Computer Science & Engineering Doctoral Student Earns Houchens Prize
May 13, 2022
By Holly Hinson
Heba Elsayed Mohamed Kandil has won the John M. Houchens Prize for Outstanding Dissertation for May 2022. The prize is awarded to the doctoral student who presents the most meritorious dissertation for the current commencement. A native of Egypt, the honoree received her B.Sc. and M.S. degrees in computer science from Mansoura University, Mansoura, Egypt.
In August 2016, she joined the Bio-Imaging Laboratory at the University of Louisville. She is earning her Ph.D. in Computer Science and Engineering from Speed School at the University of Louisville in May 2022.
“I was happy for this prestigious award and to feel like the last five years of research have been significant,” she said.
Always interested in computers, Kandil competed against hundreds of other students in Egypt to get the opportunity to come to the United States for her doctoral degree. “Only about 200 are selected out of 1000 or more applicants,” she said.
Her current research is focused on developing new computer-assisted diagnostic (CAD) systems for diagnosing severe diseases correlated with cerebrovascular changes in human beings. According to Dr. Wei Zhang, chair of her department, Kandil’s dissertation “not only surmounts a high bar in achievement but also promises to leave a strong impact on the pre-diagnosis of severe diseases such as hypertension.”
Hypertension afflicts one of every three adults and is a leading cause of mortality of about 4100,000 in the United States. If not medically controlled in the early stages, hypertension could cause medical complications such as vision loss, heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, brain lesions, and cognitive impairment. Therefore, the early detection or prediction of the disease is a top medical concern.
Kandil said her doctoral studies opened her mind to what can be accomplished through computers. “The imaging lab I’m working with focuses on the collaboration between machine learning techniques and medical imaging analysis.”
For the doctoral student, this mission was also personal. “My father was a patient of hypertension and we didn’t know that until his last day,” said Kandil. “We call hypertension the silent killer, because many hypertensive patients have no symptoms and don’t know they have the disease, like my father.”
Kandil said the current computer aided diagnostic system used in her research has enormous potential for its application in the medical field. “I believe that it could enhance people’s lives how this application has the ability to predict hypertension before its onset,” she said.
“It’s not just because hypertension itself is a severe disease, but because it’s a main contributor to many other diseases such as strokes, heart attacks, kidney failure, cognitive impairment, and some vision loss,” said Kandil. “It’s important to find a way to predict the potentiality of the disease,” she said. “With this preventive tool, the patient can be prescribed some medicine or manage some medical protocol to stop the progress of the disease, or at least mitigate any adverse events.”
With the support of her mentor and Bioengineering Department Chair Dr. Ayman El-Baz, and Dr. Adel Elmaghraby, Director of Industrial Research and Innovation, Kandil published her reported results in top international conferences and prestigious journals, authoring and co-authoring 18 publications (6 journal articles, 6 conference papers, 2 book chapters, and 4 abstracts).
Kandil said her experience at Speed School has been an illuminating and rewarding one – one that she will take back to Egypt with her when she receives her doctorate.
“Speed School of Engineering is a great place to learn, because first of all there is a diverse feel and it’s a very good place for international students, because I feel that everyone can feel involved in this community,” she said.
“The most interesting thing for me has been to feel how computers in science can influence the lives of people,” said Kandil. “I was interested in making a computer application that can help people to make their lives easier and healthier,” she said. “We try to connect the science you have with some real world problem, and to see its effect on real life.”