“Open data is the only way to move the world forward, learning from give and take to find new ways to connect the dots and have new insights, that is what electrochemistry has done already for hundreds of years.”
Koen is a professor of oncology at Ghent University in Belgium and chairs the scientific committee of the European Cancer Prevention Organization. He is also the founding CEO of HealthSkouts and partner at HealthStartup.eu, a social network of novel health start-ups.
Five Questions for Koen Kas
A podcast sneak peek
ECS: What got you interested in healthcare and biomedical sciences?
Koen Kas: I think I have a natural born curiosity. What always has fascinated me, even as a little child, is basic biology. How do you create something out of nothing? How do you create a human being? Life has continued to fascinate me, and that is the real reason why I have a biomedical background and why I chose to specialize in oncology.
“… I don’t think we have healthcare. I think we have sick care. We wait till we get sick, and very often that’s too late.”
ECS: What got you interested in healthcare specifically?
Koen Kas: I spent the first four or five years really in academia, elucidating the biology of a number of cancers and working with cancer patients after getting my degree. I’ve studied cancer to understand what went wrong at the genetic level.
That background made me think, “Why do we get sick in the first place? Why do we wait so long to get help, until we’re sick?”
Then, what triggered a complete shift in my career was my first visit to mainland China where I discovered for the first time that more than 2,200 years ago, in some parts of China, the doctor was paid as long as people in the village remained healthy. Once they got sick, they no longer had to pay. That blew my mind.
I started to question why we lost that Chinese system? Because in all honesty, I don’t think we have healthcare. I think we have sickcare. We wait till we get sick, and very often that’s too late.
That will be part of what I’m going to present at the ECS meeting. I’m going to show that although we cannot predict the future, I’m absolutely convinced that we can create the future and that what The Electrochemical Society and others working on these kinds of topics do will be fundamental in making that shift from sickcare to healthcare.
“… a FedEx package is better off than me as a patient. That is not normal.”
ECS: You’re giving the ECS lecture which is the big lecture of the week of the 235th ECS meeting. We’re a bunch of electrochemists, a bunch of solid-state scientists, and other niche areas that we cover, why do you think a bunch of electrochemists invited you to speak?
Koen Kas: Healthcare is pretty slow in keeping up with the entire digital shift. Nevertheless, the real revolution I think is going to start on the top of the shoulders of the digital one; that’s the biological revolution. And I think that electrochemical engineers are really at the interface of what digital and what biology brings together. It’s electrochemistry; the name itself already implies it.
I think what might be a reason to invite me is the vision I have. That if we understand why we get sick in the first place—and the real reason is that we hardly have any insights in who the patient is—scientific understandings and technological developments coming out of ECS will be instrumental in getting to know patients.
For example, if I send a package with FedEx or with UPS from Dallas to New York, I can go to a website and trace every single step of the package and know where it is, which I find normal. If I look to my average patient, my cancer patient, my Alzheimer’s patient, my diabetic patient, that patient is 8,700 hours a year by himself or herself; not linked to the healthcare system. So a FedEx package is better off than me as a patient. That is not normal.
“… we’re going to realize that giving something (data) offers us the best chance to remain healthy.”
ECS: Facebook was recently in big trouble for sharing user information. It sounds like there may be a roadblock in getting people over the fear of sharing their medical information, for the same reasons. Do you think people will resist this idea to monitor and broadcast their health 24/7?
Koen Kas: If I get you more in return to what you give, you’ll get it.
For example, if you go to Disneyland, you get a box sent home with magic bands. It’s a band with your name on it, a band with the name of your partner, and the bands with the names of your kids on it.
The product makes it so that you can pay wirelessly, and it’ll alert you on the best wait times. The band tells me, “Here Koen, if you leave now from where you are in Disneyland to Avatar there is no line.” I’m willing to give up my exact location in order to get a service in return.
We’ll be willing to give an exchange of data because we’re going to realize that giving something offers us the best chance to remain healthy.
“Open data is the only way to move the world forward. “
Koen Kas: Open data is the only way to move the world forward. It is something I evangelize everywhere.
A few years ago, Elon Musk made his entire IP open source. Not kidding. That’s not altruism. You know why he did that? He did that because he wanted as much other automobile companies possible to start building electric cars, for one simple reason, he was building the Gigafactory in Nevada: the biggest battery factory which is now coming to completion. The more electric cars people build, the more batteries he can sell.
I am a big believer open data … to find new ways to connect the dots and to have new insights. And I think at the very end, that is what makes us human; it’s the ability to see links across different silos and combine different domains together. That is what electrochemistry has done already for hundreds of years; it’s engineering and chemistry and biology.
Haven’t registered for the 235th ECS Meeting yet? There’s still time!
See you in Dallas!