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By Rania Nasrallah-Massaad

Qianru Qi was recently hired as an assistant professor of finance at the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa. She completed her PhD at Purdue University and then pursued a research career at Fudan, New York, and Duke universities. We interviewed her to learn more about her interests in finance and innovation research.

Why did you choose to conduct research?

While I was earning a master’s degree in Germany, I received a research assistantship from Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the largest German research institute of applied sciences. I worked on designing a visualization software that compares different diamond-cutting strategies virtually. The original software needed 14 hours to visualize a one-carat diamond. This was 15 years ago, and the computers were not very powerful. To address that issue, I developed a new algorithm that reduced the time to 10 minutes. I saw the real power of innovation and was driven by this excitement, constantly looking for innovative solutions that can dramatically change the status quo and address challenging issues in society.

Can you discuss a highlight from your work that you are particularly excited about?

As cancer treatment becomes more targeted and personalized, drug prices are becoming unaffordable. Some cancer drugs now cost up to a million dollars and as they become even more expensive, cancer patients will face a hard choice between “better treatment” and “better livelihood”. An alternative is to develop medical innovations that can prevent cancer. One good example is liquid biopsy, a blood sampling technique. Patients would only need to provide a blood sample to their physician once a year to permit early detection and removal of the cancer without severe consequences. One barrier to liquid biopsy research is that scientists need to track healthy people for many years; it is currently costing the US government $1.5 billion to establish a dataset. My collaborators and I have found a solution that reduces this cost by 99%.

What are you currently working on and how can it influence businesses in Canada?

Having developed a financing framework that significantly reduces research costs for liquid biopsies, my collaborators and I plan on implementing this financing framework to similar studies in Canada. My current research on fintech [financial IT] aims to make artificial intelligence more accessible. Specifically, we all know that big data analysis and artificial intelligence can help firms make better business decisions, but such services are not affordable for small business owners. The goal is to develop easy-to-use business and finance-specific artificial intelligence tools that will provide the resources necessary for entrepreneurs to fully understand the competitive landscape as they create small businesses, allow regulators to quickly identify issues to help prevent the next financial crisis, and enable researchers to develop and test theories to transform Canada’s business practices.

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