I’m an OBGYN and I practice at a jail, where I take care of incarcerated women.

People often ask me, how did you come to work with incarcerated women? I was in the middle of my first year residency, delivering a baby. Everything was very familiar about the delivery scene; the nervousness, wondering if everything was going to be okay, helping the woman to push. But the one thing that was different is that she was shackled to the bed; she was a prisoner. And that moment troubled me so deeply that I developed an interest in learning more about these women.

Women make up a much smaller proportion of the correctional population than men — about 9% of everyone who is incarcerated. And 62% of [those] women are mothers to children who are less than 18 years old. Because women comprise such a small proportion, their gender-specific needs have been neglected. That’s particularly salient when it comes to their healthcare.

In theory, women do have the choice to have an abortion if they learn they are pregnant when they are in prison. There are constitutional guarantees — the 8th and the 14th amendments — and a number of judicial precedents, so it’s very clear that incarcerated women should have access to abortion. However, in practice, the people who are making the decisions have incredible discretion and many women lack access to abortion if they choose it.

About 1400-2000 births occur every year to women who are behind bars, and what they get for prenatal care is highly variable. There are standards that require prisons to have prenatal care onsite, but on the ground, some women have to be transported offsite and some women don’t even get prenatal care.

In labor, they usually get transported to an outside hospital. They can’t have any family support members in the room, and only 15 states have laws restricting the shackling of women in labor and delivery. A woman in labor, shackled, is what inspired me to work with this population. It’s inhumane and unnecessary, and it poses a lot of medical risks to the mother and the fetus. It also interferes with our ability to do emergent interventions if necessary.

People think prisons and jails are far away and we forget about the people who get locked up inside; we think they have nothing to do with us. So I hope I’ve given you some things to consider about what it’s like to be a woman when you’re in the grip of the prison or jail system.

From Dr. Carolyn Sufrin’s talk on incarcerated women and reproductive healthcare. Filmed at TEDxInnerSunset. 

Watch the full talk here »

5 TEDx Talks from kids who are probably smarter than you

You’re smart. Possibly even brilliant. But we’re willing to bet that you’ve got nothing on these kids. (Believe us, we don’t either.)

See, these kids rule. They’re developing mathematical theories before they hit puberty, teaching computers to diagnose breast cancer, analyzing air pollutants, and finding ways to prevent carcinogens forming in grilled chicken. Because what else would you do in grade school?

So to give us all a little hope for the future — 5 TEDx talks from kids who are way smarter than the rest of us:

1. The 10-year-old Princeton student / astrophysicist: Jacob Barnett 

At age two, boy genius Jacob Barnett was diagnosed with autism, and doctors told his parents he may never talk or learn. By age nine, not only could he talk and learn, he had already built a series of mathematical models that expanded Einstein’s theory of relativity. He’s funny and boisterous and totally freaking brilliant.

2. The girl who taught a computer to diagnose breast cancer … in middle school: Brittany Wenger

When most of us were cutting out pictures from magazines or stressing about soccer team tryouts, teen wunderkind Brittany Wegner was teaching a computer to diagnose breast cancer. That impressive feat required 600 hours of coding and 7.6 million trials, and has the potential to save millions of lives. So…NBD, really.

3. iPhone app developer … and 6th grader: Thomas Suarez

Most 12-year-olds love playing video games, but Thomas Suarez went a step beyond. He taught himself how to create them. After developing popular iPhone apps like “Bustin Jeiber,” a whack-a-mole game, Thomas is now using his skills to help other kids learn to become developers — that is, when he’s not hanging out with MakerBot co-founder and TED Fellow Bre Pettis.

4. The high school student who created a new way to detect cancer … before he could vote: Jack Andraka

While other kids were struggling to memorize the periodic table or master the structure of DNA, Jack Andraka was busy isolating proteins, reading research papers, and, you know, developing a test to detect pancreatic cancer: one that takes only 3 cents to run and runs at a nearly 100% accuracy rate. Kinda impressive, we think.    .

