A powerful one-two punch opened the Spotlight: Health series at the Aspen Ideas Festival last week.

The acclaimed film “Alive Inside” delivered an emotional wallop, while Huntington Potter, Ph.D., renowned Alzheimer’s disease researcher at the Anschutz Medical Campus, infused a post-film discussion with his research-based insights into the mysterious illness.

The film and discussion kicked off three days of Spotlight: Health programming, which featured world-class thought leaders, including Potter and other Anschutz Medical Campus colleagues. Every year, 3,500-plus flock to The Aspen Institute and the Aspen Ideas Festival, a prestigious gathering of global, national and local leaders discussing the ideas and issues of our day, and driving that thought into action.

The high-profile forum of the festival and Spotlight: Health offered an ideal platform on which to raise the profile of the groundbreaking research and transformative health care occurring at the Anschutz Medical Campus.

“Alive Inside” is a moving film showing how music stimulates the minds of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, brightening their spirits and restoring some memories. As soon as the headphones go on, the nursing home residents smile, sing and, in some cases, dance. The film won the audience award for U.S. documentary at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

Aspen Ideas Fest

The Anschutz Medical Campus is a sponsor of the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival. Leading physicians and scholars from CU Anschutz share their insights and research with the festival’s 3,500-plus attendees from June 24-July 3.

The high-profile forum of The Aspen Ideas Festival, especially the three-day Spotlight: Health, offers an ideal platform on which to raise the profile of the Anschutz Medical Campus.

“The festival takes place in Aspen, our own backyard, and attracts attendees from around the country and the world,” said Leanna Clark, vice chancellor of University Communications. “The Spotlight: Health focus ensures that we are getting the Anschutz Medical Campus brand in front of the foremost academics, policy makers, practitioners, industry executives, philanthropists and concerned citizens, and engaging them in the conversation to transform health and health care.”

The post-film panel featured Potter, “Alive Inside” producer Alexandra McDougald and Arthur Bloom, founder and director of Renovation in Music Education and MusiCorps. “We don’t really know how memories of music, or even any memories, are encoded in the brain,” Potter told the packed auditorium. “But what happens in Alzheimer’s disease is that new memories can be formed. So these people still have their old memories, and what we’re trying to do in the laboratory at the Anschutz Medical Campus, of course, and elsewhere in the world, is to try to develop ways to help people retain the ability to make new memories.”

Potter, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research and Clinical Center at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, is also professor of neurology and a member of the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome. CU Anschutz is an international leader in research into the connections between Alzheimer’s disease and Down syndrome. Potter also presented on “Brain Health” in a Med 101 session during Spotlight: Health; while other sessions featuring experts from the Anschutz Medical Campus included:

  • Robin Shandas, Ph.D., founder and chair of the Department of Bioengineering and professor of pediatrics and surgery, speaking as part of panel on “The New Dawn of Disruptive Technologies” and moderating a bioengineering discussion.
  • Dr. Marian Rewers, MD, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and clinical director of the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes, speaking on advances in diabetes research.
  • Dr. Michael Weissberg, MD, professor and executive vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine, speaking on sleep.
  • Dr. David Schwartz, MD, chairman of the Department of Medicine, led a roundtable discussion about personalized medicine.
  • Vic Spitzer, Ph.D., associate professor of cell and developmental biology and director of the Center for Human Simulation at the School of Medicine, displayed an arthroscopic simulator as part of the festival’s Innovation Gallery.
  • Dr. Matthew Wynia, MD, MPH, director of Bioethics and Humanities in the School of Medicine, part of a panel on “Talking About Race: Health, Politics and Art.”
  • Ben Cort, business development manager at the Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation (CeDAR) of the University of Colorado Health system, speaking on a panel about “Is Big Marijuana the Next Big Tobacco?”

Also, the Aspen Institute invited a group of “Spotlight Scholars” to attend the conference in recognition of their academic accomplishments and ability to translate ideas into action. About a dozen physicians and researchers from the Anschutz Medical Campus, representing a diverse group of leaders in the field of health, received the honor and enjoyed a Spotlight Scholars reception on June 25.

An audience member at “Alive Inside” was the husband of one of the Alzheimer’s sufferers featured in the film. “The one thing music did, as you could see, was it helped my wife feel better about life, and that’s really important,” the man said. “As Dr. Potter said, ‘There are two things we must do: We’ve got to fund Dr. Potter and his research, and we’ve got to do what we can to help people who are already suffering with this disease. It’s a terrible, terrible disease.”

In summation of the “Alive Inside” screening, Potter said the film presents a compelling collection of anecdotal evidence that music provides effective therapy for Alzheimer’s patients. The subject merits a more comprehensive and analytic study, he said. “What we’d really like to do is be able to see how much music therapy helps a large number of people,” he said. “There are many variables here that we can probably improve on with this beachhead.”

“Alive Inside” will debut in Denver at the Chez Artiste Theatre on Aug. 15.