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Future of medicine under the microscope

Leading experts in the medical field, as well as dozens of entrepreneurs, practicing physicians, and others interested in how exponential technologies can affect our lives are meeting at FutureMed.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--Experts in fields such as regenerative medicine; personalized health; information and data-driven health; and neuromedicine are gathering here this week for several days of discussions about the future of medicine.

Organized under the appropriate rubric of "FutureMed," leaders in these fields, plus nearly 70 paying participants, are taking part in Singularity University's first FutureMed executive program.

For two years, Singularity University (SU)--created by futurist Ray Kurzweil and X Prize CEO Peter Diamandis--has been bringing people together at NASA Ames Research Center here to discuss what are called "exponentially growing" technologies--things like 3D printing, self-organizing molecular circuits, advanced robotics, and more.

But over two 10-week summer courses with graduate-student level participants and several 10-day programs aimed at successful executives, the institution has spread its focus across a wide variety of disciplines. FutureMed is SU's first attempt at homing in on a single field and having top-level discussions about where that field is heading and how it may change the world.

For Daniel Kraft, FutureMed organizer, Stanford- and Harvard-trained physician, and SU's Medicine chair, the new program is a welcome opportunity to spend five whole days with the leading thinkers in the field, as well as several dozen executives, rather than just the few hours that SU devotes at its general executive programs.

"There's so much happening in exponentials in biomedicine," Kraft said, "and we can bring it together and mix it up in a way you can't do at a larger conference."

But Kraft said FutureMed sold out and has more people paying to attend than any previous SU executive program. And that, he suggested, is owing to intense interest in the medical field--and its many subdisciplines. "Everyone is connected to health in many ways," he said. "Everyone's touched by medicine and health care in general."

For attendees, who range from executives in the medical field to practicing doctors to entrepreneurs looking for the next area to invest in, and who come from countries all over the world, the $7,000 tuition gives access to talks on topics as diverse as personalized medicine; the future of pharma; patient engagement; regenerative medicine; neuromedicine; synthetic biology; the future of medical education; global health and the hospital of the future; and more. Plus, they'll be making site visits to the Kaiser Garfield Innovation Center, IDEO, Intuitive Surgical, and Autodesk.

And to Kraft, the idea is that these attendees, as well as the expert speakers, will spark discussions around things like a $100 genome, artificial intelligence physicians, new models for the pharmaceutical industry, gene therapy, and much more.

For Dan Barry, a former NASA astronaut who's currently head of faculty at SU and a leading roboticist, the FutureMed program "is really talking about what we are. It incorporates a lot of the issues from the other fields....We talk about robotics, artificial intelligence, as well as the biotech aspects of it, and I think it brings up a lot of ethical questions with regard to who's going to have this technology available to them."

Barry acknowledged that much of the technology that will emerge from these fields will initially be available mainly to the wealthy. But he said he hopes that over time, as early adopters use the technologies and more and more people see their value, prices will come down and the innovations will become available to larger and larger populations.

He also said that the FutureMed participants will be tackling tricky subjects like the risks associated with doing genetic manipulation of organisms that are intended for human interaction, and the social upheavals that may come from integrating robotics with health care.