Using computer programmes to solve health problems

Using computer programmes to solve health problems

Shakuntala Baichoo holds a PhD degree in Computer Science from the University of Mauritius, an MSc in Distributed Interactive Systems from Lancaster University, UK, and a BEng in Computer Engineering from BIT Mesra, Ranchi. She has worked at the University of Mauritius from 1996. Her field of research is Distributed Computing, Algorithms and Bioinformatics.

Her previous work includes projects such as:

  • Role-based access model for Health Information Systems (MRC-funded) (as co-investigator)
  • Irrigation Management Information System (IMIS) along with Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute
  • Pose and light invariant Face and Ear Recognition System (UoM Internally funded project) (as co-investigator)
  • Infect-DB - a data warehouse for infectious diseases (UoM Internally funded project) (Principal Investigator)
  • Support Framework to Optimize Access to Remote Bioinformatics Data (UoM Internally funded project) (as co-investigator)

Currently Dr Baichoo is working on:

  • HTrain-DB – a training/trainer tracker system for the H3Africa and H3ABioNet
  • Pan-genome analysis workflow
  • Genomic Island Detection and Analysis Tool
  • Infect-DB Part 2

When asked about how her research benefits communities, she notes how the irrigation management system model is being used by sugar estates to manage irrigation resources, while the Infect-DB is an on-going project and her team is looking towards completing it to provide extensive analysis on infectious diseases. She also emphasizes that bioinformatics research is relevant to medical and clinical studies and thus can be very useful to the human, animal and plant.

Dr Baichoo has always been fascinated by medical science, but she confesses to hating working with operation theatres and blood samples. Consequently she turned to computing: “I always wanted to apply computing to do something that can have an impact in the field of medical science. So, I have re-oriented myself to the field of bioinformatics as my main area of research and I hope to use bioinformatics analysis to help find solutions to problems in the field of medical science. One day, I would love to have my name on an algorithm/model that can be used to determine the solution of a major medical problem.”

In her free time she does computing challenges, studies new topics in the field of computing and bioinformatics on Coursera, and works on a pet project of her own to develop a tool for Genomics. “Apart from that I like to cook for my children and watch movies,” she adds.

When we approach the topic of women in science, she has much to say. “I think that women can participate in scientific research and do equally well if not better than men. Science is a tool that can empower women in developing countries to improve their knowledge and help them do a better career and thus improve their standard of living. Personally I think that women can better manage their time and they know how to do multi-tasking. Science is always on the move and we can never get bored of it! Young female scientists should be passionate about what they do and they should opt for a career that will give them a lot of pleasure and allow them to learn new things as long as they are alive,” she elaborates, continuing, “Personally, as an academic and researcher I am my own boss. I have the luxury to be in touch with the latest developments and do things that give me pleasure. I am free to do research in the field of my interest. I believe that the best job for a woman can be found in academia/research. One can manage her family and career very comfortably.”

After all, she says, she is a family-person: “I love to spend time with my children and my husband. I enjoy travelling to new places and I am reluctant to tasting new food. I like to socialise and meet new people also. I like to make new friends.”

On the other hand, as a concluding interview question, we asked her what computer programme she would be and why, she emphasises the importance of helping: “I would like to be an AI-based computer program (like the one shown in the movie “Transcendence”) that could provide solutions to all the problems in the world and thus avoid un-necessary wars and violence. I would also be able to advise the weaker ones especially the children of any threat lurking around. I would also be able to provide the solution to all medical problems. In short I would like to help humanity!”