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17-year-old girl builds artificial ‘brain’ to detect breast cancer

by Kasia Gospos on August 3, 2012

I am so thrilled to share with you another woman’s success. And what is the most important, this is a success of not just one woman but all of us as breast cancer affects one in eight women worldwide.

Brittany Wegner,17-year-old girl from Florida, built an artificial “brain” to accurately assess tissue samples for signs of breast cancer, providing more confidence to a minimally invasive procedure.

For this project Wenger took the grand prize in this year’s Google Science Fair.

INSPIRATION

Wenger started building networks in the seventh grade after studying the future of technology for a school project and she’s got immediately fascinated.

“I decided that it was what I was going to do… I came across artificial intelligence and was just enthralled. I went home the next day and bought a programming book and decided that was what I was going to teach myself to do,” she said.

Her first neural network played soccer.  “I’m very persistent, and I learned to code, and I started coding neural networks that played soccer – I’m an avid soccer player as well.”

PROJECT: Global Neural Network Cloud Service for Breast Cancer

I taught the computer how to diagnose breast cancer

Brittany Wenger said .

“Early detection is really important,” Wenger said. “That is what I’m trying to do with my neural network.”.  Breast Cancer affects also Brittany’s family.

“This is really important because currently the least invasive form of biopsy is actually the least conclusive, so a lot of doctors can’t use them.”

HOW IT WORKS

Artificial neural networks are essentially computer programs coded to think like the brain. Only they can detect patterns that are too complex for mere humans. And they get better as they process more and more data.

Wenger’s program improves diagnoses of malignant breast tumors by using a large amount of data stored online and looking for patterns. For her Google Science Fair project, she built a neural network with Java and then deployed it to the cloud. She ran 7.6 million trials on it and found it is 99.1 per cent sensitive to malignancy.

“As I get more data, the success rate will go up and the inconclusive rate will go down,” she said. “So with more data, I think it is hospital ready.”

Apart from hospitals, Wenger aims to extend it to other types of cancer. “It will require a little bit of coding and tweaking, but it would be very easy to adapt it so it could diagnose other types of cancer and potentially other medical problems,” she said.

GOOGLE SCIENCE FAIR

The contest was free to enter and open to all students around the world between 13 and 18 years of age. Google collected entries from January to April and announced the finalists in May. The grand prize winner receives a $50,000 scholarship, an internship and a trip to the Galapagos Islands.

“I’ve never been to South America,” she said. “I’m so excited.”

Kasia Gospos
Founder of Leaders in Heels. Passionate about using Leaders in Heels to empower and connect all women in business. Loves all 'sorts' of technology and on most days can be found happily typing away at her desk or looking up things on the web. Is a feminist at heart and loves to meet new people. Australia, Sydney
 
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