My friends have been asking why my writing has ceased. Frankly, with the devastating loss of my wife, I no longer have the motivation or ability to write. It has been very difficult adjusting to life without my soulmate; you never realize how much your partner means to you until you lose him or her. I encourage all of you to cherish what you have and make the most of every moment, because life is unpredictable.
The only thing I have been able to focus on in the past few months is research on how to defeat cancer and help others in need. I feel obliged to do all I can to prevent others from suffering as Tavinder did, it is the only thing that gives me purpose. In helping other cancer patients, I have learnt a lot more about how devastating cancer can be and how antiquated, corrupt, and screwed up our medical system is. Many cancers—and other diseases— for which we currently have no adequate treatment may soon be curable; medicine is reaching a tipping point thanks to advancing and converging technologies. I outlined some of the advances in this lecture.
With the help of some brilliant scientists and oncology researchers, the same people who tried to help save Tavinder, I developed a grand plan that I believe may lead to cancer cures. It uses technologies such as genomics, synthetic biology, organic drug synthesis, and artificial intelligence and creates open-sourced data on an unprecedented scale. But it is so ambitious and radical that the U.S. can’t possibly implement it, there being too many vested interests in the status quo. To disrupt the medical industry will take countries such as India, which has leaders ready to think big and people in desperate need.
I was delighted that Harvard Medical’s Keith Flaherty and Nabeel Bardeesy, Mayo Clinic’s Mitesh Borad, Stanford Medical’s James Doty, and Columbia’s Siddhartha Mukherjee went as far as co-authoring this grand plan with me. They all believe that it could succeed and transform the field of medicine. This plan has its foundation in the western system of medicine and research but leaps ahead into the next generation of discoveries that are being made — which demolish the very foundation of allopathy and take medicine back to the traditional treatments of the East. More on that later.
After developing this plan, I went to India to meet His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, earlier this month.
What I really wanted more than anything from His Holiness were his blessings for Tavinder and her 15-year-old nephew in Bangalore, who has glioblastoma, a brain cancer. I got this and much more; it was an incredible, spiritual experience. I was able to be at The Dalai Lama’s side, at his residence in Dharamshala, for 1 ½ hours and hear his advice to 300 people who were in line. He listened carefully to everyone, reflected on their needs, and offered deep and touching thoughts. I was amazed at how much he really cared and at his true compassion. He talked about everything from agriculture to medicine to public policy and quantum physics (I didn’t realize that this had its roots in India; so many of today’s scientific advances came from there).
I was so moved that when I had a 25-minute private audience with him, I started the discussion by offering His Holiness a gift in memory of my wife: to fund and arrange for the medical screening of the entire Tibetan-Indian population of 100,000 people using a technology, HealthCube, which can provide the same medical tests as hospitals for a hundredth of the U.S. price. This is a technology that I have been helping develop for the past five years. It is the most comprehensive and inexpensive medical diagnostic technology in the world and has already helped 500,000 patients and completed a million tests in the developing world. As I told the Dalai Lama, in screening his people on measures including blood pressure, blood sugar, hemoglobin, pulse oximetry, and body-mass index, as well as cholesterol and ECG and infectious diseases, we will be able to identify the health problems of tens of thousands and prevent illness by guiding them to natural therapies or having them get medical attention. And with the data that we gather, we will be able to understand the unique health status of the Tibetan population, which migrated to India from the cold, mountainous climate to which it is adapted. Medical researchers will be able to do incredible things with such a comprehensive dataset. India’s leading data analytics company, Quantta Analytics, has volunteered to help analyze this to discern useful patterns and I expect the Tibetans will also want to open-source these data.
The CEO of HealthCubed, which has designed and built the HealthCube device, Ramanan Laxminarayan, came to Dharamshala with me and a childhood friend from Australia, John Harvey. Ramanan is working with the Dalai Lama’s health minister, and after we have completed the screening late next month, he will be leaving twenty HealthCube devices for the Tibetans to use on a regular basis. This will also create twenty jobs, in the same way in which the Birlas have. One of India’s greatest philanthropists, Mrs. Rajashree Birla (the late Aditya Birla’s wife), has had her foundation train hundreds of village entrepreneurs to take HealthCube throughout India, as she explains in this video testimonial. She said they have seen “a palpable change, fewer illnesses, and a general sense of wellbeing” in the people they have reached. I met Mrs. Birla two years ago and she was the inspiration for my offer to the Dalai Lama; she showed me what could be done.
