science | September 15, 2013

Body 3.0: How Science Speaker Nina Tandon Is Personalizing Medicine

"In the past, we've sort of taken a statistical approach [to medicine]," science speaker Nina Tandon tells NPR. "We say: Ok, 50 percent of people with depression respond to this drug so let's prescribe it to 100 percent of the people." As the TED Fellow points out, the differences between people and the way a disease attacks their immune system doesn't lend itself well to the statistical model of treatment. Not only is it less effective, but it's also extremely expensive to conduct drug trials the way we are currently. What would be more effective, she says, is catering drugs and treatments to each person and each disease specifically. Her groundbreaking work as a tissue engineer is bringing that idea closer to reality than ever.

Tandon refers to her work as "Body 3.0." Not only does she engineer "spare" body parts that can be used for experimentation, but the parts she develops are actually living and function in a Petri dish in much the same way as they would in the human body. As she explains in her mind-bending TED Talk, this has the potential to completely revolutionize both the development of medical treatment as well as the effectiveness of these treatments. Imagine you develop a rare and aggressive form of bone cancer. One day, thanks to Tandon's work, scientists may be able to develop replicas of your bones and create an individualized medicine to treat your cancer. She's in the early stages of developing the ability to do so now.

This would make animal testing and human trials virtually unnecessary, would decrease or even eliminate drug side effects, and, could improve the effectiveness of medicine. "This is huge," Tandon says of the ability to craft living organs. Because they so seamlessly replicate the existing organs within a person's body, her work with body 3.0 could also one day eliminate transplant and organ donation problems. Thanks to the work of this electrical and biomedical engineer, the way we develop and administer treatments in the future could be radically different—and more effective—than it is today.

In her keynotes, Tandon shows us how we (and our bodies) have lived through most of history (Body 1.0), and then how we evolved into "cyborgs" with implants (such as pacemakers and artificial joints, Body 2.0). Now, Body 3.0 is all about growing our own body parts—and so far, she and her team are in the early stages of developing engineered bones and tiny hearts. In this thrilling and eye-opening talk, she explains the process of growing tissue and transplants, and the future of medical science. To book Nina Tandon as a speaker, contact The Lavin Agency.