July 2nd, 2013
03:33 PM ET

Combating disease with dance: a new approach to Parkinson’s

By Rebecca Bluitt, Special to CNN

Warm-ups, waltzes, partnering. These are all routines typical in dance settings like The Juilliard School in Manhattan. Many of the students here will perform them on stages all around the world, contorting their limbs and using their bodies to create seemingly impossible works of art, pushing the limits of human potential.

But on Monday afternoons, Juilliard hosts a different breed of dancers. Their bodies are slower and less limber; their movements lack fluidity. Yet the dancers execute each little gesture with determination and purpose, and their faces shine with a fresh enthusiasm that has often waned in seasoned professionals.

These dancers have Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative neurological disorder that is difficult to conceal, with symptoms often manifesting in the most cruelly conspicuous of ways. Twitches may start in the hand and can gradually progress into uncontrollable spasms. As the body becomes less mobile and speech is impaired, those living with Parkinson’s are often also crippled with feelings of isolation.

One remedy? For the Brooklyn Parkinson Group and the internationally acclaimed Mark Morris Dance Group, dance was the missing ingredient. These two seemingly improbable allies teamed up in 2001 to create Dance for PD, a non-profit that provides free dance classes to people with Parkinson’s. The Dance for PD class format parallels ordinary dance classes, with participants moving from seated exercises to combinations performed holding chairs for support and sequences that travel across the room.

There are multiple practical benefits to the class; participants report improvement in things like muscle control and posture. But co-founding teacher and Dance for PD program manager David Leventhal emphasizes the class’s artistry and sense of community - elements frequently lacking in conventional types of therapy.

"Dance gives people a way to think about movement in a way that is less mechanical and more about using the imagination in the service of movement," Leventhal says. "Sometimes in therapy you’re working on a very specific task - raising your arm, or tapping your foot at a certain rate. In dance class we often will raise our arms or move our feet at a certain rate, but those are done within a bigger context."

"I call this 'Mr. Parky,' my inner hand puppet," laughs Andrew Thomas, a Dance for PD participant, referencing the tremor in his right hand. As a composer, orchestra conductor, pianist and 43-year veteran music instructor at Juilliard, Thomas has had an extensive performing arts career. He is well versed in the art of nimble movements and quick hand gestures. But when doctors diagnosed Thomas with Parkinson’s in 2010, the value of this experience became even more tangible.

"With music-making - and I would include dance with music-making also - somehow it involves the entire brain," says Thomas. "And because of that neuron connections get made that make activities possible. If I just sit and I’m lethargic, then I’m guaranteed to deteriorate."

This positive correlation between dance and brain regeneration is also attracting the attention of neuroscientists. In September, a research project developed by Canada’s National Ballet School and scientists at Ontario’s McMaster and Western University will use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the effects of the dance learning process on people with Parkinson’s. Students of Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons have also visited Dance for PD classes to investigate new methods of treatment that do not involve medication.

While researches are just beginning to explore the mechanics behind the program, Dance for PD continues to receive a warm reception from members of the Parkinson’s community. From its origins in New York, Dance for PD has expanded to over 100 domestic and international sister programs, including a recently launched initiative in Australia. These budding enterprises are no stranger to adaptation, infusing local flair into the original class format. While New Yorkers move to familiar show tunes from "West Side Story," participants in Dance for PD’s location in India learn dance numbers from beloved Bollywood films.

Despite minor cultural differences, a sense of joy seems to resonate from all corners of the program.

"The first time I came to the class," Thomas says, "near the end of the class I burst into tears, because I was looking around and there were people who could not stand. They could do things with their head a little bit, but that was all. And it wasn’t tears of pity or grief. I was just terribly moved at their courage in showing up, that they were still here and demonstrating it with their presence and their bodies."

And as far as Leventhal is concerned, Dance for PD is just getting started in its mission to empower people with Parkinson’s "as dancers, as students, as lifelong learners and as artists."

"The innovation," Leventhal says, "was both that initial spark and the ongoing conversation, exploration, creation of what this program is and what it can be."

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Filed under: Innovation • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers • Video • World
February 5th, 2013
10:15 AM ET

Jay Keasling: Using microbes to create the next generation of fuel

Editor's Note: The Next List will air a full 30min profile of synthetic biologist Jay Keasling this Sunday, Feb. 10th, at 2:30PM ET (all-new time!) only on CNN.

