When the Product Pipeline Dries Up, Make New Pipes
Lawrence Koh is the founder and CEO of International Diversified Products (IDP). Established in 1987, IDP is built on Lawrence’s commitment to a relationship-centered approach to business and is a natural legacy of his decades of work as a motivational speaker and personal development facilitator. He also founded the Students for a Better Tomorrow Foundation (SBT), which mentors youth in relationship-building and entrepreneurial business skills. In 2003 he received the America’s Promise–Marketable Skills Award for his work in empowering teens.
In addition to IDP, Koh is the founder of The UTOPIA Project, which seeks to relieve the effects of poverty by creating jobs opportunities to manufacture and distribute UTOPIA-branded products worldwide. Profits from the Project are used to provide food, clothing, shelter, clean water, education, personal development programs, and skill training to those in need.
Question: What major challenges has your company faced?
Lawrence Koh: Well we don’t supply consumer products, primarily. We supply products for corporations that support their point-of-sale strategies, their back-end business distribution fulfillment, technologies and things of that nature. So when 9/11 occurred, they didn’t really know how the public was going to respond. It was an event that occurred that was so beyond anybody’s comprehension or ability to predict how the public would react that I would say, nine out of ten or our companies put their budgets on hold and purchased nothing from our company.
So by the time six months transpired from that, we had delivered all of the products that were already in our pipeline with no new orders to replenish our business. And I came into the office one morning and the employees with not much to do were sitting around talking and I came in and I joined the conversation and after that conversation was over and we all enjoyed our time together, I said to them, "I'm sure you can read the handwriting on the wall and that there's got to be some level of concern about you being laid off and losing your jobs." And that they shouldn't leave it up to me, just to me, that they have a very profound vote in it, a say in their own future and that I was encouraging them to exercise that power.
And of course, they weren’t really sure what I was talking about. And I said: "Well, what could we do during this time that would be constructive, even though we don’t have the cash flow, what could we do that would benefit our company, that we generate revenue and profits going forward? " So we decided to use that period to develop new projects. And as a result of that, my wife and I agreed that we would fund the company and pay for their salaries during that period and we would shift from what we were doing to developing new projects, creating new projects, drumming up new ideas and then making a decision on which of those we wanted to commit to.
And two years ago that ended up becoming one of our biggest... one of those projects ended up becoming one of our biggest new programs. So it worked out well. And I think it was a valuable lesson for them and it was a valuable lesson for me because it was a test of faith for me.
Recorded on October 28, 2010
Interviewed by John Cookson
When slow business followed a national tragedy, it became necessary for Koh and his wife to pay employees out of their own pockets. This led to greater loyalty and a new line of more successful products.
A new method promises to capture an elusive dark world particle.
- Scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) devised a method for trapping dark matter particles.
- Dark matter is estimated to take up 26.8% of all matter in the Universe.
- The researchers will be able to try their approach in 2021, when the LHC goes back online.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
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