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

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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, providing more confidence to a minimally invasive procedure.


The cloud-based neural network took top prize in this year’s Google Science Fair.

“I taught the computer how to diagnose breast cancer,” Brittany Wenger, the Lakewood Ranch resident, told me today.

“And 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.”

Wenger 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,” Wenger said. “And that is what I’m trying to do with my neural network.”

Artificial neural networks are essentially computer programs coded to think like the brain, she explained. Only they can detect patterns that are too complex for mere humans.

Written By: John Roach
continue to source article at futureoftech.msnbc.msn.com

49 COMMENTS

  1. I’ll agree the occasional child like Brittany Wenger has the genius is takes to improve the world, for which we’re all grateful, but I must take issue with much of your post. Putting aside for the moment the question of how you might evidence your summary of the online activities of cancer researchers, I must critique your “not getting very far” dismissal of them. The truth is the reason an occasional child manages things like this is because the world has plenty of great and soon-to-be-great scientific contributors; it’s just we call the adults “scientists”, and a few people mature even faster.

    There are over 200 cancers, each requiring its own curative methods. On most fronts we’ve made progress in the sense we can more easily find cancers, treat those cancers we find, reduce the risk of treated cancers returning, and extend the life of those whose number would otherwise be up. It’s not the death sentence it once was. There are many grateful survivors. Some cancers are almost trivial to cure, and even less straightforward ones have plenty of success stories; a good friend of mine made getting cured with chemotherapy look easy. These facts are easily overlooked by people who say, “we have no cure for cancer”, i.e. we can’t cure all 200+ of them as readily as a headache. 

    You want an example of recent progress? This year we discovered “breast cancer” is at least 10 different diseases. Now we’ll be able to find which methods statistically work well against each *kind* of breast cancer, as well as giving future patients a treatment bassed on us knowing which disease they have. (Give it time, of course.) BW’s work in the area of breast cancer this year will no doubt help a lot too. I don’t know whether her method can classify breast cancers by type, but if it can’t I bet some scientists will work to tweak it so that it can. What’s more, her achievements were made standing on others’ shoulders; she’s improving existing detection methods with AI techniques she has not invented.

  2. Because some people, and I include myself here, tend to occasionally forget America is far more than a bunch of religiots. As long as I am knocking down the worst of America, or indeed humanity, I feel I am duty bound (and happy) to build up the best

  3. Off topic but this can’t be allowed to pass unchallenged-

    [so-called methods of "prevention"] what a statement! So gardasil to combat HPV will save thousands of lives yet it would be better to allow the disease & then try to cure it. What’s the real point you’re trying to make?

  4. Congratulations! I don’t know how much hard work went into creating the neural network, but I am grateful for every last minute put into a creation that could save and improve many lives.

  5. Drai, as you have use the Moon landings as a sign of what humans can achieve and compared it to ‘cures’, can I ask why it is that man has not traveled to other star systems yet? Could it be that we do not yet poses the technology required? One could argue that this is how it is with ‘cures’.

    You also make it sound as if there is no research going into ‘cures’, do you have any evidence for this?

    Also, how do YOU define ‘cure’? and at what stage in an illness do you administer it?

    Or do you accept that vaccines as a preventative are infact far better than any cure, as they do not require one to be ill in order to be administered?

  6.  Since you seem to know so well how the medical world works, why don’t you put your brain forward? Or are you part of the ‘Facebook-posting’ and ‘Twitter-tweeting’ scientists?

