From sports tech to health care, Boston is exporting innovation – The Boston Globe

September 18, 2022
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Back when Will Ahmed played squash for Harvard University, a thought struck him: He had no idea what the training he did in preparation for matches really meant for his health or his body.
What began as a curious thought led to some rigorous research and the birth of Whoop, a Boston-based company that produces wearable devices that collect data from your body and provide insights on an individual’s health.
Ahmed, the CEO and founder of Whoop, joined Jason Robins, CEO and cofounder of Boston-based DraftKings for a session on Boston’s role in the future of sports innovation, as part of the Globe Summit, a three-day conference exploring the theme of “The Next Boston.”
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DraftKings and Whoop are at the forefront of two trends in the sports industry – sports betting and health tracking. The CEOs agreed that emerging technologies could create new use cases for their brands. For Robins and DraftKings, for example, that means getting into the market for NFTs, or non-fungible tokens.
“The concept is, instead of just playing fantasy sports, where you draft players, which is traditionally how it’s gone, in this case, you actually buy the NFT of the player,” said Robins. “It actually creates this ecosystem that potentially generates utility. And I think that’s where the market is going.”
Fantasy sports and sports betting are fast-growing markets, and as more states opt to legalize sports betting, opportunities for growth could widen for DraftKings.
Meanwhile, Ahmed said that he and Whoop are channeling tech to make strides in the physical world. Though it began with athlete training in mind, the Whoop wristband provides users with data on their heart rate, skin temperature, blood oxygen levels, and more – potentially creating new use cases in health care.
“One thing that COVID did for Whoop is it accelerated the rate that we evolved from being known as more of a fitness product to being more of an overall health product,” Ahmed said. “And all of it is marching towards this evolution of providing, effectively, a doctor’s office on your wrist.”
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Another session from the Summit took a deeper dive into how new technologies could impact health care. George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard and MIT, said that rapid innovation in biotech could provide the next big breakthrough in medicine.
According to Church, who leads synthetic biology at the Wyss Institute, his team has hypothesized for decades that by changing the genetic code of a cell, they could make it resistant to many or all viruses. After years of research, Church says he’s reached a breakthrough of sorts.
“Now, we finally have the first example of that, where it really works,” Church said. “We have a major industrial microorganism that is resistant to every virus we’ve thrown at it… and so just imagine that you could make your favorite agricultural species or human transplant resistant to all viruses.”
Church is working to publish his findings in the coming months. He said that once a technology has been developed and is in place, it can be brought up to speed quickly to start solving problems.
“We’ve got a litany of inherited diseases, infectious diseases, aging, and so forth, that we would like to fix,” Church said. “It’s just connecting the dots between the amazing technologies and the applications. I don’t think it takes that long once you have a mature technology.”
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As for what such advances could ultimately mean for health care, Church said that biotech innovation currently sprouting in Boston could have great impact worldwide.
“I think we’re going to see, probably in the Boston area, and worldwide from Boston, organ and cell therapies that are age resistant, cancer resistant, pathogen resistant, and so forth,” Church said. “All of those pieces are in place in animal studies or cell biology. And we just need to turn them into therapies.”
Collin Robisheaux can be reached at collin.robisheaux@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ColRobisheaux.
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