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Olufemi Adeluyi: A Doctor of Technology

His dream is to translate his bench results into bedside treatments, creating portable, reliable diagnostic devices and personal health monitoring (PHM) systems that assist in patient care.

 

SLAS member and Tony B. Academic Travel Award recipient Olufemi Adeluyi, Ph.D., first wanted to help others by becoming a doctor. However, a hospital visit with a family member in his home country of Nigeria left him uneasy with the sight of blood and disease conditions. "On that day when I was very young, I promised myself that I would still help people through the medical field not as a medical doctor, but as a doctor of technology. I wanted to develop equipment and techniques that help doctors treat patients," he explains.

An early interest in computers led to studies in electronic and electrical engineering for Adeluyi. Then he began to question the best approach for merging his engineering education with his prior goal of working in the medical field. He found answers in SLAS and a travel award program that got him to the SLAS conference and exhibition in 2013.

"The SLAS Tony B. Academic Travel Award was a real zinger for me as it marked a turning point in my career," Adeluyi explains. "I had planned to move into the medical field after my Ph.D. but still felt some apprehension and uncertainty. However, once I got the SLAS award I was strongly motivated to go ahead with my plan." Adeluyi, a research assistant in the Computer Systems Lab at Chosun University, Gwangju, South Korea, says that the conferences, workshops, training and research activities he pursued after that were fully focused on transitioning into the medical field.

Prevention and personalization are the emerging areas of need in modern medicine that most interest Adeluyi. "The spiraling costs of healthcare delivery along with the shrinking size of national healthcare budgets have redirected medical efforts toward disease prevention, and it has become more obvious that prevention is indeed better – and cheaper – than cure. The success of preventive medicine rests heavily on prompt and accurate medical diagnosis," he says.

Adeluyi describes the greater role diagnostic medicine (DM) has assumed. "Though it is not strictly a medical discipline, it is at the core of therapeutics in virtually all areas of medicine. Its potential for a positive ripple effect in medicine is the reason I am highly interested in DM research, especially one that uses portable devices and PHM systems," he explains. "Personalization is a growing trend away from the sometimes ineffective 'one-size-fits-all' approach used in standard medicine to a more effective approach that is customized for the specific needs of a given patient."

His solution is to use virtual instrumentation and hardware/software co-design skills to develop portable and reliable PHM systems. His passion for such research was the reason he recently applied for and was selected as a junior associate editor of the nascent IEEE Journal of Translational Engineering in Health and Medicine (JTEHM), a peer-reviewed, open-access scholarly journal and community forum that premiered in July 2013.

Growing a Scientific Mind

Adeluyi credits two men for his success today: His father, Oludare Adeluyi, a chemist with a keen interest in computers, and his first private tutor, Samuel Kesse, who inspired the young Adeluyi to pursue a career in science and engineering.

"Before my parents enrolled me in Samuel Kesse's after-school classes, I had rather low grades in mathematics and sciences," explains Adeluyi. He made remarkable improvement in a short time under Kesse's tutelage. Kesse challenged his student to tell his elementary school teacher that he would be at the top of his class the following term. "I still remember the look of astonishment on her face as though she wanted to say, 'I like your ambition, but that would be a really tall order for you!'" he says. To make a long story short, Adeluyi became first in his class that term and maintained that position during his remaining five-year stay at the school.

"With the benefit of hindsight I believe the change in my result can be attributed to the fact that I now thoroughly enjoyed mathematics and science and found that I had a flair for them," he says. Alongside these academic pursuits, Adeluyi also had a growing fascination with computers. His father established one of the first computer companies in northern Nigeria in 1986. "As the eldest child, I was quite involved in the early stages of the company and became familiar with systems like Apple IIc, Apple IIe and Osborne at a tender age," he explains. "I used these computers to play games and to learn a few BASIC computer language skills while my dad was programming. This atmosphere helped me develop an interest in computer engineering."

When it came time to begin college, Adeluyi decided to pursue a Ph.D. in engineering before he took his first class. He started out with electronic and electrical engineering at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, in Nigeria, to gain a broader engineering education. After graduation, he spent a year in Nigeria's compulsory National Youth Service Corps, working as a scientific officer at the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). Adeluyi also served as a technical assistant to three successive CEOs in the agency gathering valuable work experience. "It was a science and engineering position and responsibilities included coordinating training programs and preparing the agency and CEO's technical briefs, presentations, papers and proposals, which included contributing to technical papers of other top-ranking government officials such as cabinet ministers."

Eventually, he returned to graduate studies after receiving a two-year Korean government information technology scholarship to pursue a master's degree in computer engineering at Chosun University. After completing his M.Sc., Adeluyi received two great offers at the same time. The first was acceptance to the Ph.D. program at Chosun; the other a 12-month visiting scientist fellowship jointly sponsored by UNESCO and the Italian government. Adeluyi requested a study leave and packed up for Trieste, Italy.

"During the fellowship, I worked at the multidisciplinary lab of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP)," he explains. Adeluyi delved into research on novel virtual instrumentation techniques using Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA) and began to rekindle those old feelings about research that would move him into the medical field. "I had a first-hand experience working with a large multinational and multidisciplinary team that included physicists, biologists, chemists, engineers and entrepreneurs. I strongly felt that this was the time to begin my transition into the medical field."

When he returned to the Computer Systems Lab at Chosun University a year later, he redirected his Ph.D. to include medicine. "My supervisor, Professor Jeong-A Lee, was kind and understanding enough to allow me to change the course of my research, even though it was not a traditional research area of our lab at the time," Adeluyi explains.

