From science to practice

Our interviewee is Abdikenov Beibit Bolatgazyevich, who defended his PhD at the School of Engineering and Digital Sciences in Data Science. Currently, Beibit is a co-founder and director of the ReLive group of companies.

What topic is your doctoral dissertation devoted to and what was the reason for your choice of this scientific research?

The title of my doctoral dissertation is “Optimizing the effectiveness of neuroevolution for the improved prognosis of breast cancer.” The aim of this study was to improve the accuracy of prediction of survival after cancer detection and to achieve this goal, a new algorithm was developed by combining the evolutionary algorithm and neural network. Considering that today this type of cancer is leading among oncological diseases in Kazakhstan and is the most common form of cancer among women in the world as a whole, research in the field of diagnosis and possibilities for using various methods of treating this disease is undoubtedly important. The new algorithm will help oncologists more accurately determine the life expectancy of cancer patients after the appointment of certain treatment methods. In the future, it is planned that this work will be continued and in the future, on the basis of the study, a recommendation system for oncologists will be created.

What, in your opinion, is important to consider when working on a dissertation?

In general, you need to consciously approach a doctorate, as this is a long and difficult path that requires all of your resources. Therefore, you must first talk with your loved ones, during your research work, their support is very important. In my case, my mother and my close friends strongly supported me.

The next step is to decide where you will do your research work and who will be your supervisor. In this regard, I believe that I made the right choice. My chief scientific adviser Professor Prashant Jamwal and Nazarbayev University have given me great support to achieve the goals set in the framework of my doctoral dissertation. During my dissertation, I attended one of the top conferences in my field of NIPS, completed a 5-month scientific internship at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid under the Erasmus program, and also published several scientific articles in high-quality journals.

Another important criterion for achieving your goals is the university ecosystem. In this regard, I received very great benefit from Nazarbayev University. During the first three years, I worked as a Teacher Assistant (TA), this was one of the key experiences for me. I had the opportunity to speak to an audience of more than 200 students, which allowed me to improve my public speaking skills. I also managed to build good relations with students and professors, with whom I still communicate and keep in touch.

The ecosystem of the University also allowed me to establish my startup company in 2018 together with my supervisor Prashant Jamwal. And today we offer modern robotic neurorehabilitation to stroke subjects. In 2019, the project won a grant of inclusive innovation from the World Bank in the amount of 150 million tenge.

What are your future plans?

Currently, I am a co-founder and director of the ReLive group of companies (ReLive Research LLP, ReLive Intelligence LLP). We are an R&D company that develops high tech solutions which are based on the results of its own research. At the moment, we are developing such solutions as a platform for neurorehabilitation, an intelligent video analytics system, and a system for diagnosing breast cancer.

All the high technologies that we create, we develop ourselves and then bring them to the market. Although we have a small but very friendly team. Today we employ about 20 people among which there are researchers with many years of experience who studied at world’s top-ranked universities and worked in large international companies, as well as young specialists who have just completed their studies. At the same time, nearly a third of our employees are graduates of Nazarbayev University. First of all, this is due to the fact that we practice taking NU students for an internship, some of whom, after graduation, remain with us and continue the projects they started during the internship period.

We are also residents of NU Technopark and our choice of this platform was not accidental. Here we can take full advantage of the benefits that the university ecosystem provides us with – this is an opportunity to receive advice and consultations from professors, and to attract the most powerful and promising students for internships, and to use the technical and laboratory facilities for research. Another important aspect is the existence of a free economic zone here, which gives us certain tax preferences. We have developed good partnerships with the NURIS scientific center, with which we now have partnerships on two projects.

Can you tell us more about the projects that are being implemented by your company?

One of our projects is related to neurorehabilitation and is designed to help people who have a stroke and accelerate their recovery. Our main goal is to make the rehabilitation process after a stroke more accessible for people, both in terms of cost and convenience. Currently, neurorehabilitation of patients after a stroke is carried out mainly by physiotherapists and such centers are located in large cities such as Nur-Sultan, Almaty, Aktobe and Shymkent. People from other regions have to travel to these cities for treatment. But keep in mind that after a stroke a person often gets paralysis of the upper or lower extremities and the process of their recovery takes from three months to 2 years. Therefore, today such a trip to these centers and the high cost of technologies and procedures do not allow a large number of people to get affordable rehabilitation.

Now in Kazakhstan, there is a center in Nur-Sultan, which provides robotic rehabilitation, but it uses the solutions of Western companies, which cost from 5 to 10 thousand tenge per session. Our solution reduces the cost by half. If we talk about the technology itself, then with the resulting paralysis in a person, communication neurons are interrupted, as a result of which he cannot move his limbs. This is primarily due to the work of the nervous system, rather than muscle activity. As a result, the limbs are without movement for a long time. We help by creating an exoskeleton (so far only for the upper limbs), which helps people to do the exercises. There are two key points here – we read brain signals using mobile devices of an encephalogram, we recognize these signals and send to the controller which controls an exoskeleton. It turns out that the patient controls the exoskeleton with his thoughts. Our innovation here is that we created our own algorithm for recognizing brain signals and also created smart control in terms of mechanics. The exoskeleton recognizes the strength of a person’s muscles and helps a person only when he really needs it.

