TEDWeekends shows how simple solutions can make big change

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PhoneCould the telephone be used as a healthcare device? Mathematician Max Little believed that it could. Max Little: A test for Parkinson's with a phone call Max Little: A test for Parkinson's with a phone call Because Parkinson’s disease causes unusual tremors in the voice, Little realized that a 30-second phone call could be all that’s needed to diagnose the disease, which devastates millions of people worldwide. As Little shared at TEDGlobal 2012, in trials, this test appears to be 99 percent accurate. But he needed 100,000 Good Samaritans to call the Parkinson’s Voice Initiative and help refine the tool. Luckily, they did.

It’s inspiring to think that simple ideas like this could save lives and spare pain all across the world. That’s the idea that today’s TEDWeekends on the Huffington Post is dedicated to. Here, three of the great essays that are available now for your reading pleasure. 

Max Little: How Math Could Improve Life for Nearly 6 Million People with Parkinson’s

I’m a mathematician and am constantly amazed that the world around us can be described mathematically. All it takes is a combination of a handful of simple mathematical concepts. I’m insatiably curious, and I want to understand how things fit together, so I get involved in many kinds of scientific problems — everything from the changing statistics of extreme rainfall to the behavior of life at the scale of molecules,to analyzing voice and speech recordings for forensics. But there’s one project, on Parkinson’s disease that has occupied me for the last seven years. I fell into it almost by accident.

It is estimated that between 4 and 6 million people worldwide have Parkinson’s. Because the disease is more likely to affect older people than younger, and because the population is aging and growing, that figure is expected to rise. Parkinson’s primarily affects movement, the ‘classic’ symptoms are uncontrollable and unwanted motion in the limbs, which looks like shaking or tremors.

I can only imagine what it is like to suffer from a neurological disease. Read the full essay » 

Alvaro Fernandez: Retooling Brain Care with Low-Cost, Data-Driven Technologies

While sophisticated neuroimaging techniques such as fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) provide a significant boost in our understanding of the brain — and sexy research frequently reported all over the media — they are extremely costly. This makes it difficult to reach the mass scale required to conduct clinically meaningful research and to improve the brain care of millions if not billions of individuals around the globe.

Good news is, we are witnessing an explosion of new methods that make use of low cost, already ubiquitous technologies to inform brain health prevention, diagnoses and treatments on a wide scale. Read the full essay » 

Maura O’Neill: Disruptive Innovation Often Comes from Unexpected Places

As a mathematician, Max Little hasn’t spent most of his career in a doctor’s office or a hospital, but with a pad and pencil or behind a laptop. And yet it is he who has crafted a radically lower cost and more ubiquitous method for diagnosing Parkinson’s.

Steve Jobs loved music, but hadn’t spent his life as a disc jockey. He was not a professional musician or a stereo hardware designer and he didn’t focus on music marketing. That is, until he and his team at Apple released the iPod. What Jobs did have was a deep respect for the consumer music experience, and with his knowledge on business and technology, he devised a business model that forever changed the industry and its customers. Read the full essay »