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The Future of Human Healthspan
Task Group Summaries

Task Group Overview

At the conference, participants were divided into twelve interdisciplinary task groups. The groups spent nine hours over three days exploring diverse challenges at the interface between science, engineering, and medicine.  

The goals of the task groups were to spur new thinking, to have people from different disciplines interact, and to forge new scientific contacts across disciplines.  The taskgroups were not expected to solve the particular problems posed to the group, but rather to come up with a consensus method of attack and a thoughtful list of what we know and don't know how to do, and what's needed to get there. The composition of the groups were intentionally diverse, to encourage the generation of new approaches by combining a range of different types of contributions.  The groups included researchers from science, engineering, and medicine, as well as representatives from private and public funding agencies, universities, businesses, journals, and the science media.   Researchers represented a wide range of experience -- from postdoc to those well-established in their careers -- from a variety of disciplines that included genetics, microbiology, immunology, bioengineering, electrical engineering, chemistry, ecology, mechanical engineering, philosophy/ethics, law, medicine, epidemiology, and public health.

The groups needed to address the challenge of communicating and working together from a diversity of expertise and perspectives, as they attempted to solve a complicated, interdisciplinary problem in a relatively short time.  Each group decided on its own structure and approach to tackle the problem.   Some groups decided to refine or redefine their problems, based on their experience. 

Each group presented two brief reports to the whole conference: (1) an interim report on day two of the conference to debrief on how things were going, along with any special requests (such as an expert on inflammation) ; and (2) a final briefing where each group:

  • Provided a concise statement of the problem
  • Outlined a structure for its solution
  • Identified the most important gaps in science and technology and recommended research areas needed to attack the problem 
  • Indicated the benefits to society if the problem could be solved

Each working group included a graduate student in a university science writing program.  Based on the group interaction and the final briefings, the students wrote the following summaries, which were reviewed by the group members.  These summaries describe the problem and outline the approach taken, including what research needs to be done to understand the fundamental science behind the challenge, the proposed plan for engineering the application, the reasoning that went into it and the benefits to society of the problem solution. 

Task Group Descriptions and Summaries
A description of the task group challenges and summaries is published in the conference publication The Future of Human Healthspan: Demography Evolution, Medicine, and BioengineeringTask Groups explored the following topics: