Patterned stimulation intensity produced a sensation that the subjects described as natural and without “tingling,” or paresthesia.

Hat tip: New York Times. Photo by Russell Lee.

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Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.

 

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prozac

Last week, we looked at the history of the birth control pill, one of the most important innovations of the 20th century. Another pharmaceutical innovation in the latter half of that century changed the way we think about the human condition. A new documentary short in the New York Times’ “Retro Report” series looks at the cultural and medical impact of Prozac and the entire class of drugs that followed in its wake:

In the late 1980s and the 90s, Prozac was widely viewed as a miracle pill, a life preserver thrown to those who felt themselves drowning in the high waters of mental anguish. It was the star in a class of new pharmaceuticals known as S.S.R.I.s — selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Underlying their use is a belief that depression is caused by a shortage of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Pump up the levels of this brain chemical and, voilà, the mood lifts. Indeed, millions have embraced Prozac, and swear by it. Depression left them emotionally paralyzed, they say. Now, for the first time in years, they think clearly and can embrace life.

If some users deem Prozac lifesaving, others consider it sensory-depriving. A loss of libido is a common side effect. Some writers and artists, while often relieved to be liberated from depression’s tightest grip, also say that Prozac leaves them mentally hazy. In his 2012 book, “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder,” Nassim Nicholas Taleb offered this: “Had Prozac been available last century, Baudelaire’s ‘spleen,’ Edgar Allan Poe’s moods, the poetry of Sylvia Plath, the lamentations of so many other poets, everything with a soul would have been silenced.”

As someone who suffers from a depressive illness and takes medication to combat its debilitating effects, I feel the need to editorialize a bit. I find Taleb’s argument supporting the myth that mental illness enhances creativity to be very dangerous. Nobody can deny that those who possess extraordinary creative gifts are also frequently troubled by mental health complaints; but in my experience, alleviating those symptoms has actually improved my creativity and my ability to take action with my ideas. More importantly, alleviating those symptoms has saved my life.

We do ourselves a great disservice when we look at the painful past through rose-colored glasses. Just because our grandparents walked uphill to school in the snow (both ways) doesn’t mean we have to. I, for one, am grateful for the dent that anti-depressants have put in the universe.

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Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.

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Studying Alzheimer’s Disease in a Petri Dish

by Teresa on October 20, 2014

brainpuzzleThe eponymous ship in Star Trek: Voyager featured a 24th century technological innovation: bio-neural gel packs. “The gel packs formed the basis of the bio-neural circuitry, which was essentially an organic computer system. The packs contained neural fibers surrounded in a blue gel with metallic interfaces on the top and bottom. They helped store more information and operated at faster speeds than isolinear circuitry.”

This was the first thing I thought of when I read about the breakthrough in Alzheimer’s research, wherein researchers grow brain cells in a special gel and then introduce the gene for Alzheimer’s:

The key to their success, said the lead researcher, Rudolph E. Tanzi of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, was a suggestion by his colleague Doo Yeon Kim to grow human brain cells in a gel, where they formed networks as in an actual brain. They gave the neurons genes for Alzheimer’s disease. Within weeks they saw the hard Brillo-like clumps known as plaques and then the twisted spaghetti-like coils known as tangles — the defining features of Alzheimer’s disease.

The work, which also offers strong support for an old idea about how the disease progresses, was published in Nature on Sunday. Leading researchers said it should have a big effect.

“It is a giant step forward for the field,” said Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, an Alzheimer’s researcher at Duke University. “It could dramatically accelerate testing of new drug candidates.”

Of course, a petri dish is not a brain, and the petri dish system lacks certain crucial components, like immune system cells, that appear to contribute to the devastation once Alzheimer’s gets started. But it allows researchers to quickly, cheaply and easily test drugs that might stop the process in the first place. The crucial step, of course, will be to see if drugs that work in this system stop Alzheimer’s in patients.

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Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.

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Looking for Dents in Unforeseen Places

by Teresa on October 17, 2014

possibleIn a recent Grand Challenge – a contest of sorts, where a grant is promised to all comers for a promising new approach to a problem – an auto mechanic came up with a method of saving the lives of mothers and babies during complicated births:

Mechanic Jorge Odon came up with an invention using a folded plastic sleeve pumped up with air to pop the baby out — an idea inspired by a party trick Odon saw onYouTube for getting a cork out of an empty wine bottle with a plastic bag.

