CES is in full swing, and there is a particular buzz about the intersection of tech and healthcare through a very unexpected source in best-selling author John Grisham (The Firm, The Client). Grisham is applying his enviable skills to the powerful intersection of tech and healthcare and potentially about to turn it on its ear.
Grisham spoke from one of the CES stages about the growing public interest to his recent ebook, The Tumor which describes how a revolutionary, new medical technology called focused ultrasound could transform the treatment of serious medical disorders by curing with sound. The fictional story follows the plight of a young father who is diagnosed with a lethal brain tumor and begins a painful battle. Yet the treatment method and the tech behind it is not only very real but something which with Grisham is now deeply involved. He gave a candid interview about the scope of his work with this potentially game-changing move in healthcare, along with Dr. Neal Kassell, founder and chairman of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation (FUSF) and a former neurosurgeon who provided the medical and technical consulting for the book.
Prior to taking the stage at CES Grisham told me that Kassell approached him about being on the board of FUSF but that respectfully declined, several times. “Prior to my current involvement, I knew essentially nothing about the medical field. My usual focus is on legal matters and social injustice. So I was lukewarm, to say the least,” Grisham said. However, as both his mother and his sister were diagnosed with cancerous tumors, he began to see how the research that FUSF does could help millions of people facing the same diagnosis worldwide. FUSF’s mission is to bring the technology that enables a lower cost method to destroy tumors with out-patient, ultrasound options and eradicate such terminal illness, where possible. Naturally, such continued research and development of this technology is expensive.
“So as I was on the board, I thought one of the best ways I could help would be to raise money,” Grisham explained. FUSF has an annual operating budget of $10 million with 65% of that needed for research, itself. “We needed to raise awareness. Naturally, you do that through telling a story. I know how to do that.” So he began to work with Kassell to write The Tumor with Kassell providing the deeply medical insights. After about a year, the book was ready and the Foundation it published. They decided to offer it for free and Jeff Bezos CEO of Amazon permitted them to distribute the book via the platform at this price point given its link to social good.
“I am really pleasantly surprised by the response. Just because it has my name on it, doesn’t mean it will necessarily sell. I’ve had flops before,” Grisham laughed. This project definitely isn’t one of them, however. Kassell, too, is pleased because he believes that the intersection with technology and healthcare will mean lower cost, greater accessibility, and greater durability for millions more people. “Focused ultrasound in healthcare is technology that fulfills the holy grail,” says Kassell. “And any IP that we create at FSU goes immediately out into the public domain.”
Creating awareness regarding this technology that originally developed in Japan is key for traction, and could be incredibly disruptive. For example, cost for treatment of tumors that result in Parkinson’s Disease is on average $65,000. The same treatment via focused ultrasound is half the cost. The task is simply creating awareness in order to create demand.
As with any healthcare treatment, there is the possibility of risk. In this case, should there be improper targeting of the area, there could be damage to the body instead of healing. However, Kassell says that such instances are very rare.
In fact the technology around this area is changing and expanding so rapidly that that FUSF has seen applications multiply many times over in just the last few years. “Things are moving so fast that there could be a sequel soon to The Tumor,” says Grisham. For all those waiting for technology to make suffering and death from tumors a thing of the past, let’s hope so.
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