An interview with Nivethika Mahasivam on working collaboratively to create RADAR-Base, overcoming challenges and painting during the pandemic

Nivethika Mahasivam is a software engineer at The Hyve, one of our collaborative partners.  She is based in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

What’s your role on the RADAR-CNS project?

I focus on developing and maintaining the technical platform to support data collection and management for RADAR-CNS studies (as part of the Work Package 7). The RADAR-CNS project has three diseases as main focus areas, each looking into different aspects of health and well being data. It required a platform that can collect data from multimodal data sources such as wearable devices and mobile applications at the same time, in near real time and organise them in a way that can easily enable data analysis. To support this, with the contribution of many people, we created the open-source disease and device agnostic platform called RADAR-base. The RADAR-base platform is used to support all studies of RADAR-CNS and hosted by King’s College London. I am working on continuously improving the platform and supporting researchers with new feature implementation and bug fixes.

In addition to design and development of the platform, I have also focused on disseminating the platform to a wider audience and spreading the word about the RADAR-base platform and its capabilities. I create content , documentation and training sessions to enable new users to get onboard with the platform. 

What do you enjoy the most about your work on the project?

There are many aspects. At the beginning of the project, the RADAR-base platform did not exist. It has been an excellent, unique and a challenging journey to craft such a complex platform from scratch, addressing various points from different stakeholders; be it making user-friendly for the end users, secure data collection and transmission or keeping it modular and extendable for new device support. It is not an opportunity that comes along often, and I have learned a lot.

Apart from the technical work, I really enjoyed working with other partners of RADAR-CNS. King’s has been a great strength to bring RADAR-base to life and I enjoyed collaborating with colleagues there. It is also really interesting and fun to work with people from many organizations addressing interesting questions by analysing data collected in RADAR-CNS studies. It is satisfying and exciting to see what you have built being actually used in research studies.

What is challenging about your work?

The most challenging aspect was to achieve the major milestone; to have a working platform that can support all data sources needed by the RADAR-CNS studies, up and running on time. Since the platform was built from scratch, we had many challenges to address and there were many different ways they can be addressed. Finding the most suitable solution was sometimes challenging. I did exploratory developments, created proof of concept (POCs) to come up with a sustainable design and architecture. They can be time consuming. Working with RADAR-base also required a versatile programming knowledge ranging from backend, frontend, security and operations which was challenging and something I enjoy a lot.

Wearables is also a “hot” domain where lots of new devices come to and leave the market. Another challenge we face is the sustainable device integration that can be adapted easily as new devices come into the market.

What do you think is the importance of the project for the wider field of wearable devices?

It is important to have a scientifically proven solution for remote assessment of diseases and relapses and it will have a huge impact on the quality of life of people. Wearables and mobile applications are already widely used and they are capable of providing large quantities of data about health and wellbeing. RADAR-CNS has the potential to contribute a lot in this space, exploring the feasibility of using such technologies for this purpose and identifying disease progression or relapses.

In addition, I would also like to emphasize the contribution of the RADAR-base platform which has come out of the RADAR-CNS project. It has a significant impact on wearable and mobile based research studies. Thanks to its modular and extendable architecture and the open-source community, it can be used for any disease areas. RADAR-base is already being used in many other disease areas such as Alzheimer’s disease, Atrial fibrillation, bipolar disease and many more to come.

How has the COVID-19 crisis impacted your work or life?

The COVID-19 pandemic did not have a drastic or negative impact on my work or life. I’ve been following the Netherlands government's guideline to work from home since the middle of March. I had to get used to working from home and to have a good work-life balance. It took a couple of weeks’ time. I used to cycle to work everyday and now I have replaced that with running and walks. I am also using the time after work s to get back to painting. I am trying to explore new mediums of painting and different genres.

In terms of project commitments, our major deliverables for RADAR-CNS are done and the sites started recruiting participants long ago. We already had a good process to coordinate the work done in work package 7, such as  having biweekly online meetings to organise our work and a Slack environment to communicate with partners and community and we are continuing to do so.

Even though I miss being in the office and around my colleagues, I am enjoying working from home. I hope the world can return to normal and a vaccine is developed soon.