Healthcare's Data Problem

Yesterday, Big Think went West to Mountain View, CA to sit down with Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of personal genetics company 23andMe, a Google-backed start-up that makes home genetics tests available to consumers for around $400. Wojcicki spoke about the "data problem" of modern health care that drives 23andMe's mission -- in short, we're trying to solve medicine's great challenges and mysteries using too little information from too few real-world patients. Because of their high costs, some clinical trials are conducted with as few as a few dozen patients, leaving a high margin for error and scientists to draw only vague conclusions, in many cases. Wojcicki envisions a future in which low cost genetic testing permits patient communities to contribute data that is magnitudes of order more comprehensive than the sample sets of today. That could mean more medical innovations over radically shortened discovery cycles.


Wojcicki also spoke about her unique vantage point as an entrepreneur -- Google was founded in her parent's garage by her now husband Sergey Brin and his partner Larry Page. She also addressed the controversies and ethical dilemmas surrounding her work, which were the subject of Big Think's Breakthroughs forum on genetics last summer. Stay tuned for Wojcicki's full interview to get a peak into how you might one day understand the finest inner workings of, well, YOU.

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
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Big Think Edge
  • In some fundamental ways, humans haven't changed all that much since the days when we were sitting around communal fires, telling tales.
  • Although we don't always recognize them as such, stories, symbols, and rituals still have tremendous, primal power to move us and shape our lives.
  • This is no less true in the workplace than it is in our personal lives.

Has a black hole made of sound confirmed Hawking radiation?

One of Stephen Hawking's predictions seems to have been borne out in a man-made "black hole".

Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Surprising Science
  • Stephen Hawking predicted virtual particles splitting in two from the gravitational pull of black holes.
  • Black holes, he also said, would eventually evaporate due to the absorption of negatively charged virtual particles.
  • A scientist has built a black hole analogue based on sound instead of light.
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Big Think Edge
  • The word "creative" is sometimes waved around like a badge of honor. We speak of creativity in hushed tones, as the special province of the "talented". In reality, the creative process is messy, open, and vulnerable.
  • For this reason, creativity is often at its best in a group setting like brainstorming. But in order to work, the group creative process needs to be led by someone who understands it.
  • This sense of deep trust—that no idea is too silly, that every creative impulse is worth voicing and considering—is essential to producing great work.