  7. Expectations? Should we not be grateful that someone is doing some work towards others inflictions. Results are not created they are discovered. To expect a person, an industry or a method that is based in humanity for others, is to forget the work, discovery and sacrifice  made in the face of the unknown that has produced the results and applications that we all enjoy without any effort of our own. Be thankful for what we can do and wish them the best for what they are trying to know or contribute discovery. (The latter giving you the right to expect from yourself anything you want.) 
    I have respect and admiration for scientist across the board that have worked so hard for centuries to enable me to bring up my daughter in a world not scared of the truth. Well done Brittany. An amazing contribution. 
    Progression is the young taking from the old and travelling further and further each time

  8. May I suggest the creative team at RDF design a young peoples section on this site – call it,  “teen RDF”, or, “Cool teens” ? How about awarding a teenager an annual ‘Olympics’ style gold medal for science innovation? Lets see now, what shall we call it? Yes, why not the “Dawkins Gold Medal” ! First one being awarded to young Brittany W for an outstanding achievement.

  9. “The fact is we can’t reliably and fully cure *any* kind of cancer at all.” – “Fully” is setting the bar unfairly high; it implies success 100 % of the time. Testicular cancer, however, is already pretty close.

  10. Firtsly, since I refuted a claim of yours and you said “it’s not wrong by enough to be good news”, you’re a goalpost-shifter. (And calling it “uncommon” is a bit implausible; it affects 0.2 % of the population and, if all cancers did that, a third of people would get cancer, which is the Western rate and higher than the worldwide rate. Just because it’s not in the top 10, doesn’t make it rare.)
    Secondly, it *is* unfairly high because few diseases can be cured 100 % of the time, and that was explicitly the criterion by which you were judging work on cancer. We have made significant progress in the last few decades, and if you don’t believe that you should be happy not to make use of such technologies as PET, chemotherapy, radiation therapy etc. Just admit we’re in a much better position than our parents or our grandparents were!
    Let’s say, for the sake of argument, every cancer will be trivially curable as of 2050. In the mean time, people like you with an all-or-nothing mentality sadly exist, but your objections are silly.

  11. @drai, well I did ask you to define ‘cure’, I’m still waiting.@rdfrs-ab9140ce3a33a91a0bc591a1c9904c97:disqus 

    I cannot fathom why you are so angry at what you percieve as a lack of progres in cures, how exactly do you imagine any cure working?

    Either we let people fall ill in order to ‘cure’ them or we use ‘preventative’ measures to stop people getting ill in the first place.

    Vaccines such as those for HPV (Preventing 70% of all cervical cancer) are far far better than any ‘cure’ we could ever hope to develope. Cures by design should be secondary to preventative medicine.

  12. Drai, one of the most significant factors in cancer treatment is certainly how soon it is detected, because it is always going to be a lot easier to effectively treat it if it is detected early enough. However, early detection reqiires not only a method, but it’s early use by the potential victim, and this is an area where there is still much room for improvement.
    http://www.newswire.ca/en/stor
    “Early detection
    barriers emerge in new report on prostate cancer”
    …” Among both men and women 45-64 years of age, 57 per cent report having only “some to no understanding” of prostate cancer disease detection and treatment.”
    It is unreasonable to expect the medical establishment to be able to cure someone of cancer who has allowed it to metastasise before reporting the condition.

  13. How dare you say that. Especially when considering how far we have come in say the last 50 years. Medicine is taking huge leaps forward. Just because some teenagers are showing prowess within the medical community doesn’t mean that the trained professionals have no idea. And have you also not noticed that those teenagers haven’t discovered cures, but means of detection.

    And with regards to your example of what genius is, Einstein and Newton were mathematicians and had nothing to do with medicine. Atleast back up your arguments with geniuses from the profession you are regarding like Lister or Koch or Pasteur.

    And, to be honest, I think you are either jealous of the teenagers or you have lost faith in the medical world for some reason.

    Medicine is at its best. You cannot create cures just by demanding them. Christ, medicine has wiped entire diseases off the planet!

    I forgot to also mention that you were wrong about testicular cancer, it is very common and is infact the most likley type of cancer a male will get between the age of 20-40.

