Saturday, 27 July 2013

My Entry 3 - Indiblogger, Franklin Templeton Investments present 'The Idea Caravan' - Invest For Tomorrow

Shree Bose's Presentation / Speech on her research quest for a cancer cure

This is my third entry to the Indiblogger-Franklin Templeton Investments' The Idea Caravan Initiative.

Powerful ideas today are indeed 'the' true investments for a better tomorrow. Egged on by this, eagerly browsed through the videos to join the conversation. The Franklin Templeton Idea Caravan Site has all the information and of course, speaker videos from the TEDxGateway Mumbai 2012. Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012.

Click here to watch Shree Bose's Presentation / Speech Video
Or, Watch it here:

This presentation's biggest (initial) attraction for me was a 17 year old out to impact the world positively, armed with her faith in the power of medical research.

The second attraction was it contributed to women's health.  Admittedly, I have a voracious appetite to acquaint with, articulate about & contribute to anything that can improve women's lives. And I haven't seen much breaking news on research specifically focusing on women's health.  

So, here we go .. 

Sure enough, she starts her video presentation by sharing with us - in equal measure and in succession - that she is the first ever winner of Google Science Fair and her grandfather passed away due to cancer when she was 15.  Admittedly, that must be tough, because regardless of age, this is a bereavement that leaves us empty and without replacement for a lifetime.  It must be that much tougher in teens and much more impressionable, gaining first perspectives as individuals.

So, moved by this life event, she wanted to make a difference in cancer cure through research and wrote to many local labs, to start with.  As things happen, rejections poured in, as well. She attributes those rejections to probably nobody wanting a high school student. 

And we will debate this point in this post - is age relevant in research pursuits? If a reasonably well endowed kid in the US feels this way, aren't kids elsewhere in the world that much more disadvantaged?  Instead of catching them young, are we losing them rather early in life? Extinguishing the spark before it can become a torch? 

Ultimately, she was accepted for supervised research and mentoring with Alakananda Basu, a professor in the department of molecular biology and immunology at the University of North Texas Health Science Center and a graduate adviser in cancer biology.

The Bose - Basu team has made a difference in the fight against ovarian cancer with their research boosting the efficacy of chemotherapy drugs at a stage when cancer cells develop drug resistance (which most of us growing up in the last few decades dread, because we have grown up to the loss of humanity to organisms that mutated & evolved to resist our drugs)! 

It is this research work that won Bose her grand prize as well as the prize for her age group in the first ever Google Science Fair.

Her passion comes through when she says developing one's own hypothesis, tests and results is amazing :)  While this success meant she met President Obama and was widely felicitated, she rightly points out its the fact that she could make a difference that means the most to her.

She articulates going to a science fair is not about suddenly coming up with a grand new idea.  Its about taking yourself and others where your passion belongs.  Which brings us to the point how much does society let kids, youngsters and adults these days to cultivate and pursue what fascinates them and eventually, passionately engages them? The celebrated Indian movie 3 Idiots showed us the plight of a generation raised to be what the society lays down for them.  Ah ah, society does not lay it down out of any bad intention - just an over zealous fierce imposition on the growing generation what popular ideology believes is 'safe'.

As I observe kids and young adolescents growing up in India (where I live currently), it strikes and bothers me - an awful majority is overwhelmed! With homework, peer pressure, hyper competition, market conditions (for fresher intake, internships etc.) - the economy having done well in the last decade, notwithstanding.  I compare it to the times I was in school - no, we were not a glamorous economy then.  But then, there was an inexplicable joy to childhood, to learning.  We dabbled in a wide range of activities, learnt a whole lot of skills - not because they were forced upon as being 'good' for us or 'safe' for us.  But, because, we were fascinated and were welcomed into those worlds.  

I remember sauntering in to a photography lab (i was fascinated by those film developers) and then walking up to the photography teacher at school, for seniors (not at my age and level :) I remember her open arms, her warmth - she gifted me my first ever camera - a box camera, black and white and two rolls of film - absolutely free, unconditionally. Wonder if any other gift in my life made me walk in the clouds as that did! I walked home that day to completely surprised parents - who had no clue i had this fascination - and were overjoyed i had found a reinforcing teacher relationship at school!  Later my parents bought me a camera and i remember returning my teacher's camera with loads of chocolate - and she took it back from me and said "keep that smile, its very photogenic :)".  I went on to have a life long affair with photography even developing my own film for self, family and friends and coming out with loads of photo albums - sepia, filtered, collage what not :)  Well, I didn't discover anything pathbreaking in photography, but grew up a happy, content, curious learner all my life - thanks to positive and reinforcing experiences such as this.  More significantly, that contentment led to successes and contribution in other fields - which is important for us to recognize.  Not all experiments succeed in the manner we envisage.  But, positive reinforcement to query, study, curiosity always have and have ONLY positive social ramifications. 

I point this out here for the following reasons:

Bose starts her speech (after the initial two minute video) with a slide that just has these three words: DUMB HIM DOWN! Watch the video to see how a teacher and a classroom exhibiting this shaped / changed Bose's parents' approach. 

1.  A child's or an adolescent's impressionable years make fertile territory for induction into what fascinates them.  If we don't allow them to explore what fascinates them, how exactly will they even discover their passion? 

2.  Yes, modern parenting recognizes how to nurture and cultivate (thanks to our being bombarded with a plethora of literature, videos etc.)  But, given modern social pressures, especially in India, are people - young and old - given enough space, room and nurture - to flower?  I doubt.  I would like to see young ones a lot more active - in lot many spheres. I see a segment that is bogged down carrying loads of books to school and college, attend tuition after school, cram for competitive exams and churn out as one in a million engineers, many with no fondness whatsoever for the subject!  As someone passionate myself, I recognize intimately what passion can do and what lack of it can mean.  So, there's plenty for us, as a society, to reflect upon and effect course correction.

That said, its not merely parents, but the larger society has a very significant impact. Because, there are two potential results from this flow chart point: the individual succeeds in his / her endeavor (which is the case with Bose) which is all glamorous (and yet not always easy to handle because successful young people do need deft handling and guidance) or the individual does not make it - in which case, the call for action is much greater for the parents and society - to find them reassuring and dignified ways of regaining passion elsewhere and finding their calling.  At least in India, if not in much of the world, the latter is a big issue.  Society's attitude to experimentation and failure is often rigid enough & unforgiving, if not punishing that it scuttles and suffocates exploration!  Hopefully, such success stories will influence and improve this.

So, let's pledge to encourage individuals to GET OUT OF THE BOX & let's pledge to BREAK THE MOULD and actually cure this social cancer of putting people down and keeping them in a box!

Well, let's get back .. to cancer cure :)

Why is it that we (as in, humanity) appear closer to finding a cure for HIV / Aids than cancer? 

Would effective lifestyle and preventive mechanisms be more result oriented than a series of drugs that the cancer cells only seem to continually outdo?

Do the leading medical research Institutions regularly inject young / fresh minds (age not relevant - the person has to be fresh to the environment, with fresh perspectives)?

Can this break through from this Bose - Basu team be leveraged for other forms of cancer?

Food for thought? Come, join the conversation as Franklin Templeton say .. joining the conversation is the best contribution / tribute to 'inspired thinking' :)

As I sign this post off, well, I quite like Bose's first science experiment as a kid in second grade - turning spinach blue.  I would like to turn it peach, mauve and crimson - as a fashionista :)

Cheers :)