It was a conversation with my good friend and fellow Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML) patient Nigel Deekes that made me decide to skip the CML Horizons conference this year and instead explore the wider world of health.

Our conversation centred around whether we were CML advocates or cancer advocates, my attendance at WIRED Health 2015 in London this year suggests an even wider remit. CML is an orphan disease, just 650 of us diagnosed each year, it’s hard to get noticed. It’s even harder to position and relate our condition to the general health marketplace. When we position ourselves as having a rare disease it doesn’t make us commercially attractive to people looking to solve problems. That sounded less harsh in my head.

WIRED Health 2015 - 30 Euston Square, London

WIRED is a monthly American magazine that reports on how emerging technologies affect culture, the economy and politics. It is headquartered in San Francisco, California and has been in publication since January 1993. Several spin-offs have been launched including: WIRED UK, WIRED Italia, WIRED Japan and WIRED Germany.

Now in its second year, WIRED Health is designed to introduce, explain and predict trends in the medical and personal healthcare industries. It is a showcase for innovators using technology to re-imagine the health sector.

From senior NHS representatives to disruptive entrepreneurs, investors to international suppliers, the WIRED Health delegate list is a shortlist of some of the most exciting and knowledgeable figures in the international health sector. And me!

This is an exclusive event, the registration fee of over £1,000 exemplifies that, but upon entering it certainly feels like you’ve achieved the next level of a decent video game. I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to work hard to stay with the agenda – the day was long and packed to the rafters with innovation and challenge.

That started from the moment I entered the networking room; the Carbon Black wheelchair was being showcased on the conference floor. The chair has been featured in a recent copy of WIRED. It’s an incredible piece of engineering: stylish, supportive and minimal but above all light. So light I could pick it up, with ease, with one hand. After a productive conversation with the Carbon Black team about its use in education I tweeted a photo of it. From my meagre network, a deluge of retweets and favourites from across the planet. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Kids, this was cutting edge stuff.

Editor of WIRED magazine, David Rowan with Kris Griffin

Editor of WIRED magazine, David Rowan with Kris Griffin

The affable and assured editor of WIRED UK, David Rowan, kicked things off by setting the scene, that we would be told stories, that we would cover all the bases and that we would be challenged. It was, in fact, David’s exquisite questioning of the speakers that provided the most balance to the events of the day, as host he pitched it perfectly.

Clive G Brown, CTO of Nanopore Technologies, spoke about how his company’s USB stick-sized DNA sequencer will enable an “internet of living things”. He spoke of how he could see consumers using this medical device and having results go to the cloud for diagnosis. Old DNA sequencing machines cost hundreds of thousands of pounds and are huge, the MinION costs just £650. Clive has a vision for immediate results on a device that can be run anywhere, he used an analogy of building it into a toothbrush so your biology can be sequenced every morning and monitored for changes.

A device like this could be revolutionary in the field of testing epidemics, environmental monitoring and infectious disease control. It’s predictive and preemptive. It could allow general self quantification in the same way diabetes patients track their blood sugar. For any leukaemia patient, like me, who has to have regular blood tests or bone marrow biopsies, several narratives converged for me at this particular moment in time.

Imagine a device that meant we wouldn’t have to visit our consultant regularly but still allowed us to do regular blood tests. It would pick issues up sooner, share results, save the NHS lots of money and do away with bone marrow biopsies. Imagine a device that could track chromosome abnormalities and check immediately for the philadelphia chromosome. The device you see me holding in my hand could be the key to unlocking all of that. This could also be the key to mass screening and therefore the saving of many lives. No pressure there then.

CTO of Oxford Nanopore Technologies, Clive Brown with Kris griffin holding the MinION device.

CTO of Oxford Nanopore Technologies, Clive Brown with Kris griffin holding the MinION device.

Clive is clearly a man who wants to keep expectations in check but I can’t help but get excited. I spoke to the team during one of the breaks and we are going to talk. This is one to watch!

I managed to get my breath back whilst listening to Matteo Lai from Empatica talking about his wearable sensor, Embrace. It looks for small changes in the body that could signify a seizure and would call a carer automatically. Wearable technology was one of the key themes of the day and this device offered excellent monitoring and safeguarding for just £200.

We learnt from Brad Perkins at Human Longevity Inc that human genome sequencing can give us a better understanding of our biology and with our increased computational power we can identify the root cause of ageing. This was a tough one to grasp but ultimately with shared ‘big’ data and deep analysis we are able to learn more about the human body and how we can adapt to environments that potentially harm us.

