High school student creates computer app for diagnosing breast cancer
This year's winner of the Google Science Fair is Brittany Wenger, a 17-year-old high school student from Florida. For her award-winning project, Wenger used her knowledge of computer science and biology to design an app to help doctors diagnose breast cancer.
Brittany Wenger, a 17-year-old high school student from Lakewood Ranch, Fla., won the second annual Google Science Fair for a computer application she designed that could help doctors diagnose breast cancer.
Until recently, non-invasive breast cancer diagnoses weren't nearly as accurate as invasive procedures. But Wenger's idea could soon change that.
Her computer program, called a neural network, mimics the human brain by reading massive amounts of information to detect complex patterns. In doing so, it can "learn" to diagnose breast cancer.
The program can identify 99.11 percent of malignant breat tumors. And, as Wenger points out, it will only get better over time. The more data it collects from samples, the more accurate it becomes.
Wenger first heard about neural networks in an elective course she took on futuristic thinking. She found inspiration for the project from her cousin, who was undergoing painful biopsies at the time.
"It was really by accident that I discovered this amazing technology and became so enthralled," Wenger said. "When I came across it, I went out and bought a programming book, and with no experience decided that that was what I was going to do."
Google awarded Wegner a $50,000 scholarship, an internship with a fair sponsor and a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands for her first-place finish.
Wenger noticed that the results from one of the least invasive biopsies for diagnoses, the fine-needle aspiration, were the most inconclusive. She worked to design a system that would analyze the samples more intelligently.
"I created a tool for doctors to use that could detect patterns in these fine-needle aspirates that are too complex for humans to detect," she said.
Wenger, who wants to become a pediatric oncologist, said her invention was a reflection of her passion for computer science and biology.
"I really think that's the future of research," she said about the intersection of the two fields.
She plans to continue studying both subjects in college next year. Harvard, Duke, Dartmouth and Stanford are just a few of the schools she plans to apply to.
In the meantime, Wenger's been invited by breastcancer.org to speak at the organization's next convention, and a hospital has volunteered to provide her more data for further research.
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