It’s been two weeks since my cancer surgery and this is my first blog post since then. In Hitachi Vantara there is a major focus on developing IoT solutions in various industries including healthcare so my experience with chemotherapy, surgery, and hospital care was very interesting from a recipient point of view. It gave me a much greater appreciation for the tools that are required for healthcare today and where there needs to be improvements.
The first need is for the sharing of information between all the healthcare providers involved in a patient’s care and the optimization of the mix of medications and treatments that are required by each discipline, oncology, surgery, cardiology, endocrinology, urology, neurology, psychology, etc. Many of these medications have side effects which may interfere with different treatments, and some have to be suspended or altered when a new disease or condition needs to be treated. Each condition alone has many different treatment options. In my case the DNA of my cancer cells are being analyzed to determine the best treatment. Hitachi provides content platforms and content intelligence systems for centralizing and sharing large volumes of data. Hitachi also has many projects applying AI and machine learning tools, working with major medical facilities around the world. Most that I know of are around targeted studies, like optimizing the mix of medication for personalized diabetes control or cardiac sleep studies, so there is a lot to learn through AI and machine learning about the interactions of different medical conditions.
My chemo treatment consisted of a portable pump which I carried for 48 hours every two weeks which enabled me to continue most of my work prior to the recent surgery. The purpose of the chemo was to isolate and shrink the tumors which were in my liver and small intestine, so that they could be surgically removed. Chemo treatment consists of infusing your body with a cocktail of poisons that inhibit the growth or kill the cancer cells. Unfortunately, it kills healthy cells as well. The purpose of the DNA study was to find a way for my immune system to attack this particular cancer. That study is still on going. The chemo mix that was given was called "5FU". If you look it up on social media, it is often referred to as “5 feet under” for its effect on some patients. There needs to be a faster way to develop safer immunological treatments. Since immediate treatment was required, I opted not to wait for the DNA study and went with the chemo and surgery.
The surgery was another area for advanced technologies. The surgeon described the procedure which was amazing. Mounted in front of him in surgery were two screens which showed an MRI scan and a CT scan that were taken earlier to identify the locations of the lesions. These are cross-sectional views of my body which he has to correlate with the longitudinal view of what he sees on the table in front of him. What he sees, is through a 6-inch incision in my abdomen. The MRI and CT scans are point in time views of flexible organs which are changing in real time as the surgeon starts to work on the organs. The targeted lesions are in organs that are hidden behind other tissues and organs. Somehow, using a real-time ultrasound imaging system during surgery, he was able to locate the lesions, which are as small as several mm in size, and excises them. The large tumor in the small intestine had to be extracted from the surrounding tissues and lymph nodes and the intestine reconnected to the stomach. He removed these tissues which will be preserved for future studies. Prior to the operation I signed a permission that allows Stanford Research to use these tissue samples until the year 2502! The surgery took 5 hours of very concentrated, intricate, skillful work! You can imagine the physical strain that this relatively minor surgery would put on the surgical team. Imagine what an organ transplant would require! While Hitachi Healthcare provides tools to assist surgeons, like the real-time ultrasound imaging systems that was used in this surgery, it may be some time before robots will be able replace the skilled surgeons in these types of surgeries.
This experience has given me a much greater appreciation for the possible benefits of AI, machine learning, and robotics that companies like Hitachi are working on. Most of you know someone who has gone through similar life experiences, perhaps even in your own lives. This gives a new level of urgency to what we do at work. It’s not just about the pay and recognition. It is really about social innovation and the difference it can make in our lives.