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Artificial 'Brain' to diagnose breast cancer programmed by a high school junior girl

An artificial “brain” built by a 17-year-old whiz kid from Florida is able to accurately assess tissue samples for signs of breast cancer. The cloud-based neural network took top prize in this year’s Google Science Fair.

Brittany Wenger of Sarasota, wrote a breast cancer-diagnosing app based on an artificial neural network, basically a computer program whose structure is inspired by the way brain cells connect with one another.

Wegner wanted to create a way for more doctors to use the minimally invasive procedure, called Fine Needle Aspirate, in order to ease the process of having lumps examined.
Breast cancer affects one in eight women worldwide, she noted, including members of her family.
“Early detection is really important,” Wegner said. “And that is what I’m trying to do with my neural network.”

Wegner started building these networks in the seventh grade after studying the future of technology for a school project. 
“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.

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 percent sensitive to malignancy.
“As I get more data, the success rate will go up and the inconclusive rate will go down,” she said.

She also compared her custom-built network to three off-the-shelf products that she tweaked to work with her dataset. Her sensitivity to malignancy was 4.97 percent better than the commercial networks.

Wenger is hosting her app, called Cloud4Cancer, online, so that other doctors can enter in their own data, she said. Given more data, it should work even better, she wrote. She also thinks her approach can be used to make neural networks that diagnose other diseases, including prostate cancer and ovarian 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.

Her Google win earns her an internship at one of the institutions hosting the Google Science Fair, a trip to the Galapagos Islands, a trophy made of white Lego bricks and a $50,000 scholarship for college. In the future, she wants to major in computer science and work as a pediatric oncologist.