Overcoming difficulties and failures, Tran Huy Khoa was determined to successfully research carerpillar fungus (Cordyceps sinensis) to treat cancer patients and raise funds for those in difficult situations. Minh Trang speaks to Khoa about his devotion and interest in charitable activities on the occasion of Vietnamese Doctors' Day.
Inner Sanctum: Why did you want to study Cordyceps sinensis?
I come from a rural area in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai. Because of discord, my mother had to work hard and painstakingly to raise me and my four siblings alone. Her health had gradually become weaker and she suffered from many diseases. This is the reason why I was determined to be a doctor since childhood to be able to cure and care for my mother.
Moreover, I have often taken part in social organisations in order to visit and look after HIV-infected patients, bedridden patients, and especially those with cancer since I studied Pharmacy at the HCM City University of Medicine and Pharmacy. I was very unhappy when the number of people suffering from cancer increased from food contaminated from using unsafe plant protection drugs.
With the desire to improve people's health and reduce pain for patients, I decided to set up the Centre for Biotechnology Research – Bio Sun to research and produce medicines and preparations for plant protection with natural origin to protect the environment and health of users.
Thanks to this success and the strong foundation of experience, I decided to continue studying winter worm – summer grass [meaning worm in winter, (turns to) plant in summer], scientifically called Cordyceps sinensis. This herb is known as a "panacea" in traditional medicine to enhance human health and support the treatment of incurable diseases.
The amount of natural Cordyceps sinensis is often small and grows only in the very high mountains. Therefore, after eight years of researching with the support of Vietnamese and Japanese professors, I successfully cultured four types of fresh and rare Himalayan Cordyceps sinensis.
Inner Sanctum: In the process of researching and culturing, what was the biggest difficulty that you had to face?
Culturing Cordyceps isn't easy. This success came after hundreds of failures and costing a lot of money, effort and time.
I remember three years ago, I studied and successfully cultured Cordyceps. At that time, I was so happy and almost believed that I could bring this product to market. However, it was also time for me to think carefully about its long-term effects.
In other countries, the technology to grow these fungi is carried out in a chemical environment using some chemical and mineral compositions or in the semi-natural environment using preservative substances to promote the growth of the Cordyceps.
Therefore, applying this method can make the fungi absorb an amount of harmful chemicals. When patients use them, it can provide the temporary curative results, but also may bring some bad side-effects for them later.
I found this to be not good and it went against my conscience as a researcher. Once again, I made an ambitious decision to culture Cordyceps in a totally natural environment.
Moreover, during the process of culturing in the natural environment, the most important condition is that everything must be completely sterile. If the air in the lab is contaminated, even just a little bit, all products will be damaged and have to be disposed of immediately. Because the process repeatedly failed, the capital gradually ran out, and this made me feel stuck, almost exhausted and wanting to give up.
Inner Sanctum: What motivation made you overcome those difficulties?
Although I considered giving up, I was determined to find a solution, to follow through with this dream when looking at patients who were slowly dying of cancer and my mother who was constantly ill at home.
In the process of study, I noticed Viet Nam has the raw materials such as bird's nests, essences extracted from fruits, and red rice. They have enough of the safe nutrients and minerals to help this herb develop.
No pain, no gain. I happily witnessed the birth of the first batches of Cordyceps cultured in the natural habitat. I found my effort to be requited with the products without preservatives, which are pure and aseptic to treat my mother and patients I am taking care of.
Some might say that this was my first successful step when my products are highly appreciated by experts. They were also licensed by the Ministry of Health and provided exclusive rights by the Copyright Office.
Inner Sanctum: Besides researching the products that cater to people's health, you are known as a person who is very enthusiastic in charity work. Can you say something about that?
As a boy who lived far from family and relatives going to HCM City at age 10, my childhood is associated with the difficulties of studying in the morning and working in the afternoon.
At that time, I tasted the bitterness of the shame and hardship of a labourer. Then I raced into life, rushed into working and studying continually. I was thirsty for wealth to serve myself in the future. But I realised that my life was very repetitive and meaningless.
I used to think for myself without knowing that there are more unfortunate fates than me around the country. They are people with disabilities, the helpless elderly, or the patients having no money for treatment. I feel so sad and pity when seeing them.
At that moment, I realise my ideal. I exist in this world to love everyone, especially the poor and sick people who need my help. Only by doing that, my life becomes meaningful. For me, those I have met on the road of my life are like my father, my mother, and my beloved brothers.
I have enthusiastically participated in charitable activities such as visiting, caring, and providing medicine for the poor, patients with HIV, disabilities, and cancer.
Inner Sanctum: What is your plan for the future?
As a researcher with the desire to bring nature to the community and people's lives, I understand the value and significance that the products of biotechnology derived from natural ingredients are very important for the health of humans.
With my Cordyceps, I hope that the health of users will be improved, and have more chance to use this "panacea" to maintain their health and prevent the development of disease.
Moreover, through the trade of this fresh Cordyceps, I can carry out my dream for charity fundraising to directly help the benificiaries from our charity group.
Recently, I was very honored to receive the title of Talent Ambassador awarded by UNESCO-CEP for my community contributions. I know my small deeds just are a grain of sand in the desert, a drop of water in the ocean, so I hope I will meet a soul mate and people with a same ideal in my life to be able to build a community providing a happy and warm home for unhappy lives. — VNS