After this discussion, I got His Holiness’s blessings, had him sign a “thangka” (a traditional Tibetan painting), and discussed our cancer proposal. He suggested a global conference of scholars to discuss the role of Ayurveda and Tibetan and Chinese medicine in treating cancer — something that could finally be scientifically evaluated using the methodologies we plan to develop in this project. Few people know this, but His Holiness had prostate cancer about three years ago and treated it with a combination of western and eastern medicine — and meditation.
After Dharamshala, I went to Kevadiya, Gujarat, with John Harvey, where I keynoted an event that Prime Minister Modi was hosting for Indian Administrative Service officers. And then I got to meet Mr. Modi in private. I couldn’t believe the reception I received. He walked up to me, greeted me by name, thanked me for travelling all the way there, and expressed condolences for the loss of my wife.
I discussed with Mr. Modi several ideas for building $100 billion industries in India, including the cancer plan. I was amazed at his grasp of the details of all these technologies as well as the genetic means of attempting to cure cancer. He correctly noted that the techniques I was proposing could also lead to treatment of other disease states with genetic involvement, such as sickle-cell anemia. He was excited about the role of Ayurveda in modernizing medicine and was open to the Dalai Lama’s idea of scientific research on traditional medicines. Let’s see what comes of all this. I found Modi to be brilliant, open-minded, and determined to uplift India. The things I recommended could lead to several hundred-billion-dollar industries — and enable India to once again leap ahead of the West in medicine. Again, more later.
On a selfish note, I took signed copies of my book The Driver in the Driverless Car (which has an updated, paperback version) for both of them, and both graciously posed with the book for these photographs. I hope they read it.
I am going back to India early in January to follow up on the Tibetan health project, hoping to present His Holiness with the first comprehensive data analysis of the Tibetans’ health screenings. Dr. Jim Doty, who introduced me to the Dalai Lama, and has been working with Ramanan and me on HealthCubed, may join us.
I am also hoping to light a fire, while in India, under Indian industrialists, entrepreneurs, and policy makers. Tarun and I will be teaching them what is possible with advancing technologies, why they have the choice of leading the disruptions or becoming casualties of them, and the innovation secrets of Silicon Valley. This will be a two-day crash course in the future of technology, one based on the 16-week, 12-credit course that we teach at Carnegie Mellon’s College of Engineering at Silicon Valley. The event is scheduled for January 10 and 11 in New Delhi. Hotels haven’t been booked, and details are only now being finalized, yet the organizers — Think India Foundation, Carnegie Mellon University Australia, and FICCI — seem to have commitments to more than 100 of the 120 available seats. A literal who’s who is coming from Indian government and industry — and from the U.S. We are also going to offer scholarships (for the $2000 tuition) to 20 fledgling women entrepreneurs who are selected through a contest for women-founded startups that are using technology for a good purpose. With the knowledge and networks they obtain, these women will have a huge advantage. If you really want to attend this workshop, please let me know ASAP, and I will try to have you included in the 20 or so seats that remain by putting you in touch with Think India’s founder, Malvika Bawri (she has the final say on selecting attendees).
I am still working with Ismail Amla of Capita LLC and Alex Salkever on a book that we began earlier this year. It has its basis in the class that Tarun and I teach at CMU. The working title of the book is From Incremental to Exponential: How Large Companies Can See the Future and Own It. It will be published by Berrett Koehler in the autumn of 2020.
Thanks for all of your emails and support… and best wishes.
Vivek Wadhwa is a Distinguished Fellow and professor, Carnegie Mellon University Engineering, Silicon Valley, and a Distinguished Fellow, Harvard Law School, Labor and Worklife Program. He is the author of several award-winning books, including The Immigrant Exodus, Innovating Women, The Driver in the Driverless Car, and Your Happiness Was Hacked: Why Tech Is Winning the Battle to Control Your Brain—and How to Fight Back