Wahid Alam

Wahid Alam, PhD student, biomedical engineering

Tailors sleep apnea treatments

“Wahid has made excellent contributions in all facets of his PhD training: research, course work, and also teaching.” -Sajan Goud Lingala, assistant professor

Chattogram, Bangladesh

Faculty mentor/advisor: Sajan Goud Lingala, PhD, assistant professor, biomedical engineering, College of Engineering

What is your degree program and anticipated graduation date?
PhD, May 2024

Please describe your research:
My research involves close collaboration with sleep surgeons and otolaryngologists to tailor individualized treatment plans for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Using innovative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) protocols, I’ve achieved a breakthrough in accurately identifying and quantifying upper-airway obstructions during natural sleep. Unlike invasive and subjective endoscopy methods, my approach offers high spatial and temporal resolutions, revolutionizing the way we understand and treat OSA. This advancement has paved the way for surgery and pacemaker implantation-based treatments, enhancing the options available for patients seeking relief from OSA.

In simple terms, why does this research matter?
This research holds significance due to its potential impact on the quality of life for the approximately 35 million Americans struggling with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). About 50-70% of these OSA patients find it difficult to adhere to the standard treatment, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), due to claustrophobia, machine noise and other factors. Emerging implantation-based therapies offer promise, but selecting appropriate patients remains a challenge. The current method for patient selection, drug-induced sleep endoscopy (DISE), falls short due to its inability to replicate natural sleep conditions and capture entire upper-airway dynamics. In response to this pressing clinical need, I am working on the development of next-generation non-invasive MRI techniques, tailored to study OSA within the context of natural sleep. This breakthrough has the potential to revolutionize OSA treatment strategies and improve the well-being of countless individuals.

How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research?
I became actively involved in research from the outset of my journey at the University of Iowa. During my very first semester, I was guided through an in-depth exploration of literature within the upper-airway MR imaging domain. This foundational experience not only motivated me but also steered me toward contributing to solving the core challenges inherent in upper-airway imaging.

How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa?
Participation in academic research has significantly contributed to my success at the University of Iowa. The university’s commitment to bridging theoretical learning with practical application has been instrumental in shaping my academic journey.

The comprehensive graduate-level courses offered by the University of Iowa, spanning diverse subjects from medical imaging to advanced machine learning, have been invaluable in expanding my skill set. Throughout my PhD journey at UIOWA, there has been a remarkable evolution of the machine learning field worldwide. The university’s proactive approach ensured that I remained at the forefront of this rapid evolution, thanks to a well-structured curriculum. A noteworthy moment in my academic growth was serving as a teaching assistant for an advanced graduate-level machine learning course at the graduate level. This experience solidified my understanding of cutting-edge topics, including probabilistic machine learning, generative AI.

Furthermore, my involvement in clinical problem-solving has brought me immense fulfillment. Collaborating with esteemed researchers like Prof. Mathews Jacob, Prof. Sajan Lingala, and board-certified clinicians such as Dr. Junjie Liu, within the state-of-the-art MRI research facility, has been both enriching and inspiring. Through this collaborative environment, I was able to leverage my ideas and contribute to upper airway imaging advancements.

The University of Iowa’s support through departmental and university funding has facilitated my participation in international conferences, enabling me to showcase my work, receive constructive critiques, and make a name within the global MRI research community. Consequently, my research findings have found their way into high-impact journals and prestigious conferences.

Very recently, this journey has resulted in a remarkable opportunity to join a leading healthcare industry company as intern, a testament to the practical relevance of my research contributions.

What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation?
I’m looking forward to building upon on my knowledge learning during my stay at UIOWA and pursue a career within healthcare industry as machine learning engineer, who is also trained well in the physics of medical imaging combining the best of both world.

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