Christian Long

Joe DeRisi: Solves Medical Mysteries

In TED Talks on April 20, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Reflection by RACHEL L.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Joe DeRisi:  Solves Medical Mysteries

DeRisi’s idea is compelling- a single chip to code for all viruses.  The problem is that viruses are complex and always changing.

But as DeRisi points out, “evolution is a balance.” Since part of the virus is constantly changing it means that another part is staying the same. This part of conservation in the virus is the part that must be used to detect a wide range of viruses. So DeRisi made DNA chip which are pieces of glass with DNA printed on them. He even gives a website where you can get instructions on how to make your own chips at home. These chips are markers for pathogens. Next he made a respiratory virus chip which coded for all human respiratory viruses. This chip was tested and then he made a chip that coded for every known virus.

The part of this video that interested me the most was the story of a 28-year-old healthy woman who came into the clinic with a “ten day history of fevers, night sweats, bloody sputum,…, muscle pain” and the clinic gave her antibiotics.

She came back ten days later and she was hypoxic. The clinic continued to treat her with various antibiotics until they got to the point where they had no idea what to do. The patient was no longer breathing on her own and they did an open lung biopsy which is extremely dangerous. Then the woman came to DeRisi and his team. They put her virus on the chip and saw that it was parainfluenza-4.

At the end of the video DeRisi explains a virus that has been linked to prostate cancer through his methods of virus detection. It is not known if this virus causes cancer “but now it’s a door”. He makes a great point about the nature of science. He says that science “opens up more questions than it answers” which I believe to be very true.

But at least now we have an idea of what may be causing this disease and who knows where that could lead?


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