5. Three girls who fight carcinogens, asthma, and chemotherapy resistance in their free time: Lauren Hodge, Shree Bose, Naomi Shah 

Here’s a trio of science superstars for you: Lauren Hodge discovered how crafty cooking can stop carcinogenic compounds forming in grilled chicken; Shree Bose spent 12 years researching how cancer patients develop resistance to chemotherapy drugs; and Naomi Shah discovered new ways to approach asthma after analyzing indoor air pollutants, air quality, and lung health. Isn’t that what everyone does in their free time?

Can we fake the sense of touch? A TEDx Talk looks into engineering touch

TEDxStanford speaker Allison Okamu experiments with a haptic-enhanced medical device (Photo: MedicineWorld.org)

We all know the sense of touch is important. So what do we do when it’s gone?
When soldiers use mine-deactivating robots, when doctors operate surgical robots, their sense of touch is lost to these devices. How do you tie a suture tight, but not so tight that it breaks when you can’t feel the give and take of the thread? How do you know how much pressure to apply to a material when you cannot feel the material’s reaction?

You go by sight. But sight only gives you so much, says Stanford University researcher Allison Okamura. In her talk at TEDxStanford, Okamura explains how she and her team at the CHARM (Collaborative Haptics and Robotics in Medicine) Lab are working to create devices that can not just register touch from a user, but also can simulate touch in return.

"We try to come up with [clever] techniques to fool the user into feeling something that isn’t really there," she says in her talk. This becomes particularly useful when dealing with the medical world, where human-controlled robots are often used to make surgical procedures less invasive and more accurate. “They [surgical robots] are not autonomous robots,” Allison says. “It is important because of the dangerousness and complexity of these tasks that there be a human in the loop. But the human can do a better job if they get the sense of touch feedback.”

So, Allison and her team at CHARM stay hard at work developing devices that do just that. Watch her talk below to learn more about CHARM’s work and see some of these robots in action:

What if the answer to disorders like cystic fibrosis and IBS was in microchips? Not microchips from your iMac, but instead from medical researchers like TEDxBoston speaker Geraldine Hamilton, who are designing chips that contain mini-versions of human organs.

In her talk, Your body in a microchip," she explains her research, which so far has produced two different types of what she calls “an organ on a chip” — a human gut and a human lung.

These chips provide insight into drug research by creating an environment more dynamic than human cells in a petri dish, and more like an actual human body than animal testing:

"The way we currently discover and develop new drugs is too costly, takes far too long, and it fails more often than it succeeds," Hamilton says in her talk.

She continues: “The tools that we currently have available to test whether a drug is going to work — whether it has efficacy, or whether it’s going to be safe before it goes into human clinical trials — are failing us. They’re not predicting what’s going to happen in humans…

"We have two main tools available at our disposal. They are: cells in dishes and animal testing … [With] cells in dishes … cells are happily functioning in our bodies, we take them and we rip them out of their native environment, throw them in one of these dishes, and expect them to work. Guess what? They don’t…

"What about animal testing? Animals can and do provide us with very useful information. They teach us about what happens in the complex organism. We learn more about the biology itself. However, more often than not, animal models fail to predict what will happen in humans when they are treated with a particular drug…

"We need human cells, but we need to find a way to keep them happy outside the body … and at [our] institute, we’ve done just that. We call it — an organ on a chip…

"So how does it work? … In the center, we have a flexible, porous membrane on which we can add human cells from say, our lungs, and then underneath, [we] have capillary cells, the cells in our blood vessels; and we can then apply mechanical forces to the chip [in a vacuum channel] to stretch and contract the membrane so the cells experience the same mechanical forces that they did … in the body. There’s air flowing through the top channel and then we throw a liquid that contains nutrients through the blood channel.

"Now the chip is really beautiful, but what can we do with it? … We could, for example, make an infection —
where we add bacterial cells into the lung, and then we add human white blood cells. White blood cells are our body’s defense against bacterial invaders, and when they sense this infection they will enter from the blood into the lung and then go for the bacteria…

"In that tiny chip, you [can] witness one of the most fundamental responses our body has to an infection … with the functionality that we get with these chips, we can begin to look for potential new treatments."

To learn more about the “organ on a chip,” watch Dr. Hamilton’s entire talk here.

(Above, diagrams of the “organ on a chip,” and a look into one of the organs it replicates.)