Malvika Pillai, PhD Candidate in Health Informatics

Malvika Pillai

Where is home for you? 

I’m originally from New York but have been in North Carolina long enough to call it home.


Why did you choose health informatics? 

I started off wanting to learn about computer science and then shifting focus to bioinformatics. I eventually realized that health informatics was my area of interest after hearing a talk on translating research findings from the bench to the bedside. To me, health informatics means creating systems to solve real world problems and making a positive impact on patient care. It is really important for me to see that my work has positive impact, and health informatics is a way of making people’s lives better.  


How would you describe your research to someone outside of your field? 

There are over 7,000 rare diseases, but less than 5% of them have a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drug treatment. In addition, some of the leading causes of death in the US, such as cancer and dementia, are currently incurable. I am focused on building informatics approaches to meet this urgent need. Drug repurposing is taking approved drugs and applying them to new therapeutic purposes. It is a cost and time-efficient approach to drug development. My research is on finding off-label (i.e., repurposed) drug usage and quantifying drug effectiveness in rare diseases and cancers. I do this using machine and deep learning models, where I use patient data from electronic health records to predict treatment success.


What is your favorite thing about being a CHIP student? 

I love that we have such a diverse cohort. Building relationships with and learning from other students is my favorite thing about being in CHIP.


What is your favorite Carolina tradition? 

I love when everyone sings “Hark the Sound” (our alma mater song) after every basketball game.


If you could snap your fingers and become an expert at something, what would it be? 

Languages – it would be incredible to be able to speak and understand all languages. I love to travel, so being a universal translator sounds amazing.


What is the best piece of advice you have been given? 

“The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.” My mom used to recite this quote by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow all the time when I was a kid. She would follow up with saying “You need to work hard if you want to succeed in life.” I get my work ethic from her.


If you could only have 3 apps on your smartphone, what would they be? 

Kindle, Snapchat, and Google Maps


Share your favorite data science/health informatics meme! 

A good example of overfitting


Follow Pillai on Twitter @MalvikaPillai