TedMed conference a healthy success in Galway

Dr Ger Flaherty (centre) and third-year medicine student Tariq Esmail (right) with speakers at the TedMed Live event at NUI Galway. photograph: aengus mcmahon

Dr Ger Flaherty (centre) and third-year medicine student Tariq Esmail (right) with speakers at the TedMed Live event at NUI Galway. photograph: aengus mcmahon


What do you get when you cross the Prince of Darkness with a medical conference? You get TedMed: an event in which innovation, imagination and entertainment collide as a researcher sits down with Black Sabbath front man Ozzy Osbourne and explains his musical talent and addictive personality in terms of genetic profiling.

This is one of the many inspiring talks capturing the essence of the annual TedMed conference that has been hosted from the Kennedy Centre in Washington, DC, since 2009. Similar to the better-known Ted talks, this variant features a focus on innovations and cutting edge technologies in the healthcare space.

This year, for the first time, TedMed licensed satellite events outside the US. NUI Galway was one of the few institutions to host such an event after organiser and third-year medical student Tariq Esmail contacted the organisers.

‘Make it happen in Ireland’
“I inquired about hosting and was a little surprised when the CEO of TedMed emailed me back saying ‘Make it happen in Ireland’,” said Esmail, who worked with Dr Gerard Flaherty, senior lecturer in clinical medicine and medical education to get the most inspiring speakers they could find.

“What draws me towards TedMed is the speakers: these are people who are experts in their field and doing incredible things. They are just so passionate about what they do and you can see it when they talk,” said Esmail.

With the TedMed 2013 theme of “20 great challenges in medicine”, NUI Galway hosted four medical experts speaking on regenerative medicine, the global obesity crisis, patient-centred care and chronic disease management.

“Sometimes these talks just give you another way to think about something. It’s not necessarily about solving these great healthcare challenges so much as getting you to think about them in different ways,” said Esmail.

Consultant endocrinologist at University Hospital Galway Dr Francis Finucane approached obesity from a different angle and argued the merits of introducing a “fat tax” on unhealthy foods after noting that 61 per cent of Irish people are overweight or obese.

“Health-related food tax would have small effect per individual but over a population it would impact significantly,”said Dr Finucane.

If the talks seemed unusually accessible for their subject matter, it was deliberate. As Prof Timothy O’Brien, director of the Regenerative Medicine Institute at NUI Galway, spoke about innovations in the medical industry in the last 20 years, he took the audience on an enlightening tour from gastroenterology to stem cell research.

“When I was a surgical intern the bleeding peptic ulcer one of most common admissions. I can’t remember the last time I saw this, thanks to the work of Marshall and Warren [Nobel Prize-winning researchers who discovered that bacteria, not stress, caused peptic ulcers],” he said.

O’Brien said that every 20 seconds someone somewhere in the world loses a leg, and he went on to show footage of how a salamander’s limb regenerates following amputation, leaving the audience feeling that with research into regenerative medicine few things are impossible.

“So much has happened in the past 20 years,” said Prof O’Brien. “Maybe in the next 20 we will be routinely delivering scaffolds with [the purpose of growing] genetically modified stem cells.”