PhD grad uses math to fight malaria, dengue and COVID-19

May 12, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Enahoro Iboi was recently honored as a recipient of the 2020 Graduate Research Award from the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. He is graduating this week with his PhD in Applied Mathematics from Arizona State University. Enahoro Iboi Enahoro Iboi’s research is focused on the use of mathematical modeling techniques to better understand the transmission dynamics and control of the diseases caused by mosquitoes, such as malaria, dengue and Zika, as well as other infectious diseases, such as the recent COVID-19. Download Full Image

Iboi was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. His father worked as forklift driver at Cadbury Nigeria PLC while his mother was a petty trader. His father died just one month after Iboi began his master’s study at Ohio University.

“My late father loved education so much that he wanted me to get a doctorate degree in mathematics,” said Iboi. “He was unable to complete his high school education, but he always dreamed of me and my siblings attending college. He was not the richest but made sure we had the best education with the little resources he had.”

Iboi developed interest in mathematics while attending high school in Lagos State and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics from the University of Benin, Nigeria. He was then offered financial support as a teaching assistant during his master’s program in mathematics at Ohio University in the U.S.

As his interest grew stronger in applied mathematics, Iboi wanted to study for his PhD at a university with excellent faculty and a strong track record in research.

“Arizona State University was my first choice because of its curriculum and the research expertise of its faculty,” said Iboi. “I got accepted to the PhD program here at ASU, and my expectations were exceeded. My experience at the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences has been awesome, and it has made a lifelong impact on me.”

Iboi’s research is focused on the use of mathematical modeling techniques to better understand the transmission dynamics and control of the diseases caused by mosquitoes, such as malaria, dengue and Zika, as well as other infectious diseases, such as the recent COVID-19.

His first research project at ASU was modeling the transmission dynamics of dengue fever in a population. His work was motivated by the approval of the Dengvaxia vaccine for use in 11 countries, including Mexico and the Philippines.

Iboi developed a novel mathematical model, of the form of a 27-dimensional deterministic system of nonlinear differential equations. Some of the notable features of his model included the inclusion of the dynamics of all four dengue serotypes, the effect of local changes in temperature, and the use of the Dengvaxia vaccine.

“Iboi did what I thought was practically impossible,” said Abba Gumel, Iboi’s PhD adviser and Foundation Professor. “I never expected that such rigorous results could be obtained for such a model with high dimensionality of 27 state variables and nonlinearity.”

Using data from Oaxaca, Mexico, the model simulations showed that the community-wide use of the vaccine would significantly reduce dengue burden, but it would not lead to the elimination of the four dengue serotypes unless other anti-dengue control measures were also implemented.

Iboi’s study further showed that the use of the Dengvaxia vaccine in people without prior dengue infection may induce increased risk of severe disease. This later result was corroborated by clinical data collected in the Philippines, and French pharmaceutical company Sanofi had to withdraw its vaccine from further use in humans.

Ibai’s strong interest in mathematical epidemiology has been reinforced by recent statistics that malaria is prevalent in 31 countries and caused 228 million cases and 405,000 deaths in 2018. Malaria is concentrated in the African region, accounting for about 90% of cases and mortality, with the majority of deaths in children under the age of 5.

“These figures are just one more factor that persuades me that my choice of research in mathematical biology was the right one,” said Iboi.

“Iboi contributes both in terms of the design of totally new, realistic and insightful mathematical models and in their detailed rigorous analyses,” said Gumel. “He also parameterizes these models using available data, including ecological, climatological, epidemiological and demographic, to derive realistic simulations, which can then be used to influence public health policy.”

In recent weeks, Iboi has shifted his focus to the novel coronavirus. He is co-author on two recently published papers, including one that suggests ending social distancing early could trigger a devastating second COVID-19 wave. He has a productive research record, with 10 articles already published, as well as an additional paper submitted and one more in progress. He has been invited to present his research results in many national and international conferences.

“Enahoro Iboi is very deserving of the 2020 Graduate Student Research Award,” said Al Boggess, professor and school director. “His research will continue to have significant impact in controlling diseases like dengue fever and malaria and, most recently, COVID-19.”

We asked Iboi to share more about his journey as a Sun Devil.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: When I published my first manuscript while at ASU.

Q: What do you like most about mathematics?

A: How mathematics can be used to solve global issues, such as cancer, malaria, COVID-19.

Q: What is something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I learned so much while teaching the Pathways Pre-Calculus MAT 170. It changed my perspective of teaching that is more focused on students’ learning outcomes.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I would like to stay in academia and have received multiple employment offers, including tenure-track and post-doc positions at private liberal arts colleges and Ivy League universities.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. Abba Gumel taught me to be very hardworking, dedicated in all I do, and most importantly, to be a good person in life.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school?

A: Stay focused, study hard and pray.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: Wexler Hall.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time for fun?

A: I watch soccer.

Q: What do you think is most misunderstood about math by the general public?

A: That mathematics is boring and difficult.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Help fund research and development to eliminate malaria in sub-Saharan Africa.

Rhonda Olson

Manager of Marketing and Communication, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences


New graduate Rohini Nott is taking her talents to medical school

May 13, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Rohini Nott, a newly minted Arizona State University graduate, aspires to be a physician, and she already has ample hands-on health care experience. Rohini Nott Rohini Nott graduated summa cum laude with bachelor's degrees in biological sciences and business. Starting this fall, she will attend medical school at University of California, Los Angeles. Download Full Image

This week, Nott graduated ASU summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in bological sciences (biology and society) and business (public service and public policy) with honors from Barrett, The Honors College.

Throughout her undergraduate career, she volunteered with the Student Health Outreach for Wellness (SHOW) Community Initiative, which provides free health care services to vulnerable populations in Maricopa County.

