About Pioneering Ideas

Pioneering Ideas is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation blog that explores cutting-edge ideas and emerging trends that have the potential to dramatically improve health and health care and accelerate our progress to achieve a culture of health. Here you’ll get insight from RWJF program staff into the types of innovative ideas we fund and learn about people, projects and ideas that have captured our attention. Join the conversation by commenting on our posts or connecting with us on Twitter at @pioneerrwjf. And, if you have a pioneering idea for transforming health and health care, consider sharing a brief proposal.  

 

Exploring Citizen Science

Jul 31, 2014, 11:34 AM, Posted by Christine Nieves

Christine Nieves / RWJF Christine Nieves, program associate

I remember the distinct feeling of learning about Foldit. It was a mixture of awe and hope for the potential breakthrough contributions a citizen can make towards science (without needing a PhD!). Foldit is an online puzzle video game about protein folding. In 2011, Foldit users decoded an AIDS protein that had been a mystery to researchers for 15 years. The gamers accomplished it in 3 weeks. When I learned this, it suddenly hit me; if we, society, systematically harness the curiosity of citizens, we could do so much!

This is the spirit behind our recent exploration to learn more about how citizen scientists are addressing some of the most pressing problems in health and health care.

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RWJF Pioneering Ideas Podcast: Episode 5 | Conspiracy Theories, Microbiomes & More

Jul 30, 2014, 12:00 PM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

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Welcome to the fifth episode of RWJF’s Pioneering Ideas podcast, where we explore cutting edge ideas and emerging trends that can help build a Culture of Health. Your host is Lori Melichar, director at the foundation.

Ideas Explored in This Episode

Conspiracy Theories (1:44) – What in the world can belief in conspiracy theories tell us about health and health care? A lot, as you’ll hear in this fascinating conversation between RWJF’s Brian Quinn and University of Chicago political scientist and RWJF grantee Eric Oliver. For more on this story, see this blog post from Brian; and don’t miss The Onion’s send-up of Eric’s research.

How Can We Measure a Culture of Health? (18:45) – Alonzo Plough, our Chief Science Officer and Vice President of Research, Evaluation and Learning riffs on the challenges and opportunities when it comes to measuring culture change.

Microbiomes and Design (26:25) – We sit down with microbiome scientist Jessica Green to hear the results of her latest research at the intersection of biology and environmental design. Explore early ideas about the huge ways tiny microbes might one day help create a healthier world. To learn more visit microbe.net, a rich website of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Microbiology of the Built Environment program led by Jonathan Eisen.

Exploring Sleep Health (32:25) – Harvard economist Sendhil Mullinaithan, author of Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, talks about the importance of getting more people to recognize the ripple effect of sleep on our mental and physical wellbeing.

Connect About This Episode

Visit Lori Melichar's Culture of Health blog post to read more about understanding the root causes of sleep health and to weigh in on the issue. Tell us: If you are a sleep champion, what are your secrets? Why do you think we aren't getting enough sleep?

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Personal Health Data Goes to the Doctor

Jul 9, 2014, 9:15 AM, Posted by Christine Nieves, Steve Downs

Open mHealth Logo

Since the advent of the stethoscope, information-gathering technology has been helping doctors and other medical professionals improve patient health. Over the past decade, RWJF has funded a series of projects that suggest helping patients track and share data with their clinicians can strengthen the patient-clinician partnership and improve health outcomes. It makes sense that giving clinicians access to patient-tracked health data can improve the health of individuals and communities. As simple as the concept may sound, though, unlocking personal health data for clinical purposes has proven quite challenging. 

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New Microbiome Health Research Puts the ‘Cell’ Back in Cell Phone

Jun 24, 2014, 12:13 PM, Posted by Deborah Bae

WNH Jessica Green infographic

What’s Next Health guest Jessica Green, founding director of the BioBE (Biology and the Built Environment Center), visited RWJF last year to discuss the health implications of the microbiome—the invisible collection of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and archaea that live on, in and all around us. Watch Jessica’s What's Next Health interview to learn more about microbiomes in the built environment and how that knowledge can be used to design spaces and buildings to create a healthier, more sustainable world.

During her visit, Jessica led an educational workshop where staff swabbed their fingers and mobile phones to learn about the relationship between the microscopic communities living on both. The findings from that educational workshop turned out to be quite interesting, and ultimately led to a study published today in the journal PeerJ. Senior Program Officer Deborah Bae caught up with Jessica to learn more about her research.

Deborah: When we hear the term microbe, many of us think about germs that cause disease. So what is the microbiome, and why is it important in promoting health?

Jessica: Twenty years ago, when I was an environmental engineering student, I learned that microbes were pollutants or contaminants, and were something that you wanted to eliminate, particularly in the indoor environment. And we know from history that being in a very unclean, unsanitary environment kills people. What we’ve learned more recently is that for every human cell, we have up to ten bacterial cells and even more viruses living on the human body. There's a rising consensus that aspects of this microbiome can be beneficial to human health. Some of these microorganisms help our immune system function, ward off pathogens and infections, and microbes in our gut may be even linked to the way that we think and feel.

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Big Strides in Community-Level Interventions at Health Datapalooza

Jun 10, 2014, 2:38 PM, Posted by Paul Tarini

Paul Tarini, Susan Dentzer, Dwayne Spradlin, Greg Downing, and David Vockell discuss harnessing data for health on an RWJF First Friday Hangout

As co-chair of the Community Track at this year’s Health Datapalooza conference, I was impressed by the strong sense of purpose I felt among the attendees. The conversation has clearly moved from the abstract concepts of gathering and accessing data, to how we can use that data to solve real-world challenges. The launch of a new network to bring together researchers, scientists and companies and accelerate research using personal health data, led by the Health Data Exploration project with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was one of many efforts designed to directly improve our understanding of health through the wise use of data.

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