This story was well-read on Mashable and got picked up by one of Australia’s largest newspapers.
The Sydney Morning Herald – http://www.smh.com.au/technology/sci-tech/teen-develops-algorithm-to-diagnose-leukaemia-20130521-2jzrg
Brittany Wenger isn’t your average high-school senior: She taught the computer how to diagnose leukemia.
The 18-year-old student from Sarasota, Fla. built a custom, cloud-based “artificial neural network” to find patterns in genetic expression profiles to diagnose patients with an aggressive form of cancer called mixed-lineage leukemia (MLL). Simply put, this means Wenger taught the computer how to diagnose leukemia by creating a diagnostic tool for doctors to use.
Since artificial neural networks are programs that model the brain’s neurons and their interconnections, Wenger told Mashable that they “can actually learn to detect things that transcend human knowledge.”
Mixed-lineage leukemia generally has poor prognosis, and the five-year survival rate is only 40%. Since Wenger said “different types of cancer have different molecular fingerprints,” she discovered four particular gene expressions in the body that can be targeted to create MLL-specific drugs. Not only did she create a powerful diagnostic tool for this cancer, but her findings might also help develop new treatments.
Wenger, who is graduating soon from The Out-of-Door Academy in Sarasota, previouslyused artificial-intelligence technology to diagnose breast cancer. With a non-invasive procedure, her technology was able to help determine whether a breast mass was malignant or benign. Wenger’s new findings with leukemia prove that her Cloud4Cancer service (check it out, here) can be altered to improve diagnostics for multiple cancer classifications.
Wenger described herself as always having been a “a very naturally curious person.”
“The most amazing part about science is you can answer questions and really revolutionize the world and our knowledge base,” she said.
It all started in seventh grade, when Wenger took a futuristic-thinking course. She became obsessed with the concept of artificial intelligence, and started learning how to code. Later, when Wenger was in the tenth grade, the issue hit close to home: Her cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I became really interested in applying my passion for artificial intelligence to my newfound interest in breast cancer diagnostics,” she said. That eventually led to her initial breast-cancer diagnosis project, which she worked on for a few years.
But Wenger wasn’t done. “I wanted to prove that the infrastructure I built could work with multiple diseases,” she said. That’s what led to her new MLL cancer-diagnosis innovation.
Wenger was recognized at last week’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix for her work in leukemia diagnosis. The world’s largest science fair brought together 1,600 high-school finalists from all over the world, who competed for more than $4 million in awards. Wenger received a $3,000 award in the competition’s computer-science category, as well as Go Daddy’s $1,500 Data Award, Google’s CS Connect $10,000 award and a $500 award from the IEEE Computer Society. In addition, back in March, she won eighth place and $20,000 in Intel’s 2013 Science Talent Search — a prestigious high-school science competition — for her work in breast-cancer diagnosis.
Moving forward, Wenger said she wants to be a pediatric oncologist, and will pursue her studies at Duke University. Using her computer-science background, she also wants to continue her research to help people who are working to find cures for cancer.
You can learn more about Wenger’s work from one of her TEDx talks (she’s given four of them!).