“As an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to serve as a student director of SHOW, which enabled me to lead large-scale service events like our annual Health Fair for the Homeless,” she said.

In her freshman year, Nott served as a general volunteer for the event. By her junior year, she planned and executed the annual health fair and a smaller community health fair on Mill Avenue in Tempe.

“SHOW was one of my favorite undergraduate experiences because I got to meet so many people who share similar interests and passions as I do. I am so grateful that I had the privilege and opportunity to serve members of our community through SHOW as an ASU student,” Nott said.

For her academic achievement, research and community involvement, Nott was recognized as the Barrett Honors College Outstanding Graduate for Research and the School of Life Sciences Student of the Year in Biology and Society. She also received the Moeur Award, which is given to students who have the highest GPA in their class and have completed all of their coursework at ASU.

Starting in the fall, Nott will be attending the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“I hope to be a physician and be involved with discussions about policy changes that can improve health care access for underserved populations,” she said.

We asked Nott to reflect on her undergraduate experiences at ASU. 

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I didn’t have one big “aha” moment, but rather a series of moments that confirmed to me that I was studying what was right for me. When I committed to ASU, I had selected biological sciences (biology and society) as my major.

Shortly after I committed, Dr. Jane Maienschein, the director of the Center for Biology and Society, reached out to me. We met up and talked about everything, from what my goals for my undergraduate career were to what the biology and society program entailed. I remember feeling so invigorated after meeting with her and excited for what my time at ASU held.

After my first semester, I decided to add business (public service and public policy) as a second major. With my goal of pursuing medical school, I wanted to study something that would allow me to explore academic areas that I would not get to deeply learn beyond my undergraduate studies. I am so glad I had the opportunity to double major.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: A valuable lesson that I learned during my time at ASU is the importance of an interdisciplinary learning approach. I came into college with the mindset that there is always a linear approach to learning or solving a problem.

My mentors, classes and internships taught me that learning is nonlinear and that there is tremendous value to interdisciplinary problem solving. By integrating multiple disciplines and challenging yourself to pursue different ways of thinking, you can get a better understanding of the problem at hand and have a more thorough and creative solution.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: There were many reasons that factored into my decision to attend ASU. As I was considering what university I wanted to attend, I knew I wanted to be at a school that would enable me to thrive both personally and professionally. The opportunities I saw at ASU were endless, in terms of coursework and majors I could select from, clubs and organizations that I could be part of, and work, volunteer, and internship positions I could apply for.

Being such a large university, ASU offers so many growth opportunities to its students, and that was something that really drew me to ASU. Coming from a small high school, I was somewhat wary of how big ASU is. However, I found that Barrett, The Honors College, offered a small school feel within ASU. Similarly, within the School of Life Sciences, W. P. Carey School of Business, and my residence hall, in my freshman year, I met so many people that really made me feel so welcome at ASU. I love how diverse the ASU community is and how being an ASU student has enabled me to meet people of so many backgrounds.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: First, I want to say how hard it was to pick just one professor and one most important lesson because I have had such amazing professors and mentors at ASU. However, one professor that really stands out to me is Dr. Laura Popova, an honors faculty fellow at Barrett Honors College.

Dr. Popova was my Human Event professor during my first year at ASU. I later had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for her during my second year. Having the opportunity to be her student shifted my perspective on what it meant to be an exceptional leader.

Dr. Popova has a vibrant personality and presence and she has the unique ability to facilitate classroom discussions without interjecting too much of her own ideas. She lets her students lead themselves, which is something that I really admire about her teaching style. After taking her class, whenever I would teach others, I would try to emulate her style of letting others form their own conclusions about topics and issues by facilitating, but not overpowering, discussions.

I also want to give a special shout out Dr. Shelley Haydel, who is the director of the School of Life Sciences Undergraduate Research (SOLUR) Program. I have learned so much from her about scientific communication, the research process and networking. From her, and from all my professors at ASU, I have learned so many important lessons that I will take with me beyond college. I have so much gratitude to all my professors. I would not be where I am today without them.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Having had my final semester disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the advice that I would give to those still in school is to seize every moment and not take anything for granted. If there is something you are passionate or curious about, act towards it.

I frontloaded a lot of my harder classes in my initial semesters with the intention of having a more relaxed senior year. I told myself that the stress would all be worth it once I got my relaxed final year. In my final semester, I signed up for classes outside of my majors that I had wanted to take before, but never gave myself time to take, such as modern dance. However, my final semester got disrupted and I ended up taking all those classes I was so eager to take over the internet.

Your time is precious, and your mental health is important. To all those still in school, I encourage you to act and live with the perspective that the future is uncertain and to try to avoid postponing what matters to you.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I really love going to the second floor of the College Avenue Commons (CAVC) and sitting on the balcony. It is a quieter spot on campus, and it has comfortable seating and offers fresh air. I have loved meeting up with friends and studying up on the second floor. In general, CAVC has a special place in my heart because it is where most campus tours start and throughout college, I was a tour guide with Devils’ Advocates. So, I have a lot of memories that I hold dear that took place in CAVC.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

a: If I had $40 million dollars, I would allocate the money to multiple areas related to the issue of homelessness.

First, I would fund more permanent housing options for people experiencing homelessness, such as permanent supportive housing and rapid rehousing. I would also fund both existing and new homeless shelters to increase capacity and quality.

Second, I would fund services that connect people experiencing homeless with job training and placement programs, as well as eviction prevention programs and work support programs like child care and transportation.

Finally, I would fund health care services, such as drop-in clinics and opportunistic care, which can support improved health care access. Addressing the economic and social conditions of those experiencing homelessness would have a significant impact in homelessness prevention and intervention.

Nicole Greason

Public relations and publicity manager , Barrett, The Honors College