Where Tech Meets Medicine
It took only one preliminary course in web development to inspire Anila Khan to want to pursue a career in computer science. Since then, the College of Engineering and Computing Sciences student has also been pursuing opportunities to match her fascination with the field with her interest in serving the community. Khan is especially interested in finding ways that computer science and healthcare overlap. In an interview with New York Tech News, Khan discussed her studies and projects, as well as her plans for the future.
Tell us about yourself—what is your background, and how did it influence your chosen field of study?
I was born and have spent most of my life in New York; my family is from the northern part of Pakistan. I am the eldest of four siblings and the only daughter. Throughout my life, I had exposure to girls who never had the chance to complete schooling, and that was a big part of my decision to pursue higher education. My parents are very supportive of my studies and goals.
As a child, I always dreamed of becoming a doctor. I thought that medicine was a field I could do a lot with, and I believed there were many opportunities for me to grow. However, after taking a web development course in eighth grade, I changed my mind. I utilized HTML and CSS coding to build a website about baking. It was then that I realized that computer science is a field that allows me to be creative, pursue my passions, take a variety of flexible routes, and really interconnect my interests.
Tell us about your work in the Entrepreneurship and Technology Innovation Center (ETIC) on the new version of the ETIC Research Robot for Student Engagement and Learning Activities (E.R.R.S.E.L.A.), or E2.
As a co-manager for the E2 project, I am collaborating with College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM) Professor Todd Cohen, M.D., and NYITCOM student Nolberto Jaramillo to build on existing research on robotic tissue retraction during surgery. I have worked on developing software for the prototype of the E2 robot that controls the four motors of the robot simultaneously and retrieving a text file to specify the motor settings, a process that allows the operator to store preprogrammed actions in a cloud server and use them when needed. This allows the robot to operate in a variety of ways based on the setting of the motors in the text file and implement a machine learning component. I am also working on implementing my work from the E2 prototype onto the actual E2 robot.
Can you talk a little more about the machine learning component and what uses that will have?
To put it simply, the E2 robot has obstacle detection, which utilizes ultrasonic sensors to control its motors. I worked on developing software that stops the robot and reverses motion once it detects an obstacle in the operating room, such as other equipment or people. Additionally, I am working on implementing obstacle detection based on different robotic settings defined in the text file being used to dictate the robot’s actions.
If this project is successful, it will open doors for the introduction of robots performing surgeries or assisting doctors during surgeries. Since my interests lie within the intersection of computer science and medicine, this research allows me to understand how technology can introduce advancements in clinical care. Additionally, it will open doors for me to explore how technology can impact patients’ quality of care.
What other research projects are you working on?
I am working with Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Azhar Ilyas, Ph.D., and two other students through the Undergraduate Research and Entrepreneurship Program (UREP). We are working on improving the existing automated cell counting smartphone application developed by a graduate student in the Bio-nanotechnology and Biomaterials (BNB) lab for HIV diagnosis and monitoring. We are working toward several goals. One is to develop a fully functional Android app with high accuracy and adequate efficacy for cell counting purposes. Additionally, we are utilizing machine vision to detect cell clusters known as blobs, which are used in disease diagnoses to improve the accuracy of counting the blobs. This will yield more accurate diagnoses and hopefully decrease inaccurate outcomes, like false positives.
This research has given me a deeper understanding of how mobile development can be utilized to target specific symptoms with different health concerns, how this technology can aid in the diagnosis of different diseases, and how smartphone applications centered around health are given authorization to be utilized by the public.
What is next for you? How is New York Tech helping prepare you for the future?
Upon graduation, I plan on pursuing a career as a software engineer. At New York Tech, you can always find opportunities to become involved in your interests, whether through assisting a professor with their research, engaging in a club, or participating in a project in the several labs around campus. New York Tech has allowed me to get a head start on my career as a software engineer. Through New York Tech’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) chapter, I attended the SWE 2022 annual conference, where I had the opportunity to interact with professionals in the technology industry, attend the career fair and gain networking skills, and land a software engineer internship at Northrop Grumman for the summer of 2023.
This interview has been edited and condensed.