What is your field and why did you choose it?
My field is epidemiological and immunological mathematical models for infectious diseases. Old infectious diseases such as malaria and cholera are still a threat in the world. Moreover, other emerging infectious diseases such as Ebola, Zika and many others still cause deaths in the world. Besides, we have a class of diseases that are termed "rare" which need better understanding and treatment strategies.
Describe your current research.
I am interested in providing mathematical methods for understanding and controlling diseases that represent current threats to humans and animals in general. More precisely, my work on malaria and vector borne diseases in general proposed a control strategy for the interaction vector-host. We found that by building hosts' habitats within specific ranges from the vector breeding sites, we could effectively reduce the spread of the disease.
My work on leishmaniasis consisted of studying the interactions between various cells, parasites and cytokines involved in the within-host development of the disease. Leishmaniasis is a "neglected disease" as classified by the World Health Organization and its treatment is not well understood. Current drugs for leishmaniasis are very toxic. We proposed treatment strategies that take into account the best time to give the drug and the strength of the patient's immune system.
Ebola was first discovered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in central Africa in 1976. Since then most if not all outbreaks of Ebola have occurred in east-central Africa. The recent 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak was the first of its kind in west Africa. This 2014-2105 outbreak caused more cases and deaths than all previous Ebola outbreaks combined. We hypothesized that the frequency of human movement across countries borders in these two distinct regions of Africa could be the reason for the difference in the disease loads. It will be interesting to study the optimal control in this case when quarantine and/or border closure are applied, which is a work in progress, among others.
What is the primary aim of your research and your primary professional goal?
The primary aim of my research is to propose a new mathematical theory/result that will solve problems in mathematical biology. Methods that include combining epidemiological and immunological models, optimal control and techniques for estimating parameters will be used in models for various diseases. My primary professional goal is to obtain a faculty position at an institution where teaching and research are allocated relatively equal time and level priority. As such, having potential research collaborators at the institution would be a great attractor.
What is the biggest obstacle to achieving your objectives?
The biggest obstacle is availability of real-case experimental data for fitting the models. It is not always easy to find experimental data related to the problems of concern. Most often, we narrow the objectives of our research to fit existing data. This clearly limits our range of thoughts and prevents us from deepening our study of the complex systems as far as we would like.
How does your work benefit society?
My work consists of solving problems of global health concern, as it is based on studying and proposing treatment and control strategies for emerging and non-emerging infectious diseases. As such, all living elements of nature—humans, animals, plants and any other—benefit.
What do you like best about your work?
My work allows me to look deep into biological systems that seem complex at first. I then understand and simplify the systems by taking into account relevant features. Doing this, I present understandable reports on systems that initially were very complex, making it for most people to understand as well.
Which professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
I am most proud of obtaining a NIMBioS Postdoctoral Fellowship right after changing my title from Mr to Dr. It is a privilege for me to work and to coauthor articles with some of the most important scientists in my field, namely, Avner Friedman, Suzanne Lenhart, Abdul-Aziz Yakubu, and others to come.
What is the best professional advice you ever received?
"I should always seek for the bigger picture," meaning that the best is always to come, and I should simply work towards achieving it. The advice was given to me in a context where I felt that the fruits of my work should always come immediately after effort. At times I used to be so proud of myself that I lacked patience and humility. Then someone who understood that my attitude was common in people of my age at that time advised me to learn how to be patient while still working hard. He added that no hard work was in vain.
What exciting developments lie in the future for your field?
I think that we are not only working toward the advance of knowledge in our field, but toward a point where we will be able to set conditions so that every one will be able to decide whether to fall sick or not. People will also be able to determine the level of severity of the sickness in case they decide to fall sick, and eventually they will be able to clear the disease by themselves. The advance of technology will help in achieving this, as even phone apps could one day be used to measure the above-mentioned points.
Who is your #1 hero and why?
While I do not have a #1 hero, there are a number of people who have helped shape my career and to whom I would like to aspire professionally. One, who I would prefer to remain unnamed, is probably the most successful applied mathematician alive today. This person is incredibly intelligent, hardworking and wise. One would expect this person to sit back, relax and simply give instructions to younger researchers on processes to be done. Instead, the person guides through the entire process and is humble to the point that a young researcher may feel embarrassed.
What do you do when you're not in the lab or out in the field?
I am with my family: wife, children and laptop. My wife actually complains all the time I am rarely far from my laptop, that I am always working. This is certainly a point on which I will have to improve.