LAU graduate spearheads technological advances for cancer research
Computer Science graduate Samir AbouSamra’s Ph.D. thesis presents a technology that will cut medical research time significantly.
For five years, LAU computer science alumnus and chief technology officer of DigiPen Samir AbouSamra has been working with a team of medical doctors and professors to increase the speed with which medical advances are made. For his efforts he will soon don a cap and gown and receive a doctorate from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).
Medical research is currently based on experiments in laboratories that are fragile in nature because negative outcomes usually result in new experiments. AbouSamra’s doctoral dissertation sought to change this, by introducing the idea that biological experiments should be complimented by simulated, virtual ones.
“Whenever the biological experiment fails, we needn’t stop and start again from the beginning,” he says. “The virtual experiment can go back in time and re-adjust certain things that will generate the current future that we know. This will cut research time significantly.”
AbouSamra’s story is one of a successful marriage between education and the technology industry. The company he works for, DigiPen, was founded in 1988 as a computer simulation and animation company, and two years thereafter became the first university in the world dedicated to computer and video game development. While it offers undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in various disciplines related to the field of simulation, the institution also maintains a research and development arm. “It is important that we develop technologies and applications with clients to ensure our curriculum and professors’ knowledge is up to date,” explains AbouSamra, who oversees all of DigiPen’s computer science programs.
This approach led eventually to his doctoral project. EPFL first approached AbouSamra at DigiPen five years ago while he was working with Boeing on human behavior simulations that help the aerospace giant to plan their human resources strategy. “EPFL’s visualization department was interested in the work we were doing on human-centered simulation and asked if it could be applied to medical research, so we worked with a team of medical doctors to develop simulations based on HBDL,” says AbouSamra, referring to the programing language first developed by DigiPen founder Claude Comair in the 1970s.
The power of HBDL —or Human Behavioral Descriptive Language — lies in its ability to encapsulate almost anything because it is not based on pre-fed definitions or structures. “It acts and grows like a human cell. This is what HBDL was able to offer to research into stem cells and cancer,” explains AbouSamra.
Crediting LAU with giving him a head start on his road to success, AbouSamra remembers his years at his alma mater fondly. “University prepares us for the longest stage in our life, and the administration had the vision and foresight to develop a strong curriculum and bring in intelligent highly experienced industry veterans to teach us.” Since graduating, AbouSamra has followed in the footsteps of the professors he so admires, teaching university students, working with top-tier clients on innovative projects and gaining a Ph.D. from a prestigious university.