Houchens Winner Focuses on Early Diagnosis for Kidney Diseases

Nov. 15, 2022

By Holly Hinson
Dr. Mohamed Shehata

Dr. Mohamed Shehata

Dr. Mohamed Shehata has been awarded the 2022 John M. Houchens Prize for Most Meritorious Dissertation, the latest in an impressive array of accomplishments, including 23 awards, author or co-author of 16 journal articles, nine book chapters, 16 peer-reviewed conference papers, 19 abstract in proceedings and four U.S. patents, not to mention a cumulative GPA of 3.986.

In fact, the Electrical and Computer Science engineer has so many accolades he makes it seem easy. But the journey from his birthplace of Egypt to his current position as a postdoctoral researcher in the Bioengineering Department at the University of Louisville was anything but easy.

With a Bachelor’s of Computer Engineering from Mansoura University, Egypt, the Houchens Prize winner came to University of Louisville to pursue his Master’s in Electrical and Computer Engineering and his PhD in Computer Science and Engineering. “I was looking for a chance to apply what I had learned about control systems and artificial intelligence and machine learning to something that’s beneficial to people,” said Shehata. Coming from a medical family with his mother a pediatrician and his father a surgeon, it was a natural fit for the researcher to become interested in the cross section of engineering and medicine in a way that helps people.

His winning dissertation and research is about using a computer aided diagnostic system that’s based on artificial intelligence and machine learning for the early diagnosis of kidney diseases, including acute renal transplant rejection and renal cancer.  “We are using AI techniques and machine learning to early diagnose acute renal transplant rejection and renal cancer by using medical image analysis,” he explained. “We are trying to find ways that are noninvasive, cheap, and more comfortable for patients and physicians, with no complications. We want to help people have a better survival rate and make a good impact on the healthcare in the United States and worldwide.”

Shehata chose Speed School to further his education and grow his career. “When I searched it, I found that the University of Louisville is an R1 institute and has a diversity of students and many professional labs,” he said. “I found I can achieve what I need here at UofL, to engage with students, and engage with supervisors and advisors, and make collaborations.”

His master’s degree advisor, Dr. Ayman El-Baz, also an Egyptian native, was a good advisor and leader, said Shehata. “He engaged with me on how to apply what I have learned in my classes to the research to hit my targets with good publications, tier one conference papers and Q1 journals, and the next step will be to go to market.” For his PhD, Shehata was guided and advised by both Dr. El Baz and also Dr. Adel Elmaghraby (CSE).

Immigrating to Louisville from Egypt in 2014 and bringing his family (at the time, his wife and two-year old daughter) over a few months later was a sea change for Shehata. The early days were very challenging, he said. “At the beginning, we were struggling. We didn’t know people, we left our families over there, and language was a problem,” said Shehata.

A turning point came for the engineer when he did his first solo travel to New York to present his first conference paper. “It was only three or four months after I came here, “he said. “I felt like I couldn’t do it, but I did, and it’s one of the things that motivated me to grow up and get self-confidence and complete independence here in a different country.” His wife also slowly made connections, engaging with neighbors and learning more about the culture and lifestyle in America.

Shehata recalled the hardest time was in 2016.  “I was juggling my family, finishing a conference paper, a book chapter, doing research, finalizing my master’s, writing my thesis, and planning to go back to Egypt for a vacation.” It was at that already strained time that his family’s home burned to the ground, and they were left with nothing. But the University, neighbors and others in the community rallied to help the family get essentials to get back on their feet.

Now after more than eight years in country, Shehata and his wife and now three daughters, 10, 7, and 5 years old, are glad they persevered and made a home here. “From the start, people here were very friendly and understand that we come from a different culture with different language.  Compared to when we came, right now we feel like we are part of this community.”

“Winning the Houchens prize is amazing,” said Shehata.” I have been waiting eight years to reach such a great moment, not just achieving one of my dreams of getting my PhD degree but also getting the best dissertation is such a great honor.”

In the future, Shehata is looking for an assistant tenure track position where he can apply the experience he has gained from his masters and PhD journeys at Speed School.

“University of Louisville gave me the chance to engage with different cultures, different students and different labs,” said Shehata. “From the first, I liked the campus, I like the spirit there,” he said. “From day one, I decided I was going to achieve my dream. I’m going to do something that’s amazing, that’s special.”