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How Crisis Becomes Opportunity | Ping Yeh | TEDxUCSD

four and a half years ago I was
diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma a form
of blood cancer and the fact that I’m
standing here right now in front of you
is actually I think a miracle because if
I had this disease at any point in human
medical history
I’d be dead but this picture is kind of
odd don’t you think I’m getting chemo
and I’m smiling and I’ll explain why I
was actually resistant to chemo and it
took four months to figure out so I was
getting all the downsides without much
of the benefits
I’m still running like a 9-minute mile
in training what else on the chemo so
the only solution for me was to actually
get a maximum potency treatment of
chemotherapy which was also toxic to my
heart so I had to go into the hospital
for infusion and here’s my daughter and
she was enamored with being a doctor I
mean look at the focus maybe she’ll be a
student here one day lucky enough to be
that I hope but a few minutes before
this picture was taken I was sitting
down with my doctors before I was going
to get this infusion and he told me you
know the last time we gave this therapy
to someone the response was so bad I
thought he was gonna die
I have three thoughts in my head number
one holy shoot
or something like that we’ll keep it
clean number two was this is going to be
a really interesting day and the third
unfortunately was the fact that I had a
lot of negative thoughts come into my
mind you know am I going to survive the
day am I gonna see my daughter grow up
it’s pretty overwhelming and so the
doctors and I weren’t sure if the
treatment was going to actually cure me
or kill me and here’s the unfortunate
selfie around that time you know one of
the low points during this experience
was I couldn’t even do this which was
feed myself so there was a moment when I
was lying on the couch and I asked my
mom to put a bagel right here and I had
to turn my head to try and eat this
bagel it probably took like 20 minutes I
mean it was ridiculous
but if you’re wondering I took the bagel
down and luckily I survived
not only the cancer but the treatment
itself and to be true we survived my
wife always cringes when I show this
picture because his mother is that it’s
our basement it’s not the prettiest
basement but the truth is what could
have made this basement pretty went into
founding our company but I got to work
and the truth was I’m a nanotechnologist
with an engineering background and I was
program managing really complex things
and software data systems and after
coming back from that experience I just
didn’t feel the same level of passion I
wanted to take my background and apply
it to something more meaningful to me in
the life sciences and so I got to work
to answer kind of a key question for me
which is why did
have to take this this crazy treatment
and not know if the result was going to
lead to me living or dying and so I
wanted to answer this simple question
why are we all guinea pigs and you know
you maybe experienced this and that is
take a couple of these come back
tomorrow and tell me how you feel or
come back in a month or for some it’s
come back and over this course of the
year we’re going to try and figure out
which therapy will work for you I mean
that’s insane that’s trial and error so
I got busy starting to learn about this
industry of drug discovery and life
sciences and I found that for brain and
heart diseases a high percentage 90 plus
percent of the drugs going to trial fail
and you know how I mentioned it was just
really dangerous to do trial and error
the fourth leading cause of death in the
United States it is adverse drug
reactions it kills a little over a
hundred thousand people a year and yet
that pales in comparison to the millions
who take medicines that are ineffective
and these are our best drugs
these are our fda-approved drugs so why
is this will we use these cute critters
to figure out which compounds which
drugs will work on us in the early
studies and then in clinical trials we
use small homogeneous groups to predict
a global diverse population I mean a
single drug now takes a dozen years and
2.6 billion dollars you could be ten
years into working on something and have
it fail it’s amazing there goes two
billion dollars
there’s got to be a better way there has
to be a way where you can more
accurately test drugs and therapeutics
to see if they will or will not work on
us with much lower risk and so I know
you might be thinking I mean still in
that basement right imagine evading and
thinking but the truth is that’s just a
myth to tackle a question that deep and
detailed and diverse it takes a
multidisciplinary team many of whom come
from this University as you can see we
have a lot of fun as you can see we’re
also a group of immigrants with
extraordinary talents and sometimes we
even go surfing but some better than
others and so we leverage some
technology and work by Nobel
prize-winning scientist dr. Yamanaka who
came up with the ability to reprogram
DNA of cells into stem cells which are
seen here which which we do but then we
take it the next step we then convert
those stem cells into brain cells such
as this mini brain and they’re so
biologically accurate that even the
neurons that you see are firing in our
dishes and our plates and we make
beating heart cells now remember these
cells used to be skin pretty miraculous
but the truth is this is not enough this
technology is not enough because if
you’re trying to find a handful of
compounds out of tens of thousands or
hundreds of thousands you can’t have one
Micro heart you have to have many and
you can’t have just one mini brain you
have to have gazillions a real number by
the way and you need this because you
want to be able to find the failures as
early as possible and not have these
late stage failures which costs billions
