Ending the Arms Race with Infectious Diseases – Janelle Ayres at TEDxSanDiego 2016

There’s a war going on in the U.S. that you may not know exists.

“The scary fact is that it’s an arms race that we can never win,” said Janelle Ayres to start her talk at TEDxSanDiego.

So what is this war Ayres speaks of that is not winnable? Infectious diseases.

No, there are no real guns and ammunition involved in this war, but doctors and scientists have been throwing an arsenal of antibiotics at infectious diseases for many, many years to no avail.

Dr. Ayres, who has a PhD from Stanford University School of Medicine in Microbiology and Immunology, focuses her research on both infectious and non-infectious diseases, particularly the microbiome living on our bodies, as a means to end these diseases and prevent antibiotic resistance.

“Instead of asking ‘how do we fight infections?’ we should be asking ‘how do we survive infections?’,” Ayres said. “And I know that single word change from fight to survive seems simple, but by making that single change, we’ve completely changed the meaning of the question. And if we can understand the answer to this question, we will completely change the way we treat infectious diseases.”

Ayres and her team at the Salk Institute are working on developing strategies that promote survival without driving drug resistance – all to find a way to win the war against pestilence.

“We’re all vulnerable to the threat of contracting an infectious disease, and we’re all terrified of that threat,” she said. “But if you leave here with one thing today, I want you to leave here believing that there’s hope.”

Janelle Ayres Profile

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There’s Nothing More Personal Than Your Genome – Dawn Barry at TEDxSanDiego 2016

“Let’s not just wait for things to break, especially when those things can be the lives of the people we love,” concluded Dawn Barry at the end of her presentation during the TEDxSanDiego’s 2016 event on Oct. 22 at Copley Symphony Hall.

Barry, vice president, Applied Genomics at Illumina, was referring to the power of sequencing the human genome, which in simple terms she described as a code, or instructions for life – the entire collection of one’s DNA.

“Your genome holds the promise to help predict your health,” said Barry. “Your genome is an instruction manual for you, but it’s not your destiny.”

Certain factors such as lifestyle, environment and nutrition can play a role for or against your genome, but is there a way to do better than just react to such health issues as chemo therapy resistant cancer?

Recent technology developed in San Diego allows for entire genomes – once taking 13 years and $3 billion to complete for a single genome – to be sequenced in one day at a cost of about $1,000.

“There is no question that we have improved patient care and even saved lives based on genomics,” Barry said. “We know the technology works, but we don’t know enough yet for it to be applied preventatively, proactively.”

So what’s holding science back from getting ahead of disease?

Simply put, Barry stated the existing sample size is neither large enough, nor diverse enough to be able to be applied preventatively. By engaging the community, Barry said she believes this could help to put the parts and pieces together.

Dawn Barry on LinkedIn

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Why Eyewitnesses Fail – Thomas Albright at TEDxSanDiego 2016

From NPR’s “Serial” podcast to the Netflix series “Making a Murderer,” faulty eyewitness testimony has become a recent hot topic in pop culture chatter. While this issue has been around for a long time, recent advances in technology – especially DNA evidence – have resulted in more convictions being overturned.

Along with these shows, which are based on actual cases and include examples of eyewitness testimonies being called into question, the Innocence Project has reported nearly 350 DNA-based exonerations, with 3/4 of those cases counting on eyewitness identification for significant evidence that lead to a conviction.

So why do eyewitnesses identify the wrong people?

“There are insurmountable limits to visual perception and memory that are imposed by our biological nature and the properties of the world that we inhabit,” said Thomas Albright, professor and Conrad T. Prebys chair at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

According to Albright, and various research studies conducted over the past few decades, there are three factors that affect the usefulness of reported experience:

  • Uncertainty
  • Bias
  • Confidence

“Vision in general is far from perfect,” he said.

So, are eyewitnesses who testify in court not telling the truth? Not necessarily, according to Albright. In fact, when witnesses testify in court with confidence their description of the event – which they believe to be true – it’s difficult for the jury to discount their version of what happened.

Organizations, such as the National Academy of Sciences, are starting to take note of the limitations of human perceptions and memories, especially in the area of eyewitness accounts.

As the old saying goes, “Seeing is believing, but neither seeing nor believing is equivalent to truth.”

Thomas Albright Profile

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