The WIRED Health team deserve great credit for including a patient advocate in their section on augmenting the human. Nigel Ackland lost his arm in 2006 in an industrial injury and struggled with NHS solutions and psychological scars. He is now a pioneer of the bebionic3 prosthetic hand and presented to us, as only a patient can, the true impact it had on his life. He inspired without a PowerPoint, from the heart and with passion about how the revolution technology can have an impact on a person’s life. It’s easy to forget during a conference that at the very core level we are talking about people and not products. This was an incredible demonstration.

Sophie de Oliveira Barata from The Alternative Limb Project took this to another level with her personalised and unique prosthetics. The blurring of art, technology and health was a joy to witness.

Sophie de Oliveira Barata, Director of the Alternative Limb Project.

Sophie de Oliveira Barata, Director of the Alternative Limb Project.

At this point I took a break from the main room and ventured into the BUPA Startup Stage for an hour. This stage ran alongside the main stage and gave some of the most exciting new companies in the health sector an opportunity to present to an audience.

In a very short period of time I learnt about the following:

Buddy Enterprise: a digital life-planning tool for people with depression and anxiety. The user keeps a text-message diary of how they are feeling, helping to reinforce positive behaviours.

Chiaro: a wearable fitness product for women called Elvie that tracks, guides, corrects and visualises the user’s pelvic floor exercises.

Cupris Health: developed smartphone-connected medical devices. Their otoscope and ophthalmoscope can capture, store and send data securely for diagnosis.

Galvanic: their PIP is a device that allows people to measure and manage stress levels, they used the analogy that the device uncloaks stress and help people manage it better. The biosensor and app rely on electrodermal activity to determine its user’s emotional stress.

GoodSAM App: a tool which alerts those with medical training to nearby emergencies, so potentially life-saving interventions can be given before the arrival of emergency services.

Peak: a mobile brain-training app that’s used by millions worldwide (including me now) to track and improve their cognitive skills with fun and challenging games. By providing better insight to our cognitive ability it can detect decline and help us improve and produce optimum performance through environmental factors.

The companies varied in their development journey but all of them had identified a key area of the health market and were looking to improve and save lives. The BUPA Startup Stage really felt like we were getting a glimpse into the future.

The core content was on the main stage, I had to return. I’m sad that I may have missed some more valuable health technology presentations.

One man’s unique vision and dream of ending unnecessary iatrogenic infection worldwide via dirty needles has led to the World Health Organisation (WHO) launching their third ever global policy. 1.3 million people die each year through medical syringe misuse, that’s twice the number of people killed by malaria. Marc Koska invented a new syringe that can’t be reused and therefore can’t infect someone else. It’s the same cost, uses the same machinery to manufacture and is used in the same way, yet he found resistance. It was perceived that this disruptive technology meant the medical supply industry would have to sell more syringes, which they were reluctant to do as they were sold as a loss leaders. It was only through WHO policy change and funding that the breakthrough happened. Manufacturers are now on board, ministries are on board and they are doing a healthcare worker and public awareness programme under the Lifesaver banner.

Every $1 spent on new syringe saves $14 treating disease in each country they are used due to transference being less of an issue. Manufacturers don’t have to make more syringes after all, there is less disease and people are heather. Marc suggested that we should, “make progress profitable, things will go faster.” It’s a logical step but feels uncomfortable. It always does when we bring the word profit into the sphere of health. We don’t live in an ideological world and to this end we need to start being realistic about pharma, about treatment and about talking economics in the health sector. I agree with Marc, economic viability opens doors.

Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather UK.

Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather UK.

Rory Sutherland is an incredible speaker and no amount of words from me can do him justice. He’s a serial TED speaker as well as one of the brightest minds on the planet in behavioural economics. His logical, disruptive analysis of many different areas provides us with a breath of fresh air on problems we have long given up on. Rather than present a solution to issues in healthcare, he spoke about a new way of thinking to solve problems. He spoke about getting lucky, testing stupid things and the appearance of choice; that we don’t notice when we get a poor choice, we simply make a poor decision. Red or white wine anyone? It was incredibly refreshing to have a session that focuses on why, rather than how.

Professor Tony Young is now the national clinical director for innovation for NHS England and the co-founder of the Anglia Ruskin MedTech Campus. Previously as a health professional and innovative maverick he wouldn’t be told it couldn’t be done. This attitude allowed him to fight through a stagnant system and improve patient care through innovation and bold funding. His incredible vision will brighten our health services and benefit the system. He’s realises that we are able to innovate at scale and get better at prevention, which will create a better, faster, smarter NHS.