of dollars but we also learned that
scale is not enough volume is not enough
and I’ll explain here this is heart
tissue and you can see that it is long
rod-like structures going diagonally
this way and this ripple feature that
you see are sarcomeres and they’re
indicative of mature heart cells but
when you take stem cells convert them
into heart cells and just put them on to
an ordinary plate you get this mess in
this blob of cells nothing that looks
like what’s in all of us and so you
remember I mentioned we have a
multidisciplinary team biologists
chemists physicists engineers
statisticians process in a matter of
days we then more recently have turned
this into this a structure that has the
function and behavior like what’s in US
and we do this for brain as well so here
you can see the green neurons and the
red astrocytes and astrocytes are cells
that help provide structure as well as
metabolic support but then we also start
combining biology with computer science
and electrical engineering so in this
video what you’re seeing is a movie of
those cells on a plate a plate with
electrodes on the bottom
in each square is the compartment you
can think of it as a compartment and
you’ll notice in this mesmerizing video
that each compartment when it fires each
well fires together synchronously and
that’s indicative actually of adult
brain so now you can imagine we can take
cells from a person’s skin and actually
convert it all the way to their organ
cells and it turns out when you do that
the disease that the person has is
mimicked on that plate or dish but it’s
remarkable because now in
transformational because now you can
make a clinical trial of any population
or sub disease group and put it into a
plate and have a clinical trial before
the actual clinical trial years
beforehand but we can go beyond that we
can actually test populations that you
would never have in a clinical trial
such as babies and pregnant women now I
know this sounds crazy but it’s possible
here you’re seeing above me at the top
mature neurons below our precursor cells
called progenitors now I mention this
because we could create different levels
of maturity which are similar to
different stages of brain development
now why is that important well some of
you know we have a global epidemic right
now of Zika virus which is transferred
by mosquitoes and so what we do is what
our neuronal team did was they took the
fda-approved drugs that can work
potentially for Zika and they tested it
across mature brain and developing brain
and the orange here represents cell
toxicity or cell death and you can see
very clearly that for the progenitor
cells there’s a lot more death across
the board
so now you can start imagining that each
one of these plates can represent each
one of us to create a person on a plate
if you will now the question is this
cancer would I be standing here if I
hadn’t had cancer it’s kind of an
interesting thought what I have formed
the team with my co-founder I don’t
think so
and so the truth is cancer for me was
totally transformational
transformational it changed my
relationship with my wife and daughter
and family and friends and the truth is
is that to survive cancer as you can see
it truly takes a village I know some of
you were smirking because my daughter is
wearing pink in every picture and I
wasn’t be asking you see in that lower
picture right there he’s wearing the
pink ballerina outfit with a stethoscope
I wasn’t via thank you it’s true but I
had to learn something I had to learn
how to find opportunity in crisis
opportunity in crisis you know when that
doctor said to me you might die today or
all the thoughts that go into your mind
about the future that could negatively
go wrong I had to somehow calm my mind
find peace find quiet and it’s really
hard when you’re always getting poked
and prodded with chemo and radiation and
its effects but I’ll share with you that
what helped was to pray and meditate on
what I was grateful for within a few
minutes when I would do that I would
calm down and find my quiet and be
thankful for the present moment the
moment where you can actually affect
those around you and the relationships
we have
you know it’s kind of easy finding quiet
when you’re on chemo because there’s a
lot of time to think and that quiet
could have made me mad but the truth is
that quiet gave me the space to create
and imagine what we’re doing now you
know I used to think that work hard and
play hard we’re on opposite sides of the
teeter-totter and having both on
opposite ends was balanced but after
cancer I learned that those two things
are on the same side the same side and
what’s on the other side is non effort
things like prayer meditation or just
enjoying a sunset without interruption
and so many of you are on the edge of
discovery whether it’s your field of
study yourselves or the future you’re
trying to create and the truth is is
that when you’re at that edge of
discovery what’s beyond has to be
imagined and if it’s filled with
smartphones and always being on in
social media you’re not going to have
the space to think and imagine and
create so I have a call to action and
it’s simple it’s to do nothing
for me I’ve continued the practice of
meditation every morning for 20 and 30
minutes but it started with a single
minute and for all of you I find that
some people might be able to find that
quiet by taking a walk through nature
and when I say take a walk through
nature I don’t mean this and so here’s
my last slide and it’s purposefully
blank and is to share with all of you
the thought that hopefully you can find
some quiet amongst your daily routine
and hopefully you can find that space
amongst the noise and madness and
hopefully you can find that nothing that
nothing which could be the miracle that
starts everything thank you nice day
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