As with Odon, solutions sometimes come from unlikely places. In another Grand Challenge, a Columbia University Astrophysicist received a grant to work on a promising new method for protecting human being from mosquito-borne diseases. 

USAID has recently issued a $5 Million Grand Challenge to help combat Ebola in West Africa: more breathable hazmat suits. The current models get so hot that they can only be worn for 20-30 minutes at a stretch in the tropical heat. They will begin accepting ideas immediately.

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Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.

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Denter of the Week: Eric Ng

by Teresa on October 16, 2014

EricNgEach week from now through December, we’ll pose several short questions to a member of the Dent family and share their answers with you. This week’s featured Denter is Eric Ng, VP of Marketing for smart transportation startup Via

Say it in a sentence: Whether you’ve met your biggest goal or it’s still ahead of you, how would you like to be known for having dented the universe?
I’d hope to be known for bringing together people to solve problems, small and large.

What would I know about you after we’d worked together for a year?
When developing brand positioning or shepherding creative projects, I like to gather a lot of input and take opposing sides. The process is messy, but if I’m doing it right, the results are focused and clear.

What world-changing innovation from history do you find most interesting or inspirational?
Of course, there are too many to list. A topical one: Toilets. They’re deceptively simple as they elegantly hide the complex infrastructure needed to run them effectively at scale. India’s PM Modi recently pledged to give all Indians access to toilets (2.5b people still live without proper sanitation, including 600M in India). We’re fortunate to have them.

What quality do you appreciate most in your colleagues?
I love their commitment to solving the existential problem of traffic/congestion, while at the same time, focusing on things that are more tangible, like creating an incredible customer experience. Plus, I like that they don’t take themselves too seriously.

Who else is doing interesting, universe-denting work right now?
Here’s someone famous who I don’t think gets nearly enough credit for innovation: Stephen Colbert (and his team). Things like his creation of a Super PAC and his approach to election sponsorships really extend well past the boundaries of satire. Sad that the character won’t be moving with him when he takes Letterman’s seat.

Question from previously featured Denter, Roem Baur: When you look in the mirror, what surprises you about yourself?
I’m surprised that I feel lucky to work on tough challenges.  In the fantasies of my youth, my future self would solve issues effortlessly—but I don’t want that today.

What question would you like to ask next week’s featured Denter?
If failing is a key to success, what was one of your most substantive failures and what did you learn from it?

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Eric Ng recently joined Via as VP of Marketing. Via is an On-Demand Transit system offering rides in truly shared, premium vehicles for low flat fares. To accomplish this, Via developed an algorithm that routes vehicles more effectively than anyone ever before, and supports it with a great customer experience.

Prior to Via, Eric was VP and Head of Marketing for IMG Worldwide. There, he developed proprietary methodologies for building the brands of culturally significant events and celebrities—including work for NCAA/College Sports, Novak Djokovic, The Indian Premier League, Danica Patrick, X-Games and many others. He was also responsible for building and repositioning IMG’s own brand. In 2014, WME and Silverlake acquired IMG. Earlier in his career, Eric managed advertising accounts at TBWA\Chiat\Day and in 1995, co-founded Student.Com, a startup that was backed by AT&T and others.

Eric is currently the Chairman of ioby.org, a crowdresourcing non-profit. He is a graduate of Yale University, and occasionally writes about branding and marketing at BrandNg.com.

Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.

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Tackling Clotting Problems with Biomimicry

by Teresa on October 15, 2014

pitcherplant

Human beings have long been using biomimicry, the act of imitating processes and materials found elsewhere in nature, to solve many of our pressing problems and to move technology forward. When it comes to the problem of blood clotting in patients using pacemakers or during kidney dialysis, the answer may be found in a carnivorous plant:

A carnivorous plant has inspired an invention that may turn out to be a medical lifesaver.

Nepenthes, also known as tropical pitcher plants or monkey cups, produce a superslippery surface that causes unfortunate insects that climb into the plant to slide to their doom.

Scientists at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering wondered if they could find a way to mimic that surface to solve [the blood clotting problem].

The Harvard scientists wondered if they could find a coating that would have the same properties as the nepenthe’s slippery surface; something that could be applied to tubing or devices that come in contact with blood.

As they report in the journal Nature Biotechnology, they tested man-made materials known as perfluorocarbons, searching for one that would have the same characteristics as the nepenthe’s coating. As luck would have it, they found one called perfluorodecalin which was already being used in medical applications.