All information on the medical history and the patient’s neurorehabilitation process is recorded and stored on the platform, which has the office of the rehabilitologist, assistant and the patient himself, as well as video recordings of exercises, including those which were held in the form of games.

At the moment, we have already completed about 80% of the project and this year we plan to supply several prototypes for the exoskeleton testing.

The second project is an intelligent video analytics system. The main expertise of our team is machine learning and artificial intelligence, especially in the direction of computer vision. Therefore, we have developed an intelligent video analytics system for the control and monitoring of safety procedures, intended mainly for industrial and construction projects. The system, thanks to special technology, recognizes the faces of people, plate numbers of cars, movement around the facility, zoning in the territory of the plant or production facility. And most importantly – in addition to the specified, the system recognizes personal protective equipment – these are glasses, helmets, gloves, vests, shoes, that is, those special things that, in accordance with safety precautions, must be worn by engineers and workers during work. But it often happens that they neglect these rules and violate them. Our project aims to solve problems associated with monitoring compliance with safety requirements at facilities in order to protect the health and life of people, as well as to avoid companies fines and reputation risks in case of non-compliance. A beta version of the product is currently ready. There is already a preliminary agreement with the Kazakhmys Corporation on a pilot project. A preliminary pilot launch was carried out at one of the facilities of the BI Group in February.

The third project, which is directly related to my dissertation, is a project for the diagnosis of breast cancer. It is a logical continuation of my work – but if during the period of my work on the dissertation it was tabular structured data, now we will go directly to the analysis of images. It’s no secret that today there is a problem of diagnosing breast cancer. So, according to statistics, during the diagnosis of this disease in patients, about 30% of errors occur. We want to solve this problem by recognizing and analyzing images taken during the diagnosis of the disease. Today in medical practice there is a mandatory screening, which generally takes place every two years. But the process itself consists of several stages. The first of these is rapid screening, when a mammography picture is taken, where the picture is classified according to the Bi-RADS system. Then the result is sent to the center, where it must be confirmed by another doctor. After that, if there are any symptoms, more complex images such as computed tomography and ultrasound are taken. Then a biopsy is done, where modern technology allows you to make a more accurate diagnosis. At all these stages, pictures are taken that we want to analyze in order to help doctors make an accurate diagnosis at earlier stages. An important point here is that this system will be provided to everyone as free and open-source software (Free / Libre and Open – Source Software) since we believe that artificial intelligence for medicine should be accessible to everyone. This is not the area in which you need to make money. Our company has business projects that should be profitable, but this project in the vision of our team is our social responsibility. By next year, we plan to launch a beta version of the product, which will be available not only in Kazakhstan, but throughout the world. In general, medical issues are closest to us and we see our niche in the future precisely in the field of new solutions for the medical system.

Why did you decide to professionally engage in scientific activities? Was this decision your conscious choice? What would you wish to young people who decided to choose this path for themselves?

My first education was related to IT – information systems. I graduated from Multimedia University (Malaysia) with the Bolashak program in 2011, then worked for 4 years in the IT field, starting with being a developer, then I became an analyst and project manager while working on my master’s work on the subject of Big Data Storage (2012-2014) at the Eurasian National University. It was then that, exploring the problem of storing big data, I understood that the future lies in this area. After the defence, I realized that we have data, we know how to store it, and what to do next? It is clear that it needs to be analyzed. This is necessary for design making – decision making. I was then a specialist who had experience in analytics, but in order to engage in the very analysis of data (data science), it was necessary to have a deeper understanding of mathematics and other important skills. Therefore, I decided for myself that I would devote 3-4 years to gain such knowledge. As I said, I realized that this is the future, so I devoted myself to a deep study of the problem of data analysis. And my realization of why I should be engaged in scientific activity began with this. Initially, I needed to get expertise in this field, and only then I went for science, realizing that I can achieve something only when I concentrate on one highly specialized area – data science. So I came to doctoral studies, where not the status was important to me but experience – how to understand the problem, how to solve it and gain deeper knowledge. And it should be said that during my studies I received this. At NU, in addition to the required knowledge on data analysis, I consider an important skill that I have received – to start any decision with a literature review. That is, before you do something, you must search for literature on the topic, understand how this technology is done, how feasible it is, and how other people around the world do it. This helps you test your hypothesis, do fact-checking, and only then engage in the further development of the topic. This is a very good skill, which now helps me in doing business and building our R&D company. First of all, I study scientific articles on any topic, even if it relates to business. I try to always read the work of experts who write scientifically and use the data. Thus, I can say that I received a lot of knowledge and skills during training in doctoral studies.

I can wish the young people who go to science, first of all, to make an informed choice, to consult with your loved ones, because this is a long and thorny path, where there are different things, including when something does not work out for you and you want to drop everything. It often happens that even very smart and talented people do not always bring their work to completion and drop everything after 2-3 years. Only the most stress-resistant and hardworking people reach the end. But first of all, as I said, it’s a realization of how much this occupation is yours, do you really need it, because you can go into the industry and get similar skills, but if you want to be an expert in some field, then this doctoral program gives a good opportunity for scientific examination, in-depth knowledge in a particular field.

I am glad that I chose this path for myself. During training in doctoral studies, I gained not only new skills but also new values ​​in life, in my views on many points, in the implementation of the examination. In addition, I made many good friends and colleagues here.