A slide from Tony Young, NHS England on creating a system for delivery.

A slide from Tony Young, NHS England on creating a system for delivery.

Sonia Trigueros delivered a science-heavy session on a nanoscale approach to cancer. It was perhaps unfair to expect her to drop this information on our heads in just 20 mins, she gave it a valiant try. It’s clear that this is an incredibly important area of research and the work at nano level and with nano-hybrids can unlock huge advancement in cancer therapy. It was worrying to hear that the biggest thing holding her work back is finance, she spends 80% of her time looking for funding!

Neuroscientists from the world’s most respected universities shared their discoveries about the brain. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore from University College London debunked myths about Brain Gym, left and right brain people and how we are seduced by neuroscience. Her field of interest was education and adolescence in particular, looking at how an environment can shape the development of the brain. Can we adapt education to fit the best way a child develops?

Eleanor A Maguire from University College London followed up with memory and the function of the hippocampus. She looked at how damage disrupts memory and why some people are better at remembering than others. She explained the change of brain structure through intense environmental factors and used London taxi drivers as an example; when examined their brains show a level of plasticity after taking on ‘the knowledge’. It normalised when they retire.

John F Cryan from University College Cork rounded this area off with a session on the relationship between the gut and the brain. We speak of a gut feeling but discovering the medical relationship was fascinating; brain health can be linked to healthy microbiota in the gut. On a more practical level, treatment for Clostridium difficile infection has a 90% success rate when a faecal transplant is administered…that’s a poo transplant.

Optimising Performance was always going to submit to an element of masculine chest beating, especially when two Formula One brands followed each other. Thankfully Adam Gazzaley from the University of California and his study of the processes of the neural mechanisms of memory and how they affect childhood development, dementia and ageing served as an excellent opt in to the content that followed. His study explored how cognitive abilities can be enhanced via engagement with custom-designed video games. The results were astonishing and once again showed an incredible level of plasticity to the brain and showed through optimisation there was great potential for brain function at any age.

Founding Director of Neuroscience Imaging Center, UCSF, Adam Gazzaley.

Founding Director of Neuroscience Imaging Center, UCSF, Adam Gazzaley.

Dr Andy Walshe, the high performance director at Red Bull and Geoff McGrath, vice president for McLaren Applied Technologies captivated the audience with the secrets behind elite performance. Walshe spoke about the Red Bull Stratos project, when Felix Baumgartner jumped out of a space capsule from an altitude of approximately 71,580 feet. He was part of the team that coached and trained Baumgartner and looked at extreme training and preparing elite athletes. Whilst this session was light on data, the concept that we should treat doctors and scientists like elite athletes and monitor performance and provide optimum environments in which to function, holds much water. Likewise, McGrath spoke about racing cars; constantly monitoring and evaluating performance from race-to-race. Their innovative developments and breakthroughs in performance can be applied to the healthcare sector and it was fascinating to learn about real-time data processing and predictive analytics being applied to remote biotelemetry of patients in clinical trials, mainly through wearable technology.

Finally, we were presented with the winner of the judged BUPA Startup Stage presentations; Ana Maiques from Neuroelectrics presented her diagnostic and treatment telemedicine platform that helps patients recover from health issues. This incredible real-time device is essentially a cap that fits on the head and can be used for home treatment. It could revolutionise the way we look at stroke and neuropathic pain.

test counterintuitive things, because no one else will

THE quote from Rory Sutherland at WIRED Health 2015.

It was interesting to note that through the day there were several common themes: that disruption can yield excellent results, that there is a big question about who owns the data our bodies produce, that gamification of particular areas is big business and can produce results and that we are finally beginning to understand and learn how our environment can optimise our treatment and performance. These wide ranging breakthroughs and challenges have the potential to shape our destiny, I felt privileged to share a room with the people breaking doors down

And that was it. An incredible day. I have to thank Ariad Pharmaceuticals for sponsoring my attendance. Their foresight to invest in an independent advocate will indirectly affect many CML patients and other networks. I can start to bring a wider approach to my work now; I’ve made some outstanding contacts and I’ve already started to develop some ideas that could have a huge impact on our patient group. I’m incredibly glad I took Rory Sutherland’s advice before I’d even heard it, “test counterintuitive things, because no one else will.”


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