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Posts tagged ‘medicine’

Exponential Medicine – Recap & Reflections

I just got back from attending the Exponential Medicine (#xMed on Twitter) conference hosted by Singularity University in San Diego. This conference, similar to TEDMED, aims to share innovative ideas and developments in medicine and healthcare. It seeks to answer “what’s next?” in these fields.

The conference and innovation lab was predictably occupied with speakers and companies in the fields of stem cell research, tissue engineering, bioprinting, regeneration, synthetic biology, big data, mobile app technology, AI.

I’m very intrigued on conversations about the future of anything, but mostly importantly when it comes to medicine or healthcare. These fields are vital for the continued evolution of humanity, and all life on earth. When something becomes ordained as The Future of X, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We race to get to the future first, chasing the next big thing. So I watch these developments with as much of a critical eye as I can muster, especially attentive to the origins, trajectories, and meanings of these ‘futures’. These innovators rarely, however, examine our past or roots. Or the ecological context in which they are an inextricable part. They can’t. The whole field is too specialized. But how can you assert a future without a global view?

I am not against technological development or advancing medical technology as much as possibly. On the contrary: these technologies can and will save lives and improve quality of life for those who can access it. But I stand as an outsider looking at the greater social context, and wonder.

I did not see anyone questioning the fundamanetal tenets of their field– a practice which could surely expose blind spots or reveal some kind of blue sky for future developments. A couple speakers argued that better access and more meaningful patterns from big data can provide patients and providers with more relevant and actionable knowledge than RCTs–a good point. Data mined from real patients in real situations is more realistic than trial patients, who are often excluded if they have a comorbid condition. (That and I think RCTs testing treatments against placebo is unethical, but that’s another post.) No one, except for Paul Stamets (pictured above), advocated for even a remotely ecological or cross-species view of health. With an increasingly myopic view of heathcare, we lose context and are therefore subject to poorly performing interventions.

These technologies are beautiful. I’m excited for what they can bring. But we may well go even further by flipping the subject and seeking innovation in tradition, examining why we do what we do, how we know what we know. I’d love for medical educational programs conferences to philosophize a bit more with these subjects. I think only then do we fully engage the subject and envision the future we want to create.

And the setting? Lovely.

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Hotel Del Coronado

Douglas-Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

Douglas fir“Trees were our first teachers,” Bruce Miller used to say. Bruce (Subiyay) was a Skokomish elder, teacher & leader behind the Salish cultural renaissance of the last few decades. Bruce continues to be a powerful inspiration. and many continue his work of revitalizing Salish culture and rekindling the connection between plants and people. (For more information, see links at the bottom of this post.)

A resonant aspect of his teachings is the consideration of tree as teacher. There’s something about trees that stirs something inside us. Humans have long felt a unique kinship with the trees, and their medicinal qualities represent a vast & untapped potential in the health & ecological field.. Read more

Herbal Infusions & Decoctions: Working with Earth and Water

The Wheel of the Seasons is turning, and we’re entering the Season of Water here in the Pacific Northwest. The light and warmth of the Sun has waned, and the plants have drawn their energy downward into their roots. The leaves are brown, the clouds and rain have turned the forests into misty, secretive cathedrals. And the rains have returned, cleansing, restoring and nourishing the life that will spring forth when the Wheel turns again. And this is the gift of Water.

In herbal practice, the water element shows up in a variety of ways. But one of the most important applications of Water is in teas and brews. This practice entails the interaction of all the elements: fire heating the water, water meeting the plant (Earth), infusion meeting the Air and warming the Heart. It’s elemental art at work.

There’s something so alluring about making beautiful teas & brews. The simplicity and tradition of the practice is so nurturing to the soul. It’s just about hot water and plants. Unlike other botanical preparations, my tea and brew-making activities are very informal and casual. I don’t like to fuss or worry about amount of this or that or exact times. Read more

Ecological Medicine and the Grey Area of Individual Treatment and Systemic Change

In my academic life, I’ve taken an interdisciplinary approach when considering human & ecological health. Because of the way that knowledge is fragmented, playing within the bounds of one discipline confines my understanding to that portion of the whole system. None of the disciplines gets the full picture; they are not meant to. It’s deliberate and purposeful fragmentation, now inappropriate for the complex challenges that the planet faces.

The term ‘ecological medicine’ was coined in 2001 by Carolyn Raffensperger, Executive Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network. Ken Ausubel, founder of Bioneers, has really engaged in this field. He describes some basic tenets (extracted from here):

  • The first goal of medicine is to establish the conditions for health and wholeness, thus preventing disease and illness. The second goal is to cure.
  • The earth is also the physician’s client. The patient under the physician’s care is one part of the earth.
  • Humans are part of a local ecosystem. Following the ecopsychological insight that a disturbed ecosystem can make people mentally ill, a disturbed ecosystem can surely make people physically ill.
  • Medicine should not add to the illnesses of humans or the planet. Medical practices themselves should not damage other species or the ecosystem. Read more

The Art of Apothecary Design

The more time I spend in the apothecary, the more I begin to notice its structures and patterns as a system. And the more I muse about apothecary and medicine design itself. So I began diagraming the parts and particulars of my apothecary.

For example, let’s look at the tools:

  • scale
  • press
  • strainers
  • jars (storage)
  • stove
  • refrigerator

…and all the energetic functions they represent. That’s one layer.

Now the materials:

  • alcohol
  • oil
  • water
  • honey
  • …and the plant bodies themselves (not just physical)

Now the list of the preparations most commonly made:

  • frozen herbs
  • dried herbs
  • tinctures
  • flower essences
  • syrups
  • honeys
  • infused oils
  • water extractions (teas/decoctions)

So there are the subsequent layers. I also had to look at plants’ origins:

  • locally wildcrafted,
  • cultivated in my garden,
  • purchased at the herb shop (or ordered from Oregon).

And the plants themselves can be analyzed in a number of ways…we did origins above, but we can look at part, gathering place, what preparation, celestial influences, etc.

With these basic components in place, we can get a brief picture of if and how the apothecary and a medicine practice can be a microcosm of the all-giving Whole. Does it create a vortex by which a person can obtain healing?

So, I ask: does this system increase resilience in the people that interact with it? That’s where the design portion comes in. If there are gaps or imbalances in the structure, they would inhibit the overall energy flow. In most traditional apothecary designs, I do see some gaps. Firstly, medicine preparation primarily centers on extracting constituents from plants. I’d like to explore other motions.

And then we can look at where the person/patient fits into this. What are the interacts of body systems and disease when they interact with this system? What are the systems’ capabilities of dealing with different constitutions? Where is this person “from”, and where is the plant they’re interacting with “from”? All these delicate complexities. And this is where the art portion comes in–flexing those boundaries.