Quotable Jay Keasling: “The carpets, the paint on the walls, the ceiling tiles, we have the potential to produce all of these products from sugar.”

Who is he: Jay Keasling, a pioneer in the burgeoning field of synthetic biology, is engineering microbes – single cell organisms like yeast and E. coli – to produce biofuels, medicines, even cosmetic compounds from simple ingredients like sugar cane and grass.

In addition to teaching bioengineering at UC Berkeley, Jay is CEO of the U.S. Dept of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) in Emeryville, California.

Why you might know him: Keasling’s biggest breakthrough came in 2003 when he and his students reprogrammed yeast to produce a synthetic version of an expensive anti-malarial drug known as artemisinin. Armed with a $42 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they’ve since perfected this inexpensive and effective replacement drug, providing a royalty-free license for mass production to pharmaceutical giant Sanofi-Aventi. Sanofi will bring it to market in 2013, producing 100 million treatments annually. Malaria kills roughly 1 million people a year, many of them children.

Why he matters: Today Keasling is focusing his efforts on creating a new generation of biofuels. Overseeing a team of 200 researchers at the Joint BioEnergy Institute, his goal is to “engineer microbes to produce fuels that behave exactly the same as petroleum-based fuels.” Ultimately, he believes all petroleum-based products – everything from hard plastics and paints to soda bottles – can be produced from these sugar-fed microbes.

Keasling’s philosophy: “Energy is our biggest industry on the planet. But unless we stop putting carbon into the atmosphere, sea levels are going to continue to rise and it's going to create huge problems."

Something you might not know about him: Keasling's a small town boy made good. He grew up on a fifth generation pig farm in Harvard, Nebraska (pop. 1000) where hard work and family were his focus. He jokes he spent the first 18 years of his life shoveling manure. Today, he may spend his day in a lab coat, but as a single father of two adopted boys, ages nine and 15, family continues to keep him grounded.

Why biofuels matter: Keasling doesn’t think we’ll ever see a day when biofuels cost less than petroleum-based fuels, but they will be cleaner. “We won’t be extracting oil from a foreign country, then hauling it to the U.S., and putting that excess carbon into the atmosphere,” he said. Instead, by producing high performance fuels from sugars, he says we can limit the carbons released into the atmosphere and, as a result, help slow global warming.

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Filed under: Environment • Future • Innovation • Science • Tech • The Next List • Uncategorized • World
DIY Africa: Empowering a new Sierra Leone
November 14th, 2012
08:36 AM ET

DIY Africa: Empowering a new Sierra Leone

Editor's note: David Sengeh is a doctoral student working at MIT’s Media Lab.

By David Sengeh, Special to CNN

(CNN) - When Kelvin Doe, a then-13-year-old from Sierra Leone, saw that off-the-shelf batteries were too expensive for the inventions he was working on, he made his own at home. Kelvin did not have the privilege to do his project in a school environment. Rather, he was compelled to act by necessity and for the joy of solving practical problems. Kelvin combined acid, soda, and metal, dumped those ingredients in a tin cup, waited for the mixture to dry and wrapped tape around the cup to make his first battery. He failed several times before completing a final, working prototype. He hasn’t purchased a battery since.

Next up: A generator. Kelvin made one of those by hacking an old rusty voltage stabilizer he found in a dustbin. The generator’s motor, plug, and other components are either homemade or picked from the garbage. In addition to providing electricity to his home, where neighbors come to charge their mobile phone batteries, the generator powers Kelvin’s homemade FM radio station, fully equipped with a custom music mixer, recycled CD player and antenna that allow his whole neighborhood to tune in. Now 16, Kelvin has expanded operations: he employs his friends as reporters and station managers, tasking them to interview spectators at local soccer games and keep the calendar of requests for his DJ services at parties and events. The average age of his crew is 12.

I am a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab working on developing the next generation of prosthetic sockets and wearable mechanical interfaces. I am motivated to do this work by the needs I have seen in my country, Sierra Leone, and elsewhere. At the MIT Media Lab, I have access to immense resources and expertise. But it has become apparent to me that when I take the prostheses back to Sierra Leone, the machines and technologies needed to maintain them will be left at my lab. And, as important, the recipients of the technology will not have participated in finding solutions to their problems nor shared in the joy of creation. FULL POST

Filed under: Design • Education • entrepreneurs • Future • Innovation • Robots • Social change • The Next List • World
November 13th, 2012
10:42 AM ET

Nalini Nadkarni: The tree-climbing scientist who brings plants to prison

By The Next List Staff, CNN

(CNN) - Nalini Nadkarni is a pioneer in tree canopy research and co-founder of the Sustainability in Prisons Project, which aims to teach inmates about ecology. Watch a 30-minute profile of  on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on CNN’s “The Next List."

