SinaInnovations Conference Focuses on “Team Science”

The topic of “team science” took center stage at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai’s second annual SinaInnovations conference on Monday, November 18, and Tuesday, November 19. Hundreds of scientists, students, and participants from diverse industries gathered in Stern Auditorium for keynote addresses and panel discussions that examined how teamwork drives creativity. The conference also featured smaller breakout sessions run by leaders in academia and industry that explored topics such as scholarship and diversity within team science.

Introducing the conference, Dennis S. Charney, MD, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Dean, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and President for Academic Affairs, Mount Sinai Health System, told the audience that Mount Sinai’s “culture of institutional innovation” follows the model of teamwork and mentorship established by Bell Laboratories, the famous research and development arm of AT&T Corp.

“As you know,” he said, “Bell Labs was responsible for many of the innovations that led to the digital revolution. That formula for success provides Mount Sinai with a road map to invent the future of medicine.”

In a panel discussion titled “Team Science in Academic Medical Centers and Pharma,” Noshir Contractor, PhD, Director of the Science of Networks in Communities Research Group at Northwestern University, said increased specialization has made collaboration more important than ever, while digitization has made it easier and more cost-effective.

John Stamatoyannopoulos, MD, Associate Professor of Genome Sciences and Medicine at the University of Washington, a participant in a panel on “Team Science Success Stories,” said, “Exciting scientific challenges are very complex and they transcend any one discipline now.”

His fellow panel member, W. David Lee, Executive in Residence at Kodiak Venture Partners, a venture capital firm in Waltham, Massachusetts, said teams have traditionally driven discovery in the fields of high-energy physics and semiconductors. “How do you build an accelerator? It takes a physicist, a chemist, and engineers,” he said. “If you look back in time, the Nobel Prizes in physics are always the physicists building the technology that’s needed to make the breakthrough. I think there’s a convergence now that is bringing that into biology.”

In a panel titled “The Psychology of Great Groups,” Jon Gertner, author of The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, told the audience that “new ideas arise from the interface of different disciplines, different domains, different talents, and different people.”

Gordon Edelstein, Artistic Director of the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, Connecticut, and Matthew VanBesien, Executive Director of the New York Philharmonic, who were on the panel with Mr. Gertner, described the moments when actors in a play or musicians in an orchestra reach the height of their art.

“I think great professionals just know when things are coming together in that incredibly special way,” said Mr. VanBesien. As a theatrical director, Mr. Edelstein said, “It is all about taking the talent of the actors and loving them, and facilitating and encouraging them to make the wildest, bravest choices they can make.”

For more information on SinaInnovations, visit Icahn.mssm.edu/sinainnovations.

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