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Oct 7, 2019 2019-10 Business Administration Faculty

Ahsen hopes to ignite a passion for data analytics

From breast cancer to asthma, Mehmet Eren Ahsen has unleashed the power of machine learning to tackle a wide range of challenging issues in the world of biomedicine. And now the new assistant professor of business administration is bringing his expertise to Gies, where he hopes to ignite a passion for data science that will help today’s emerging business leaders solve the critical needs of tomorrow.

Mehmet Ahsen 10“Data is everywhere in our lives,” said Ahsen. “From the smartphones that suggest restaurants based on our location to companies like Amazon who employ vast data divisions to analyze our buying habits, big data is big business, which is why it’s increasingly important for students at Gies to understand its use.”

For Ahsen, who earned dual bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and electrical and electronics engineering in Turkey and a PhD in biomedical engineering at the University of Texas at Dallas, it’s not just about the bottom line; machine learning and data analysis are powerful tools that can also be used to improve the human condition.

That’s why he has co-organized a number of Dream Challenge projects in recent years. Funded by large research grants, these open scientific data competitions use crowdsourcing to analyze data and create algorithms that help solve problems in biomedicine and fast track research using the collective intelligence of the research community.

One of the most recent challenges, partially sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and IBM, is focused on fast tracking new drugs to treat malaria, while another is attempting to develop deep learning methods that can better detect breast cancer and eliminate the false positives in digital mammograms that lead to increased costs and anxiety for patients. The latter could one day significantly improve the health of women in areas with limited access to healthcare professionals.

In addition to the Dream Challenges, Ahsen has pioneered many other medical innovations. He’s used machine learning to identify a biomarker that can diagnose asthma conditions with a simple, non-invasive swab test, and an algorithm that can help predict metastasis in endometrial cancer patients. These and other research initiatives are detailed in the nearly 20 peer-reviewed journal papers he’s published over the years.

“Mainly, I work on data analysis and machine learning methods and apply them to challenging problems in biomedicine,” said Ahsen. “However, the methods I develop are universal and very robust so that they can be applied to other fields such as finance and computer science.”

Ahsen is excited to join Gies because it offers a unique opportunity to teach at one of the world’s top business schools while pursuing his research at a university with abundant resources and collaborative possibilities. As a biomedical engineer, he’s particularly intrigued by the Carle Illinois College of Medicine — the world’s first engineering-based college of medicine, a joint venture between the university and Carle Hospital that could lead to game-changing innovations in medicine.

At Gies, Ahsen will teach a data analytics course that helps students visualize data and use predictive tools to make better decisions. “I think data analysis is something that everyone will need in the future,” he said, comparing the rise of data analytics to other technological revolutions that transformed the business world. “Twenty years ago, most people didn’t do code, but now everyone has to code in different fields. So, we learned to code. I’m hoping I can help students at Gies improve their skills in data analytics and apply them, no matter where their careers lead.”