11 Apr Manchester MedX: The Future of Healthcare Conference 2017
With around 300 delegates bustling around CityLabs 1.0, the atmosphere at the 3rd annual Manchester MedX conference was an excited one. This may come as a surprise, as the majority of the people there were undergraduates, infamous for their inability to rise before 1pm on weekdays, nevermind 8:30 on a Saturday. This alone speaks for the amazing range of international speakers, workshops and demonstrations that were on offer at MedX that managed to entice tired twenty-somethings from their beds.
The open plan nature of the ‘Immersion Zone’ allowed delegates to explore various stalls, demonstrations and activities at their own leisure. It made it a lot easier to approach people and start conversations without feeling intimidated by an overly-professional and stuffy atmosphere. The supply of breakfast foods, hot drinks, bean bags and mini golf also made every delegate feel welcomed and relaxed as soon as they walked in.
1st Plenary Set
The first session of the day was a plenary talk that focused around research as the core of progress. The first speaker, Dr Pablo Rojo Conejo, is an expert in pediatric infectious diseases and gave valuable insight into the importance of research in relation to childhood AIDS in Africa. Due to the low budget and the limited access to technology, research was integral to discovering novel, cheap alternatives to the expensive treatments and diagnostic tests used in Europe and the US. This talk was followed by Dr Margaret Magdesian, a medical researcher who has become a developer as well as the CEO of her own company, ANANDA Devices. Dr Magdesian has produced an alternative to the lab staple, the petri dish. Her invention is a silicone mould that houses cell cultures in vitro with conditions very similar to those in vivo and, it was borne of her own needs in the lab. This technology increases the replicability of research, as well as increasing the efficiency of experiments by a factor of over 50.
The final talk of this session was conducted by Dr Liberty Foreman, who has invented a new technology to revolutionise the organisation of oncology diagnostics with her company, Beamline. This is a much needed innovation, with £500 million of the NHS budget a year being spent on diagnostic testing for cancer, for 90% of results to come back negative. Dr Foreman’s machine is simple to use, can be used at the bedside, and could identify a healthy sample from an inconclusive one in seconds.
It all wrapped up with a discussion panel that reiterated that progress only comes from change. The differing backgrounds of all three speakers show that there is not a singular correct way to bring about advancement, but it is indeed this variety that creates perpetual innovation. Dr Magdesian also stressed the importance of recent graduates engaging with research and new ideas in anyway they can, as they are the future of healthcare.
2nd Plenary Set
The second plenary talk featured three speakers, all advocates of innovation as an engine for change. Hugo Mercier, the CEO of Rhythm, was the first to speak. His company are producing a new technology that will help us to improve something we spend a third of our lives doing and the other two thirds thinking about, sleeping. His company hope to combine the recent success of consumer wellbeing products and apps with solid scientific research to become a frontrunner in the field by producing a consumer device with clinical efficiency.
We then received a talk from Clemence Franc, who like Dr Foreman from the first plenary, was also endeavouring to help improve medical practices within the field of oncology. Ms Franc’s company NovaGrey focus on improving the treatment of the 50% of cancer patients that undergo radiotherapy. The innovation comes in the form of a simple, non-invasive blood test that can predict the reaction a patient will have to the treatment. This could make a huge impact on the ability for doctors to provide a personalised treatment for each individual, decreasing unwanted side effects and improving the efficacy of radiotherapy.
Consultant surgeon and the medical director of Cupris Ltd Jules Hamann was the final speaker of this set. Hamann talked about the future of healthcare communications, which gives the patient the ability to become part of the whole process. Through the invention of medical devices that can be used with a smartphone, Cupris Ltd hopes to improve accessibility to healthcare, as well as reducing the strain on the NHS. Hamann also discussed IBM Watson, and encouraged everyone to embrace the technology and accept that is an integral part of medical future.
The discussion panel highlighted some interesting facts, including the statistic that, after the digitally native millennials, the 60+ ‘silver surfers’ are the most tech savvy. This addressed a question that the older generation would find these new technologies less accessible. The panelists also ensured that modern innovation centres around the user and the ease at which the product or service can be integrated into current daily practices.
Lunch allowed the delegates to have more time in the Immersion Zone. The activities ranged from sculpting vertebrae from clay through to a VR exploration of the brain. There was even the chance to learn how to juggle with the wonderful folks from Box of Tricks. All the food was provided by Real Junk Food MCR, an amazing organisation that redistributes perfectly good food that would otherwise have been discarded. Their approach reduces food waste and the large carbon footprint that comes along with it, whilst providing great food!
In the afternoon, I chose to attend the Open Mind Network workshop which was entitled ‘Redefining Crisis’. The session was very insightful, providing a very personal touch to the business-oriented day. It prompted the participants to change the way the thought about mental health and gave tips on how to deal with someone who is suffering. Although the workshop wasn’t focused around medical innovation as most of the talks were, I believe that it was still firmly dedicated to the future of healthcare. I
n coming years, mental health will become increasingly important as a medical field as the stigma that surrounds it is constantly challenged and broken by continued education and campaigning.
Everyone then gathered into the main conference hall to listen to a talk by Dr Aubrey De Grey, not on the techniques needed to grow a magnificent beard, but instead on the idea of defeating the unbeatable force of ageing. According to Dr De Grey, 90% of medical funding in the UK goes on age related problems. He argued that rather than trying to treat these problems or just trying to slow down the progress we should try and prevent ageing altogether. De Grey suggests a method of ‘preventative maintenance’ by targeting 7 key areas would allow humans to live way past the current average lifespan of 81 years.
The final activity of the day was in the form of MedXSolve, which encouraged delegates to form teams to overcome the problems of patients not taking their medications. First teams had to explore the reasons why people may not take medication, then progressing to create broadscale ideas of how to combat these issues and finally refining their top three ideas into one useable product. Most teams came up with some kind of system that was integrated with smartphone usage, which suggests that healthcare apps are the ones to watch.
The day was finished off a networking event, allowing delegates to discuss the interesting topics that were breached during the day, as well as giving the chance to ask any further questions to speakers. In all, the day provided a wealth of intellectual stimulation, and has surely inspired some ideas that we will be see coming to the healthcare industry very soon. From the college students who now are more sure of their future in medicine than ever, to experienced members of the profession, everyone could take something from the Manchester MedX conference that will encourage them to become the change that they wish to see.