Mount Sinai Participates in the Aspen Ideas Festival

Significant advances in science are taking place, but translating them into clinical treatments for an array of human diseases is being hampered by public policies that are not aligned with the public good. That observation was articulated by Kenneth L. Davis, MD, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Mount Sinai Medical Center, during a discussion on “What’s Holding Back Medical Progress?,” one of three talks in which he participated at the ninth annual Aspen Ideas Festival, in Colorado, which ran from June 26 – July 2.

Dr. Davis said the federal government could take a positive step in incentivizing innovation by extending market exclusivity to truly innovative drugs that deal with the nation’s most pressing chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes. Joining him in the discussion on medical progress were Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Moncef Slaoui, PhD, Chairman of Research and Development at GlaxoSmithKline; and Anthony Coles, MD, Chairman and CEO of Onyx Pharmaceuticals.

During the festival, Dr. Davis also participated in a panel titled “Can We Afford Our Health?” And in a one-on-one session with Richard Besser, MD, Chief Health and Medical Editor at ABC News, he discussed “What is Health Care Going to Look Like in 25 Years?

This was the first time Mount Sinai sponsored the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is presented by the Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C., and The Atlantic magazine. The annual conference draws thousands of leaders who come to hear thought-provoking discussions on topics concerning culture, religion, science, technology, politics, public policy, and health care at the Aspen Institute’s sprawling campus high in the Rocky Mountains.

A Mount Sinai-produced video, “Revolutionizing Medicine,” which describes the Medical Center’s role in creating predictive disease models from genetic data and personalized treatments, was shown at an evening session at the festival and on the Mount Sinai website. Go to to view the video.

Each day, Joel T. Dudley, PhD, Director of Biomedical Informatics at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and co-author of a new textbook, Exploring Personal Genomics, led a conversation on personalized medicine, called “Demystifying Personal Genomics.” Dr. Dudley has had his own genome sequenced, and discussed his experience and what others could expect.

Festival participants entered two drawings to have their whole genomes sequenced at Mount Sinai in New York. One of the winners, Ronnie Antik of Naples, Florida, said, “I’ve always been aware of the importance of family history in health because we’ve always talked about it. My parents’ health issues have affected some of the things I do and am subsequently careful about.”

The other winner, Jeffrey Friedlander of Denver, Colorado, said, “If sequencing of my genome helps someone else, that’s a good thing. For myself, it could help identify a medication that would be less harmful to me.”

In his discussion with Dr. Besser from ABC News on the future of medicine, Dr. Davis said the use of supercomputers to crunch mathematical algorithms based on patients’ genomic data will be “analogous to what microscopes did to understand bacteria, and what telescopes did to understand astronomy.”

Policy leaders who joined Dr. Davis for the panel discussion on the affordability of health care included Peter Orszag, PhD, former Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget; and Robert Rubin, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. Dr. Davis said as expenses increase and revenues decrease, academic medical centers “must cross-subsidize for the services they perform. But a margin is needed for innovation in biomedical research, otherwise the research pipeline will run dry.”

As a public service, two members of the Department of Dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Robert G. Phelps, MD, and Amylynne Frankel, MD, led a team that performed roughly 400 complimentary melanoma screenings. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the world, and there has been a steady increase in melanoma, the most serious kind.

The Mount Sinai dermatologists said they identified several melanomas, 24 precancerous lesions and atypical moles, and up to 20 nonmelanoma skin cancers—basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas—at the festival.

“At Mount Sinai, we are making concerted efforts to catch melanomas and other skin cancers at the earliest stage,” Dr. Phelps said.

Mount Sinai also treated participants to healthy, cold-pressed juices from the local Honeybee Juice Company. Drinks included spicy lemonade made from apples, lemon, ginger, and cucumber, and ginger beet juice made with carrots, beets, and oranges

Check out more highlights from the Aspen Ideas Festival on Pinterest.

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