Here's a primer on why she is fascinating enough to make The Next List.

Why you've heard of her: You probably haven't. Unless you're a tree climbing scientist or an inmate in Washington state (more on that soon). Oh - or you may have seen "Heroes of the High Frontiers," an Emmy-winning National Geographic film. She's in that. Or maybe you were one of the lucky few to get your hands on the "Tree Top Barbie Doll" she developed. FULL POST

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Filed under: Education • Environment • Innovation • Science • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers • World
October 8th, 2012
11:12 AM ET

Japanese artist gives statue monumental abode

Written By Heather M. Higgins, CNN
Video Edited By Nina Raja, CNN

New York - On October 8, the world’s largest celebration of Italian-American heritage will travel up New York's Fifth Avenue in honor of the exploration and the courage that inspired Christopher Columbus’s discovery 520 years ago.

However, just three blocks to the west, residents and tourists have a rare opportunity to discover Columbus for the first time - at a whimsical art installation that has already caused intrigue and irritation within the community.

“When will you ever get the chance to have this face-to-face experience with the monument, the statue of Columbus,” said Nicholas Baume, director and chief curator of the Public Art Fund, a non-profit with a mission to bring dynamic, contemporary art projects to New York City.

“I think it’s a way of creating an intimacy and turning the public into the domestic in a very unique way," Baume continued. “And I think it’s a work about imagination, turning a fiction into a temporary reality.”

Japanese intervention artist Tatzu Nishi’s first major U.S. work, “Discovering Columbus,” places a 13-foot-high icon in the center of a modern American living room six stories above one of the city’s most bustling intersections.

This fresh vantage point offers dramatic views of Central Park and Midtown Manhattan from four loft-style windows. But more importantly, many see this exhibit as a teachable moment about Columbus, the statue, and the circle itself.

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September 17th, 2012
01:51 PM ET

Carbon negative in Costa Rica

By The Next List staff, CNN

(CNN) - In 1974, 23-year-old Juan Sostheim was tapped as director of Burger King in Europe. He opened the company’s first franchises on the continent and introduce millions to a phenomenon known as the “Whopper.”

Today, the former fast food king has traded in his crown for a new title: owner of Costa Rica’s first carbon-negative company, a sustainable farm and eco-resort known as Rancho Margot.

“What I’m doing today is basically the sum of my experiences,” say Sostheim. “I understand it’s a little bit crazy, but I think it should give people some hope that we all can change.” FULL POST

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Filed under: Culture • Environment • Innovation • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers • World
September 7th, 2012
07:47 AM ET

To feed a growing population, 'bet on the ocean' and innovation

Editor's note: Brian O'Hanlon is a pioneer in aquaculture. He is raising fish in the swift waters of the open ocean, eight miles off the coast in Panama. CNN's "The Next List" will feature the founder of Open Blue on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.

By Brian O'Hanlon, CNN

I once read an article in The Guardian that said this: Over the next 50 years humans will need to produce more food than all the food ever produced over the past 10,000 years combined. There is no disputing that our global food supply is stretched to the limit. We already use most of the farmland on the planet and have exhausted most of the world’s fisheries. Our ability to produce food, one of our great successes as a species, is rapidly depleting. If we do not innovate and seriously transform our methods for feeding the world’s population, we will soon find ourselves at a point where we can no longer feed our growing population.

A number of factors make aquaculture one of the most efficient forms of food production available, particularly open ocean fish farming. First, it’s important to understand that fish are cold-blooded, meaning they do not use lots of energy to warm their bodies, like chicken, pigs or cattle do. Fish use the water around them to support their bones while land-dwelling animals require large amounts of energy to support their bodies against gravity. Additionally, the water environment enables fish to occupy more space and grow in far larger quantities per square foot than any animal raised in a field. Simply put, fish waste less of our precious land. Let’s also not forget that land-raised protein, whether animal or crop, requires massive amounts of fresh water to grow. Aquaculture requires almost no fresh water for the fish to thrive. FULL POST

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Filed under: Food • The Next List • Video • World
March 5th, 2012
02:51 PM ET

'The Next List' profile: Daniel Ogola, heath care entrepreneur in Kenya

Editor's note: "The Next List" features innovative people each Sunday. This week, the CNN show profiled Daniel Ogola, a health care advocate in Kenya. Check out these two videos to see how Ogola is using heath to promote wealth.

