Kurt Jan Pumares joined the Walton team as part of the Emerging Networks Laboratory Research Division in July 2022. We asked Kurt to describe his research and what it is like to be part of the Walton team.
Outline your day to day
My day usually varies, as a first year PhD student taking a few modules during semesters at SETU I am at the university some days to attend lectures and laboratory classes. Meanwhile at Walton Institute, I mostly conduct research as part of the PRIME project, either reviewing relevant journal articles, writing code for modelling and simulations, or attending project meetings, including a weekly meeting with the Emerging Networks Laboratory (ENL) group, to discuss my current progress and other possible issues. I also write drafts of my research paper and prepare slides to present my progress during meetings. Lastly, I provide supervision and panelling for final year students at the Department of Computing and Mathematics for their final year projects.
How and why you got into research
I was exposed to research during my final years in high school and college though my theses. I proposed and defended my work on the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio for my high school thesis and my study on graph theory based distance and connectivity indices for molecular graphs.
With my previous experience and interest in research work, I took my Masters Degree immediately after finishing my undergraduate degree and towards the end of my program, I was sent to South Korea for 6 months to do my research under the supervision of two well established Korean professors in my field of interest. I really had a great time and learned a lot from my mentors, and was also able to present my work at the 2018 International Workshop on Mathematical Biology in Cebu, Philippines. All the work I did abroad was also used for my Masters thesis and was published in a journal article a year later.
Although I worked in the industry for 4 years after finishing my Masters degree, returning to academe to do research work and pursue a PhD degree has always been in my plans. The 2020 COVID pandemic delayed these plans for some time but when the opportunity was presented to me, I immediately grabbed it and now I am here in SETU doing my PhD.
In a way, I could say that research will always be a part of me and I always push myself to grow my knowledge and improve my skills. I enjoy problem solving, discovering novel ideas, and leaving a legacy for the advancement of knowledge and humanity, hence I think being a researcher is the perfect role for me.
Briefly outline the research projects you are working on
I am currently working on the PRIME project, which aims to develop an autonomous implantable living cell system with engineered bio-computing logic gate that sense, compute, and actuate epileptic seizure suppression. These cells will be implanted into the brain and will co-exist with natural neural tissue. PRIME is divided into 4 work packages and I am involved in developing a molecular communication simulation and modelling design tool, in particular creating a mathematical model for the intracellular signalling in epilepsy. More information can be found here https://fet-prime.eu/
What areas do you see yourself working on in the future
In the future, I want to work on similar projects integrating various computational models such as deep learning, mathematical modelling, molecular communications, and others to find new medical treatments for certain diseases, especially those don’t have a lot of extensive research.
I am also interested in other fields of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and their impact on healthcare, particularly using intracellular signalling pathways in disease treatment strategies.
The big and little wins, anything you have learned
Having previously conducted research modelling in the intracellular signalling pathways of Glioblastoma Multiforme, learning about epilepsy, particularly Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE) has really provided me with a lot of new ideas and knowledge, even though these diseases are neurological in nature. I was also introduced to new exciting ways to model the dynamics of diseases such as molecular communications, which I would like to explore more in the near future.
Being part of a big and vital project partnered by institutions across the European Union already feels like a win for me. Attending plenaries, meetings, conferences, and more to share the work that I love, while representing Walton Institute and South East Technological University is a great feeling personally.
The challenging and enjoyable aspects of being a researcher in your field
I would say that being in the presence of many great and established researchers in the field will really challenge me to push harder in my research. Achieving greater results, improving myself and working towards becoming an established researcher is my goal, as well as using my research to contribute to the betterment of society in general.
Outline why your research is necessary
Neurological diseases are one of the most complex medical challenges of this century. There remains a need for the treatment of neurological diseases. One is epilepsy which is a serious, chronic brain disease characterized by recurrent seizures. It is also one of the most common and most serious neurological diseases. Treatments include anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) which dampen brain excitability, cause serious side effects, and are sometimes ineffective. Brain surgery on the other hand can also be an option, but is not advisable for all epileptic patients. As such, new approaches that forecast the occurrence of seizures and autonomously intervene to prevent them are desired. The work package I am involved in is working to develop a molecular communication model for molecular diffusion through a device for seizure detection and treatment, intracellular signalling pathway model for temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), and artificial intelligence (AI) models to design synthetic cells for neurological treatment. This work package is the first objective of the entire PRIME project and is vital to its success in providing a transformational diagnostic and therapeutic treatment for epilepsy, and possibly other neurological diseases.
How will it improve the current state
Completing this project will produce a software design tool for designing engineered cells that compute, diagnose, and produce therapeutic molecules capable of preventing seizures. The design tool is governed by AI integrated with molecular communication simulations that utilize the modelling of the disease mechanisms and intracellular dynamics. This trans-disciplinary project aims to approach a serious neurological problem through a solution that brings together synthetic biology, computer science, mathematical modelling, medical AI, communication engineering, nanomedicine, bioengineering, and material science. This vision of implanting programmable synthetic cells that mimic electronic computing circuits is not limited to managing epileptic seizures but may extend to many other neurological diseases.
When will it be implemented
We have already started modelling the intracellular signalling pathways of TLE and future works include modelling which involves deep learning and molecular communication. The models can be further improved using additional data and trying out new simulations and modelling tools.
I will be involved with the PRIME project for a total of 4 years.
What are the real-world implications
A real-world implication, when the PRIME project objectives are completed and the desired results achieved, is basically discovering a way to sense, compute, and actuate epileptic seizure suppression in which synthetic cells will be implanted into the brain and will co-exist with the natural neural tissues. This will ultimately treat epileptic seizures before they even happen.