The researchers tested the coating in pigs. They diverted blood coming from a pig’s heart through a loop of tubing before returning it the pig’s blood supply. They compared tubes with the new coating, and without. Blood flow through the coated tubes remained virtually constant over the 8 hours of the experiment, whereas clots formed in tubing without the coating, substantially slowing blood flow with time.

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Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.

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traumaWhen we think of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the first image that comes to mind is of a soldier returning from war; but while combat does indeed often produce PTSD, it’s not the only way that people develop the life-changing disorder.

A deepening understanding of how a wide variety of traumatic experiences can result in changes in both brain and behavior has yielded a new category of proposed PTSD diagnosis: Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or C-PTSD:

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has not yet been listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, so it is not technically an official diagnosis. Yet most therapists agree that prolonged or repeated exposure to trauma causes a type of post-traumatic stress disorder that is more disabling and results in symptoms that are more numerous and often of greater intensity than those caused by a single trauma.

C-PTSD differs from what we think of as “regular” PTSD in cause, severity, and symptoms:

An individual can develop “simple” post-traumatic stress from a single traumatizing event, such as a serious car accident. The development of complex PTSD requires more protracted and severe trauma. Additionally, it is more likely to occur when the repeated traumas were interpersonal and occurred early in life.

Survivors of totalitarian regimes, torture victims, prisoners of war, religious cult survivors, and victims of concentration camps or child pornography/prostitution are especially prone to the development of complex PTSD symptoms. Children or spouses who have been severely abused over long periods of time are also likely to exhibit the disease, even if they block some or all of the abuse out of their consciousness.

Researchers are continuing to examine complex trauma; both its causes and potential treatments. As they do so, changes may take place in the way that clinicians conduct differential diagnosis. It seems that many cases of Complex PTSD are misdiagnosed as either Borderline Personality Disorder or Bipolar II because they share many features.

Some want to go a step further in re-categorizing a variety of mental health issues. Dr. John Briere, a Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at USC, has argued that the vast majority of mental disorders are really the result of some form of childhood trauma. “If we could somehow end child abuse and neglect,” says Briere, “the eight hundred pages of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual would be shrunk to a pamphlet in two generations.”

Given the human and economic cost of mental illnesses (mental health-related absences cost American businesses more than $23 billion dollars each year), getting to a clearer understanding of the causes and treatments for mental illness in general, and trauma in particular, should be on everyone’s radar.

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Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.

 

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thepillThe birth control pill, which put a dent not just in science and medicine, but in the dynamics of human interaction, has a new biography out.

The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution, by Jonathan Eig, is available now from W.W. Norton & Company. The book tells the thrilling, but often ethically compromised story of birth control rabble rouser Margaret Sanger, suffragette Katharine McCormick, controversial researcher Gregory Pincus, and physician John Rock – as they developed the most impactful invention of the modern age.

NPR has a terrific interview with Eig that does not skirt some of the shadier details of the group’s work:

There’s a lot of lying in this process of creating the first oral contraceptive. That’s what they have to do. You can really have a wonderful ethical discussion and debate about whether it was worth it, whether they were doing things that were beyond the bounds. The laws and the ethics of science were very different in the 1950s than they are today — you didn’t have to give informed consent, you didn’t have to have anybody sign forms giving away their rights, telling them about what these experiments are for. So in a way, we do have women being treated like lab animals so that we may find a form of birth control that frees them. There’s a great irony there.

This is the first pill ever created for healthy women to take every day. There’s never been anything like this and the idea of seeking FDA approval for something women are going to take every day without studying it for years and years and checking out the long-term side effects, this is scary stuff! But Pincus also feels like he’s racing the clock, that if the word gets out about this and the Catholic Church and the federal government realize what they’re doing, the opposition will mount and he’ll have no chance of getting it through.

It’s one of the great bluffs in scientific history. [Pincus] knows that he has the science. He’s not sure that it’s really ready; he hasn’t tested it on nearly enough women. His partner John Rock is saying, “Don’t you dare announce that we’re ready to do this yet. If you do, I’m out.” He’s furious with Pincus. But Pincus does it anyway. He realizes that they’ve got some momentum and they need to keep it going, this whole thing could fall apart if too much opposition is raised.

The lesson here, and it should be taken with more than a heaping grain of salt, is that sometimes universe denting work often requires some corner-cutting; and even some downright unethical behavior.

What do you think? Did the ends justify the means when it came to the creation of the pill? What lessons can we glean from the daring actions of this revolutionary group?

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Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.

 

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