University High School student earns prestigious computing award for research tied to rare heart condition
A new University High School graduate earned a $10,000 computing scholarship for her research into predicting fainting among those with a rare heart condition.
Sirihaasa Nallamothu’s project, Predicting and Identifying Relevant Features of Vasovagal Syncope in Patients with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) Using Machine Learning Methods and Physiological Data, made her the first person to conduct an IRB research study and collect real-world data on POTS patients using non-invasive technology.
Vasovagal syncope is when a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure leads to fainting. POTS is a condition characterized by abnormally large heart rate increases upon standing.
"There’s a lot of systemic gender bias on the resources and research that’s being diverted."Sirihaasa Nallamothu, recent graduate of University High School in Normal
Nallamothu learned of the condition through TikTok.
“I was literally just scrolling online and I found a video of a girl who would set up a camera and she would record herself fainting,” said Nallamothu. “A lot of the time, she would record herself fainting in the kitchen ... there was one where she was driving, and she could feel herself starting to faint, so she was able to pull over on the road.”
It wasn’t just a TikTok or two that made the issue so important to her. When talking about the subject with other researchers, she learned that over 80% of POTS cases are in women.
“There’s a lot of systemic gender bias on the resources and research that’s being diverted,” said Nallamothu.
She said the opportunity to advance the field in that way helped keep her drive for the project.
For patients in Nallamothu’s study who can feel episodes right before they happen, they are told to press a button on a device supplied by the researchers. She says that when that is done, researchers can then extract data from the event.
However, the condition does not always make for predictable occurrences. This is where her research comes in, perhaps giving hope to some patients that have lost their ability to do certain activities that others may take for granted.
Nallamothu said the main person who worked with her to this point on the project was U-High computer science and engineering teacher Cory Culbertson.
“He’s the one that took a chance on me. There’s an independent study program at U-High, so I’d have like an hour or two hours every single day,” said Nallamothu. “So his confidence, his support is the only reason I’m at this point in my research.”
Her work made her one of four students across the country to receive the 2022-23 Cutler-Bell Prize from the Association for Computing Machinery. The $10,000 awarded to her will go towards tuition at the University of Illinois, where Nallamothu plans to continue her work.
“When I go to the U of I, I’m not going to be the smartest person in the room,” said Nallamothu. “So having this vote of confidence from an organization like them is really helpful.”