(CNN) - Born into poverty, Kenyan entrepreneur Daniel Ogola has devoted his life to bettering his community – both in the notorious Kibera slum in Nairobi, where he lived as a young man, and in his hometown of Ukwala in Western Kenya.

But Dan is more than just a hero. A true agent of change, he’s employing his unique personal experience to engineer game-changing solutions on a societal scale.

Despite decades of poverty-fighting programs in Kenya - many fostered by outside interest funneling millions of dollars to hard-hit areas - the problem remains entrenched. Years living and working in poor areas of Kenya have taught Dan that the key to productivity is health. And today he’s using that “tool” to create jobs – and new opportunity – in one of Kenya’s poorest regions.


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March 2nd, 2012
04:47 PM ET

Dan Ogola: Creating wealth through health

By Dan Ogola, Special to CNN

Editor's Note: Dan Ogola is the founder and director of the Matibabu Foundation, a organization in Eastern Africa creating jobs and opportunity through healthcare. Founded in 2006, Matibabu has offered health services to over 60,000 Kenyans. It recently opened the community’s first hospital, a state-of-the art facility drawing new businesses to one of the country’s poorest regions. Ogola will be featured on CNN’s The Next List this Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.

(CNN) - I was born 35 years ago in Ugenya, Kenya, as the fifth of eight children. My brother passed on when he was two months old as a result of malaria. He was not taken to hospital but instead anointed with oil by a priest to “cure” him. Our third born was disabled due to polio, and hidden in the house due to the stigma, and could not attend school. My father died when I was 19 years old leaving my mother to take care of us.

My mother, Patricia Ogola, was an uneducated housewife married at the age of 15, and because of the many children she had, she struggled to make ends meet by brewing the local traditional brew. This led to a lot of run-ins with the local policemen who demanded bribes for her to continue making the illicit brew, driving the family into further poverty.

Due to the difficulties in Ugenya for our family, my brothers and I left for Nairobi, Kenya's capital city, to try and do odd jobs in order to support ourselves and the family back at home.

My mother’s case is a typical case of women in Ugenya. Many were married young and had several children as they were uneducated and did not have access to family planning. Many were also widowed because of HIV/AIDS thus increasing their poverty levels as they were unemployed. Many others also died while giving birth due to inaccessibility of health facilities. Many children also suffered the fate of my brothers.


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January 30th, 2012
05:42 PM ET

A world-class alchemist in New Jersey

Ubaldo Vitali doesn't neatly fit into our current crop of 'Next Listers' who are on the cutting edge of technology. He doesn't program robots or create interactive art. In fact the machinery and techniques he employs are centuries old.

Vitali is a master artisan – an alchemist. In layman terms, a silversmith. And his artistic output is split into two categories: uniquely contemporary creations and conservational restoration.


Vitali was born in Rome, Italy in 1944. He's part of a family of goldsmiths, reaching back four generations. While studying sculpture at an Italian college, he fell in love with an American girl and followed her back to New Jersey. Since then he hasn't left New Jersey and set up his workshop in the small town of Maplewood. Though an ocean away from his family, he's managed to create unparalleled works that have been recognized by American conservationists.

"He represents a moment in American craft history that's past, and yet he represents a standard that I hope just yet won't evaporate," said Ulysses Dietz, the Newark Museum Curator of Decorative Arts.

The pieces Vitali creates are breathtakingly beautiful, each containing a consciousness of the old world wrapped within contemporary modernist designs.

In 2011, Vitali received a phone call from the MacArthur Genius Grant committee with news that he was being honored with their top award. A prestigious honor in which the recipient receives $500,000 with no strings attached to continue their work.

"The committee who chooses the MacArthur Grant [recipients] look for people who are doing innovative research or looking at things in a new way, and pushing the field forward," said Janet Zapata, a former Tiffany & Co. archivist. "To me Ubaldo is one of the foremost silversmiths in this country, if not in the world."

The Next List is proud to present our profile of this kind soul and wonderful craftsman – Ubaldo Vitali.

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