What Happened when I Open-Sourced my Brain Cancer

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When artist Salvatore Iaconesi was diagnosed with brain cancer, he refused to be a passive patient — which, he points out, means “one who waits.” So he hacked his brain scans, posted them online, and invited a global community to pitch in on a “cure.” This sometimes meant medical advice, and it sometimes meant art, music, emotional support — from more than half a million people.

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Salvatore Iaconesi

An artist, hacker and interaction designer, Salvatore Iaconesi embarked on a bold open-source project in 2012. Subject: his own brain cancer "I have a brain cancer.” Data artist and TED Fellow Salvatore Iaconesi posted these words on his website September 10, 2012. He wrote: Yesterday I went to get my digital medical records: I have to show them to many doctors. Sadly they were in a closed, proprietary format and, thus, I could not open them using my computer, or send them in this format to all the people who could have saved my life. I cracked them. I opened them and converted the contents into open formats, so that I could share them with everyone. In cracking his scans, X-rays, lab notes and charts, and opening them to the world, he laid out a model for open-sourcing not only a support group, but a whole cure (he calls it, in his native Italian, "La cura"). And he means a cure of any kind: "There are cures for the body, for spirit, for communication." He had brain surgery in February 2013, "and everything went perfectly." Now he is working on sharing the benefits of his experience.

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