PhD Stories With Abderrahim Oussama Batouche

Can you introduce yourself and share your PhD research topic? 

My name is Abderrahim Oussama Batouche, I have a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Information technology, and a Master’s degree in Data Science majoring in Bioinformatics. 

I am currently a PhD student at the University of Helsinki, doing my research at the HUCC research group and working on the application of AI methods to avoid over-diagnosis and over-treatment of Prostate Cancer. 

What did you study before starting your PhD? 

Prior to commencing my PhD studies, I dedicated my efforts primarily to mathematics and computer science, specifically in the domains of software development and engineering. 

During my involvement in big data applications, my curiosity for data science and its related research areas began to flourish. However, it was during my master’s program in bioinformatics that this curiosity transformed into a genuine passion. 

My time at Aalto University, both as a research assistant and while working on my master’s project, provided me with a remarkable opportunity to witness the allure and significance of research. In this capacity, I focused on leveraging artificial intelligence for autonomous vehicles, real-time object detection, and facial recognition, which further amplified my interest in research. 

What motivated you to choose this program for your doctoral studies? 

The big motivation comes from the environment and the work you done, currently, I am a PhD student in the Doctoral Program of Computer Science (DOCS). In addition, I work at the Faculty of Medicine’s Doctoral Program of System Oncology (ONCOSYS), within HUCC research group. This joint position has allowed me to collaborate with an exceptional group of experts from various fields such as medical students, clinicians, statisticians, bioinformaticians, and data scientists. The diverse perspectives of my colleagues have motivated me to pursue my research and be involved in engaging projects. 

What is a typical workday like for you? 

A typical workday begins by taking a quick breakfast followed by a bike ride to the Campus, joining the team at the office and checkout my emails. Next, I start working on the planned tasked. After lunch break, usually it is time to attend meetings or lectures, plan the next day tasks, and then bike back home. 

How would you explain your PhD in a nutshell? 

Prostate cancer (PCa) is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men, and early detection of metastatic PCa is crucial to reduce mortality. However, PCa screening can result in over-diagnosis and over-treatment. The thesis aims to develop AI methods to identify patients at high risk of PCa and those with low-risk tumours, improving treatment decisions. 

My work is initially focused on data mining, statistical and ML modelling. We are using different type of data in order to analyse whether a specific group of patients need to be treated in certain level of aggressiveness, or if they should be treated at all. 

To this end, there are couple of surrogates that we are using, I can briefly cite here the PSA doubling time as indicator of the cancer aggressiveness, MRI reports, and pathology reports as inputs coming before treatment. We also use the biochemical recurrence status of the patient as a surrogate of death, as mortality data is not always available. 

PhD Student Abderrahim Oussama Batouche in Biomedicum, Helsinki 

Why is your research topic a hot topic in cancer research? 

Upon receiving a cancer diagnosis, a patient’s life undergoes a significant change, and further changes may occur after undergoing treatment. The potential harm resulting from treatment has prompted the scientific community to investigate methods of reducing this harm by avoiding unnecessary treatments. Additionally, MRI has been incorporated into prostate cancer diagnosis, and a hypothesis suggests that more patients are being diagnosed and subsequently treated. 

My research topic centres on analysing these patients and identifying possible evidence to demonstrate whether treatment-related harm can be avoided. 

What have been the most rewarding and the most difficult aspects of pursuing your PhD? 

If I start with the most difficult aspects pursuing my PhD I won’t definitely start by the new environment, I’m coming from computer science background, and here most of the team have a medical or biological background, I had to get familiar with the new terminologies, way of presenting and doing the analysis, even the way of thinking has to change. 

The most rewarding aspect is the fact that I see the progress of my learning journey, but also the impact and the value of my work is something that keep me motivated and proud at the same time. 

Is there some advice you would give to other aspiring PhD Students? 

Persist in pursuing your aspirations and never surrender. Undertaking a PhD is a demanding voyage that may not be without obstacles, so give it your all and do not anticipate extensive assistance. Remember that this is your PhD, your studies, and your future. 

What are your plans after completing your PhD? 

My initial intention is to work as a post-doctoral fellow in the field for 2 years, after which I aspire to become a part of the R&D department in the healthcare industry. 

What do you like to do in your free time? 

I strive to maintain an active lifestyle, both physically and mentally. I achieve my physical fitness goals by biking and walking almost daily, and I playing basketball in a regular basis. For mental stimulation, I regularly read books. 

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