Driving Collaboration to Improve Brain Health

Last night, Sue Siegel, CEO, GE Ventures & Healthmagination, spoke at UN Headquarters about GE’s objective to improve the brain health of more than 1 billion people in the next decade.  Below are her remarks, which set forth GE’s plan to accomplish this ambitious goal.[Pictured above L to R: Francis Collins, Director of the National Institute of Health (NIH); Torsten Wiesel, President Emeritus of Rockefeller University and Nobel Prize winner; Princess Khaliya Aga Khan, Philanthropist; Sue Siegel, CEO, GE Ventures & Healthmagination]International Brain Initiative Launch and VIP Dialog: Towards an International Brain StationMonday, September 19, 2016, UN HeadquartersGood evening distinguished dignitaries, honored guests, and colleagues.  My name is Sue Siegel and I’m CEO of GE Ventures and healthymagination.  GE is honored to be included in tonight’s discussion because improving brain health is one of the grand social and scientific challenges of the 21st century. As profound as we know that challenge to be, GE believes that by working collaboratively with governments, patient advocates, healthcare professionals, universities, philanthropists and social entrepreneurs … together we can positively impact the brain health of more than 1 billion people in the next decade. What is being set forth is an audacious goal, but can we settle for anything less? More than 1 out of six in the world’s population today suffers from some form of neurodegenerative disease.  And the changing global demographics will only continue to push those numbers higher.  The urgency is real.   Consider a couple but dramatic facts:

  • The amount spent on Alzheimer’s alone – more than $800 billion per year globally – would make it the 18th largest economy in the world.  So on that basis, Alzheimer’s already qualifies to be a member of the G20.
  • Traumatic Brain Injury is no less challenging.  More than 30 large clinical trials have failed to identify specific treatments to make a measurable difference for TBI.  Yet we spend more than $76 billion per year in the US treating and caring for those with TBI, and we believe that number is underreported.  

As the world’s leading “digital industrial” company, GE is bringing to bear its digital prowess, its healthcare business and its healthcare technologies, its Global Research Center talents, GE Ventures and healthymagination, which is our programmatic commitment to better health for more people, and our global footprint across 180 countries to this brain effort.  We are bringing new brain-related products to market with ever-improving imaging technologies to improve brain research, clinical diagnoses and treatment.  We also continue to work on policy issues as they form the scaffolding around which progress in neuroscience will occur.  Just as ELSI provided so much social fabric for the genome project, its “equivalent” is needed for this “brainy” undertaking.  In 2013, GE launched a global series of thought leadership meetings known as the Brain Trust, designed to bring together some of the world’s foremost experts in neuroscience to help galvanize the community around common themes that could move the field forward.   We are eager to contribute the collection of findings to this international brain effort.  Based on what we learned in those sessions, GE sees at least four policy priorities essential to meeting this challenge:First, Connectivity — Realizing the promise of big data, data analytics and broad-based data sharing and creating the frameworks for that to happen.  As an example,  GE partnered with the Kavli Foundation, the Allen Institute and others, to develop a pilot known as Neurodata Without Borders, a great example of working collectively towards the imperative of enabling data to be more easily shared and scaled.  Second, Commonality — Promoting standards, interoperability, data exchanges and common platforms; Third, Convergence — Integrating multi-disciplinary perspectives to enable problem-oriented, solutions-driven approaches.  This has been done before with the human genome project – there is a proxy, although this challenge is so much more complex.  With the brain, it’s especially important as you need skillsets from the life sciences, the physical sciences and engineering … we need these all engaged.  And fourth, Collaboration Plus — Investing in innovative research collaborations, next-generation shared infrastructure, new ventures and education. The International Brain Station would be a superb example of Collaboration Plus.What seems impossible in understanding the brain today promises to be increasingly possible over the next decade. Without proactive, coordinated actions now to address these policy imperatives, the recent promise in research and innovation may be seriously slowed. Today’s activities reinforce a belief that when global thought leaders embrace a coordinated strategy, one that incorporates proactive approaches grounded in international cooperation, it will serve as a force multiplier in the transformation of brain health. To close, I’d remind us of the wise and timely admonition from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which is so relevant to our discussion this evening: “Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.”Thank you for inviting GE to this gathering this evening, and to so many of you, we’re delighted to be your partners on this journey.

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