Brilliant Minds. Bold Approaches. Better Health.
To paraphrase Charles Dickens, we are living through seasons of darkness and light. The health risks posed by climate change, mental illness, violence, loneliness, racism, and distrust are dangerous indeed. But at Aspen Ideas Health 2024, hope and possibility remain our propellants. We are inspired by the creative minds who gather together to share ideas and innovations that promise better health for all. Learn more about the program tracks, or key themes, that will guide this year’s programming:
Once we assumed that the genes we inherit from our parents were immutable forces that determine our health and shape our destiny. Science has toppled that belief, business is pushing the resulting research findings into the marketplace, and clinicians are using the breakthroughs to transform lives. Evolving knowledge about gene therapy, the role of AI, the interplay between genes and the microbiome, and the potential of personalized care are changing the face of medicine. But genetic screening and gene editing, including in utero and at birth, raise profound ethical questions about privacy, informed consent, accuracy, discrimination, ownership, and control.
Psyched about Mental Health
Worldwide, 25 percent of the population, including tens of millions of children, lives with diagnosable mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders. The COVID pandemic, environmental disasters, addiction, health disparities, and social fragmentation all contribute to this epidemic. Adolescent suicide rates, caregiving stresses among women, and norms that prevent men from confronting their hurt warn us that everyone is vulnerable. But there is hope, too, in growing knowledge of the brain, novel treatment approaches, and restructured systems of care. Creating safe spaces to gather, empowering trusted messengers, respecting neurodivergence, and increasing access to psychedelics are also in the toolbox helping us heal.
Boomers to Zoomers: Thriving at Any Age
Our attitudes, habits, pleasures, and responsibilities shift across the generations, influencing the health challenges we face and how we respond to them. Expectations about how we receive primary care, the way we understand gender, the technology available to monitor fitness and wellbeing, our response to ageist biases, and our thoughts about the inevitability of death evolve with accumulated experience, new knowledge, changing social norms, and economic conditions. Yet shared threads also connect us across time. At any age, our choices influence longevity, hormones alter our moods, loneliness is a threat, and the demands of family complicate our lives.
Healthcare Dollars and Sense
The United States spends $4.3 trillion—almost one fifth of the nation’s GDP—on health care. As the scale of the medical enterprise expands, venture capitalists are pursuing the next big thing, pharmaceutical companies are developing pathbreaking therapeutics, and hospital systems are consolidating at unprecedented speed. Meanwhile, new care delivery models and the digital revolution, with their promise of greater efficiency and improved patient satisfaction, are shaking up the health care industry around the globe. But workforce issues, escalating prices, drug shortages, medical debt, inequitable access to care, and tension over intellectual property loom as barriers to the common goal of identifying health-promoting investments.
Trendy or Transformational?
New ideas just keep coming, with researchers and visionaries pursuing strategies no one had dreamed of a few short years ago. Vaccines for cancer, lab-grown organs, artificial wombs, and evidence-based integrative medicine are certain to transform lives. Villages where people with Alzheimer’s disease can flourish, novel approaches to obesity and addiction, and companionable robots may ease the burdens so many shoulder. But as we pursue innovation, rethink social norms, and accelerate AI, we need to ask hard questions about what works and what is ethical and equitable. Triumphs, surprises, disappointments, and hard choices are certain to accompany the quest for the health care of tomorrow.
One Health: People, Animals, Planet
The recognition that all things are connected—that human beings, animals, and the environment are intertwined in complex cause-and-effect relationships—is at once a scientific principle and a philosophical touchstone. Understanding that caring for one means caring for all provides the framework for preserving biodiversity, promoting regenerative agriculture, using food as medicine, combatting infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance, and tackling climate change. By building partnerships across disciplines, cultures, and ideology, and acting together to reduce carbon emissions, keep the air and water clean, and nourish the soil, we can create the conditions in which all things can thrive.
Voices and Viewpoints
With the presidential election looming, global alliances shifting, clinical advances growing at a breakneck pace, and the worst of the COVID pandemic behind us, 2024 is certain to be a year of action and change. Leading thinkers and doers, seers and trailblazers, offer their insights about what lies ahead and what it means for our health.