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Vikash Singh is a junior at UCLA studying Computational and Systems Biology, with a passion for positively impacting healthcare through machine learning. He is currently the founder/CEO of Project DataREACH, a machine learning intern at Silicon Beach startup Heal, and a student researcher at the Cedars Sinai Artificial Intelligence in Medicine Program (AIM).
City where you’re from: Los Angeles
Hey Vikash, awesome to have you here. What triggered you to start Project DataREACH?
I decided to start Project DataREACH the summer after my freshman year essentially as an independent side project using my enrichment funds from the Stamps scholarship I had received from UCLA. Having done research at the Cedars Sinai Artificial Intelligence in Medicine (AIM) program for over the year at that point, I had learned quite a bit about the application of machine learning to medicine, and how it could make a difference in saving lives. I saw the potential for the application of such technology to medicine in developing nations. During my three week trip to Guyana that summer, I presented to universities, hospitals, government bodies (Ministry of Health/National Cancer Institute) about how machine learning pipelines and advanced analytics techniques could provide powerful solutions to significant medical challenges. I received commendations of service from the nation’s Ministry of Health and National Cancer Institute which demonstrated that I could potentially get support from government entities in these nations, however most importantly the trip made me realize this could be more than than a side project, with the help of a team and a set of dedicated collaborators.
Who were your biggest influences? Was there a defining moment in your life?
The biggest influences in my life are without a doubt my parents, who both conduct independent scientific research on breast cancer, metabolism, and obesity as part of the faculty of both UCLA and Charles Drew University. They have always emphasized the importance of science as an avenue to impact the world and contribute to the improvement and advancement of society. A defining moment in my life would have to be the summer after my freshman year of high school, when my sister and I both contracted a resistant strain of typhoid fever and were hospitalized for about a week. It was the synergistic antibiotic combination discovered by researchers that ultimately worked, and it was the first time I had experienced first hand exactly how meaningful scientific research was in impacting the lives of real people.
What are you hoping to accomplish with Project DataREACH? How did you come up with this idea?
Project DataREACH is an organization whose mission is to make a positive impact on medicine in developing nations through data science (machine learning/AI). Originally a side project I started independently, it has now grown to an awesome team of college students (from universities all around the country), international collaborators (heavily based in Cameroon), and a faculty advisor (Dr. Lola Ogunyemi). We are currently working on building useful models with data from the WHO office in Cameroon on the frequency of a variety of communicable diseases, as well as working with doctors and epidemiologists to start the implementation of a full predictive analytics pipeline. Although big data is being used for descriptive analytics in the region, such a project (building a full predictive analytics pipeline) in collaboration with all the health professionals would be the very first of its kind in this region of the world, so we truly are hoping the work being can done can serve as a groundbreaking stride in integrating AI with medicine in developing countries.
Did you experience failure along the way? What did you learn from it?
Although the Guyana trip was largely a success in terms of starting Project DataREACH and getting experience presenting to a variety of potential clients, it did not lead to the sort of collaborations I was hoping for in terms of finding dedicated partners willing to invest time and resources on the other to advance to the next phase of implementing advanced analytics. I didn’t give up however, and within a few months I connected with some enthusiastic partners from Songhai Labs based in Cameroon, who I have been working with ever since, and am now looking to expand the client base and the number of projects, and eventually to scale up the team accordingly.
Teach us something about machine learning. Can you recommend any favorite websites to learn that topic?
Given the recent hype about machine learning in the past couple of years, I would highly recommend readers interested in the topic to go ahead and learn more about a subject that isn’t looking to disappear in the coming years. There are plenty of online resources (highly recommend Andrew Ng’s online course) to learn about the subject! I would also recommend looking into participating in a Kaggle contest (predictive modeling) to get a general idea of what libraries and tools are needed to build predictive models, and what kind of factors go into building the best model.