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Can Foxconn Cure Cancer?

Terry Gou's not claiming he can. But he's putting NT$15 billion of his own money into trying.

Medical research is not some new interest of Foxconn's chairman and founder.

Gou first announced his charitable contribution to National Taiwan University in 2007. In a currency better understood by the rest of the world, that's a $454 million gift, a figure then (and now) believed to be the largest single donation to an educational institution in the world.

Made via his YongLin Foundation, the initial 2007 plan to fund the construction and operation of a new cancer center at Taiwan's most prestigious institution came just two years after his first wife succumbed to breast cancer, and a few months after his own brother died after a battle with leukemia.

The first fruits of the endeavor will start to show in coming months as the nine-floor, 28,000-square-meter research facility gets completed and workers start moving in. By the end of June, the YongLin Biomedical Engineering (BME) Centre will set to work.

A separate 15-floor, 139,000-square-meter National Taiwan University Cancer Center is still under construction, also funded by Gou's NT$15 billion gift.

Among the first projects at the BME facility will be diagnostic research and analysis of cancer's causes, with liver, lung and breast cancer as well as leukemia being initial areas of focus. The wet and dry labs will look at areas ranging from cell therapies to medical radiation.

From there, the new center hopes to combine Foxconn's technological background -- the company is among the largest makers of servers in the world, counting HP and Cisco among clients -- with Taiwan's elite medical know-how on hand at NTU. Big data, a fancy term for "massive number-crunching," is expected to be employed to analyze the diagnoses, progression and possible therapies for cancer. Foxconn-made servers will be housed at the center, storing and processing data that comes from the researchers.

The cash Gou donated from his own wallet is also aimed at helping the center lure the medical field's best researchers and biomedical engineers from around the world. (He wants to hire five Nobel Prize winners, he said.)

For Gou, the donation and his goals appear as altruistic as they sound. (Gou is known to have employed Taiwan's best doctors and dug deep into his own pocket to help cure and care for his wife and brother.)

Yet Foxconn may also be able to garner some product ideas and technology from the machinations of these centers. Last year, Gou proudly showed shareholders a smartwatch his company developed that included an integrated heart rate monitor, telling investors of the market potential for consumer-level biomedical electronics. With the PC market falling and the smartphone industry slowing, smart devices and wearables are an area Foxconn is watching closely .

While curing cancer may be the end goal, developing some top-selling medical devices could provide an added bonus.

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