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Aishah sets out to spare millions from the perils of stroke

MIT spell rekindles Aishah’s inquisitiveness


IMG_2993-min.JPG"It was heart wrenching to see the animals I took care of for three months developed stroke symptoms," says Aishah Ismail, 29, a PhD in Applied Science postgraduate student at UTP. Having recently returned from her research attachment programme at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Aishah looks to carry over some of the good things she has gleaned at the leading Ivy league university into her daily research routine.


According to Aishah, early parts of carrying out the research were an emotionally draining journey she has had to endure. Initially, Aishah had been on the end of some stern criticism for her work experiment on animals. However, looking back, she's glad she did not give in to the pressure.


She says, "The research I'm doing now hopes to help detect and save millions from the perils of stroke. I chose rabbit because rabbits' eyes are large, and the animal's anatomy bears close similarities to that of humans. It's called the Circle of Willis, a blood circulation pathway from the neck to the brain. Besides this, rabbits' retinal vessels share similar properties with the human brain's blood vessels."


IMG_1555-min.JPGThrough examining rabbit eyes, Aishah hopes to detect a stoke biomarker for an early sign of stroke which would allow early preventive measures and treatment.


According to Aishah, stroke is one of the third-leading causes of death and leaves many survivors disabled. Currently, Aishah's test subject is the only lab rabbit in Malaysia under experiment.


Aishah chose rabbit because she wanted data and knowledge generated from her research to be transferrable to humans. "Delays in treatment could reduce patients' chances of recovery," explains Aishah.


Despite this, the arduous process of the longitudinal research and the challenge of doing it alone had taken a toll on her emotionally. In equal measures, kind words of encouragement from her research supervisors have kept Aishah steadfast in her mission.


She says, "Both my supervisors, Assoc Dr Tang Tong Boon and Dr Ibrahima Faye are really great. They always told me that they believed in me and that they knew that I could do it. Those words, however succinct, really comforted me and kept me going," shares Aishah.


Along the way, she had to ask herself: Was she able to sacrifice to pursue personally meaningful work? In the end, she had to do it. For a cause that could potentially save millions of lives, Aishah couldn't stop.


Despite this, her PhD road has been full of unexpected twists and turns. Now reaping the fruits of her labour, Aishah flew to MIT after she was awarded the Merdeka Award Grant on the 3rd of December 2018 to kick off her research proposal. "It's been a dream to study at a storied institution such as MIT," says Aishah.


with Prof Forrow nobel price winner during longwood orchestra-min.JPGAfter constant back and forth emails for months, Aishah finally got the break she had been waiting for on the 27th of Ramadhan 2019. Since arriving in the U.S, Aishah has been really impressed with MIT's supportive learning environment and world-class facilities.


"Here, I want to undertake a deep learning for healthcare applications in connection with my blood flow data. Later, I want to apply the model for stroke prediction through an ocular blood flow testing. This can help accelerate the detection rate of stroke symptoms," Aishah explains.


"My MIT supervisors have invested a lot of time in me. Although they are really busy with multiple projects, they spent days to help me figure out the right questions to answer to make sure I get off to a good start," says Aishah.


Aishah recalls that it was refreshing to learn that the university really celebrates inquisitiveness, which, according to her, is remotely different to Malaysia. "Basically, you can ask them any kind of questions and they won't belittle you for putting your thoughts across. They really encourage and celebrate ideas," shares Aishah.


She adds, "Although they are independent universities, they do a lot of sharing to pool their resources together in a bid to solve humanity's most challenging problems. For example, say they have one data—they will share the data with 10 other PhD students to gather different perspectives on the data."


IMG_9229-min.JPGLooking at those factors together, it's no wonder the university is such a desirable institution to study at, says Aishah. "They even have joint courses with Harvard and some of the universities' lecturers teach at both institutions. Of these, they hold a bevy of educational talks and programs to advance common causes together," adds Aishah.


Further, she recalls the many visits she paid to local museums have really inspired wonder and joy during her stay at MIT. "Here, if you have an MIT student card, you get free access to local museums and they hold a lot of museum days around the year," she says.


Indeed, Aishah is another prime example of UTP's profound career connected learning and industry collaboration. From the work we do, we foster long-term relationships with our global social-impact partners to prepare our students, people and researchers as global citizens.


As a leading university in engineering, science and technology, our graduates are driven to exceed their professional objectives and contribute towards overcoming capability deficit across all sectors and industries.