On this redesigned Ph.D. path, Adeluyi helped with a project that used PHM systems for senior citizens enrolled in the Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) project sponsored by the National Research Foundation of Korea. As part of a team that conducted a survey on ongoing AAL projects around the world, Adeluyi offered recommendations on the proposed focus and also participated in drafting a final proposal. "For the implementation, I joined the other members of the team to develop and test algorithms and solutions for dependable PHM solutions in areas such as gait analysis, EEG and EKG monitoring. Residents of the Bitgoeul Health Town for Seniors in Gwangju, South Korea, volunteered as subjects for some of our experiments. The experience provided a good opportunity for me to gain research experience in the field of medicine in a way that took advantage of the skills I had developed over the years," he explains.

Family-Work Balance

Another skill Adeluyi has developed over time is balancing work life, world travel and the needs of a growing family. He admits that it is sometimes a struggle. "I have a young family, and it has been quite challenging moving around with them to different countries and adapting to new environments, finding new schools, making friends and generally trying to cope with a new culture," he says. "To address this issue I learned to keep an open mind, adapt quickly and to do away with stereotypes." It's a strategy that also has worked for his wife, Ese, son Daniel (6) and daughter Gabrielle (4).

"I haven't always got this right, but I have tried to learn from past mistakes and to apply what I have learned. Time management is crucial for success, and it is necessary to understand yourself and what works best for you," he continues. "For example, I would rather go out earlier in the day than come back late and miss family dinner time, especially since I tend to work best in the early hours of the day. I definitely have more balance now than when I first started my post-graduate career and I believe I am getting better." To unwind, the Adeluyi family visits parks, watches movies or just takes long strolls. He notes that Daniel loves to assemble things and has a strong interest in computers and electronics. Gabrielle is more inclined toward creative arts but also enjoys role play as a doctor.

When he finds time to himself, Adeluyi likes to read the biographies of inspirational scientists and/or visit their namesake museums. "This enables me to see things from their perspectives – their motivation, the challenges they faced and how they overcame them," he observes. He particularly enjoyed Martin Kemp's biography, Leonardo da Vinci: The Marvelous Works of Nature and Man. "The impact and the cross-disciplinary nature of Leonardo da Vinci's work has always intrigued me. I am interested in bio-inspired research as I feel that nature holds the key to many of our current conundrums in science. This biography made me feel that I was on the right path since many of the works of da Vinci were also inspired by nature," he continues.

A recent museum visit to the California Academy of Science revealed even more of nature to this scientist. "My family and I enjoyed the visit and I liked the fact that there was a lot of emphasis on biodiversity. I think scientists can glean some ideas from this for their research, regardless of their area of interest," he comments.

After presenting papers at the FPGA World Conference in 2010, which was held in the Nobel-prize hometown of Stockholm, Sweden, Adeluyi traveled in the footsteps of Alfred Nobel on a city tour. Adeluyi adds that the most exciting part of his visit was the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine building at the Karolinska Institute. "It was really interesting and inspirational to hear about people who have made landmark contributions to the field of science," he says.

For other inspiration, Adeluyi turns to song. "Singing is another hobby of mine – it inspires me and helps me to relax," he explains. "My parents said I have enjoyed listening to music and singing since I was two years old." He continued his tuneful pastime in a number of choirs and bands over the years, honing his harmony and sharpening his skills. "I had the opportunity to direct a band during my undergraduate studies and enjoy writing my own songs," he continues. "These days I sing more as an individual than with a choir or band. I love singing because it relieves me of stress and creates an environment where I am better inspired."

Insider Inspiration

Within the profession, Adeluyi finds inspiration and support from the SLAS community that has opened the door to the blended world of engineering and medicine for him.

"I had the opportunity to interact with many members of the SLAS community and was very impressed with the level of support, efficiency and friendliness of the people," he says. He expresses gratitude to several people in the Society, in particular SLAS Events and Education Manager Amy McGorry. "My participation at SLAS2013 was really stress free due to the excellent administrative support she gave me," he says. He also credits Communications Manager Lynn Valastyan with encouraging him to follow SLAS social media on a daily basis. "Prior to SLAS2013 I only followed SLAS activities occasionally but after visiting with Lynn at the conference, I now follow the updates quite regularly."

Others he met at SLAS2013 included SLAS Career Connections speaker Professor Daniel Eustace, Ph.D., who helped Adeluyi refine his resume to better address the key requirements that would enable him have a successful career in the field, and Anne Carpenter, Ph.D., who offered him insight into the important role of biomedical imaging in laboratory automation. "After interacting with Dr. Carpenter I strongly considered making this an area of future research," he reveals.

"I found that biomedical imaging is an important area that aligns well with my interests in diagnostic medicine and PHM systems. I believe that the opportunity to interact with peers and senior researchers, who are at the cutting edge of research in this field, would inspire me to play my part in developing novel solutions that would benefit the profession. The activities of SLAS also keep me up to date on key developments in the field, which in turn help me achieve my goal of personalized laboratory automation where PHM systems can run real-time tests on subjects in ways that are reliable, efficient and portable."

Adeluyi also expanded his knowledge by attending the SLAS Short Courses, calling them the most unique career opportunities he has had. He adds that the Southwest Airlines coupon he won during the SLAS2013 Passport to Prizes raffle drawing was another perk of attending the event. He used it for a one-day visit to one of the biotech hubs of America. "I consider myself as someone who is always willing to explore and one that is not scared to try out new things. I enjoy talking to professionals in my areas of interest and have made it a habit to document the ideas that are generated from such meetings," Adeluyi explains.

"I advise others to believe in themselves and not be intimidated by challenges," he concludes. "They should be prepared to work hard and be courageous enough to keep going when they do not succeed on the first try. I would leave them with these words from my personal philosophy: Never balk regardless of the challenge; rather think big, but start small and scale fast!"

November 25, 2013