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Educationist: Talking non-invasive technology

January 08, 2012


Dr Faisal Mehmood Kashif is an eminent Pakistani scholar who won the prestigious American Helen Carr Peake Prize-2011 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for his outstanding doctoral research on non-invasive technology for sensing and assessing brain pressure and injury.

Having graduated from the Faculty of Electronic Engineering at Ghulam Ishaq Khan (GIK) Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology in 2000, he was awarded two gold medals—a faculty-based gold medal for his outstanding academic record and a Ghulam Ishaq Khan Medal for best academic performance amongst BSc candidates from all of the institute’s faculties. Continuing with his research as an extension of his earlier work, Dr Kashif is currently a postdoctoral associate in Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT. Following is an exclusive interview with the scientist.

Q. Please tell us something about your specialised field and how it can help people.

A. My research work is in the field of computational physiology for the purpose of patient-monitoring. In my doctoral thesis at MIT, we developed a model of the cerebrovascular system and devised a method to non-invasively determine intracranial pressure (ICP). This is hydrostatic pressure of the fluid in the brain and spinal column, and its measurement typically requires a neurosurgeon to drill a hole in the skull for the placement of a catheter or sensor inside the brain.

This work has two key benefits. Firstly, it can be life-saving because it provides doctors with critical information that they would otherwise not have in most cases, and with non-invasive ICP they can diagnose, treat and track a patient better. Second, this work will help in the investigation of unknown pathophysiological situations, such as papilledema, vision and eye changes and even migraines, that arise quite commonly, but invasiveness of ICP measurement has not allowed further explorations into them.

Coming to biomedicine research was quite a switch for me (my Masters research was in communication systems/information theory, and so was my work during my industrial experience and my final year project at GIK Institute); it also involved multi-disciplinary work, but I chose this for three reasons. Firstly, I wanted to get closer to doing science than living at the technical layer of electrical engineering and was ready to learn a new field. Second, I thought I can apply my background in electrical engineering to solve problems which most engineers generally do not get into, and the field of medicine offered several such challenges. Third, I was attracted by the potential impact of such work on people’s lives.

Q. Can you help the GIK Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology here in your present capacity? What possible steps can you take in this regard? A. I can help with starting or growing research in the field of biomedical engineering and provide technical or material help with the projects in GIK Institute. I can also help with curriculum revisions. I would be happy to consider other ideas about ways I can be useful.

Q. How can the GIK Institute Alumni be strengthened? A. I think the more the alumni connect with each other and the institute, the stronger the organisation will be. Sometimes people are not active because they are not interested in the general meetings, so there can be several different initiatives that people can choose to work with. For example, the alumni can help with activities related to research, industry projects, student scholarships, curriculum revision, faculty search, etc. These ideas can be discussed with the current alumni executive body.

Q. A majority of Pakistanis opt to stay abroad after the completion of their higher education. Why?

A. There are several factors. Lack of sincere and committed leadership at the top affects everything including education, higher education and institutions where people can go back and work. We have not done enough to provide infrastructure or institutions where qualified people can come back and really do what they trained themselves for. Technology industry exists but its growth is at a much slower pace yet to attract experts and established professionals back.

Q. Can you put forward some proposals for bringing educated people back to Pakistan to play their due roles in the progress of the country?

A. I think things have improved in the academic side in the last decade, thanks to the hard work of several individuals and institutions, including the key role of the Higher Education Commission (HEC). This must keep going, and of course we need a lot more to change at the government policies to build institutions, to let them run freely, and above all to appreciate and support research. An additional step to take is to link our industry with the university so that the work done in schools can directly feed into solving our local problems and the industry can find value in their investment.

Q. What are your views about the HEC and its role? What should be done for strengthening its position?

A. I think HEC has done a great service to Pakistan, particularly its youth. We should stand by the HEC and support its beneficial projects. It has made remarkable progress in the higher education sector by spending enormous funds. It also played a vital role in promoting research culture in Pakistan.

Q What are your views on the educational environment in Pakistan and how can it be improved? A. We need to do a lot of work on providing quality education to a much larger population than we currently do. The government should take numerous result-oriented steps to provide an environment where the youngster could get quality education.

Environment, inspiration and motivation are extremely vital. We were excited about all these facilities that the GIK Institute provided us with. I owe a lot to my teachers and mentors there. They passed on their drive to do constructive and innovative work, and instilled in us basic skills of doing science and research. That also motivated us and shaped our career plans.

The interviewer is Dawn’s correspondent in Swabi