  14. Do I think we should have a vaccine for every type of cancer? One would hope to have a combined vaccine as more and more cancers are tackled in this way. The HPV vaccine by the way prevents the infection of 4 strains of the HPvirus which causes cervical cancer but these 4 account for 70% of all instances, 90% of genital warts as well as other infections. The HPV vaccine hase multiple benefits.

    Not all cancers can be tackled in this way however.

    Do you suggest that we ONLY treat people when they get sick?

    As a cost to society, it is far costlier in terms of hours off of work and money spent to treat people when they get ill than it is to PREVENT them getting ill in the first place.

    How do you feel about the erradication of smallpox? did we do right in eliminating this or should we have kept on treating people as and when they got sick?

  15.  Yes medicine is at its best and it will only get better as it always has. It is at its best in comparison to the past and will be better in the furture. Therefore, past = downhill and future = uphill. Understand?

  16. Drai, perhaps you didn’t bother to read the link I posted previously, so here is some more from it:
    “Early detection barriers emerge in new report on prostate cancer


    According to the Foundation, the report card revealed a less than desirable use of PSA and DRE tests across Canada, even among older men.”
    And, yes, it IS unreasonable to expect miraculous cures at a late stage in the disease, especially when it is possible to detect it at an early stage, IF the potential victim is minded to actually use the available test.

  17. The billions of lives saved and lengthened so far, and the billions of dollars being spent upon research into new cures and preventions (not to mention the previous billions spent), says that you are wrong.

  18. drai, why is it a different story for smallpox? Can you provide a list of what YOU think are acceptable diseases to vaccinate against?

    As for diet and exercise, these are life choices in most cases, you sound as if you want a pill to cure obesity or to get fit.

    ‘Also, prevention, by its very nature, is less effective in keeping someone alive than a cure.’ – - – I’m sorry, but you are beyond wrong here, the smallpox vaccine was a preventative measure, not a cure. And as you well know was 100% effective.

    The last natural case, which occurred in Somalia in 1977 saw an end to the smallpox disease, which at it’s height affected 50 million people per year and killed one in four, was accountable for 90% of all blindness in some countries and left most pockmarked for life.

  19. That was the most preposterous post I’ve yet seen ion this site. I am 100% atheist, and only used the word “miraculous” to indicate that you are demanding the impossible (ie, miracles).
    I am not trying to ‘”blame the patient”, only pointing out to you that you are unreasonably blaming medical research. I suspect that you know very little biology, on which to base such criticism. You only seem to have opinions.

  20. Drai,

    You seem to think that medical researchers aren’t trying to find a cure for cancer, but this is not the case:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C

    “Cancer research is basic research into cancer in order to identify causes and develop strategies for prevention, diagnosis, treatments and cure.

    Cancer research ranges from epidemiology, molecular bioscience to the performance of clinical trials to evaluate and compare applications of the various cancer treatment. These applications include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, Immunotherapy and combined treatment modalities such as chemo-radiotherapy. Starting in the mid-1990s, the emphasis in clinical cancer research shifted towards therapies derived from biotechnology research, such as immunotherapy and gene therapy.”

    Perhaps what you are missing is that medicine has a responsibility to help cancer sufferers right NOW. It is not good enough to tell them, “Sorry, mate, we’re concentrating on finding the ultimate cure, hard luck!”. The problem is to strike a balance between long term and short term aims.

  21. Drai,

    You seem to think that medical researchers aren’t trying to find a cure for cancer, but this is not the case:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C

    “Cancer research is basic research into cancer in order to identify causes and develop strategies for prevention, diagnosis, treatments and cure.

    Cancer research ranges from epidemiology, molecular bioscience to the performance of clinical trials to evaluate and compare applications of the various cancer treatment. These applications include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, Immunotherapy and combined treatment modalities such as chemo-radiotherapy. Starting in the mid-1990s, the emphasis in clinical cancer research shifted towards therapies derived from biotechnology research, such as immunotherapy and gene therapy.”

    Perhaps what you are missing is that medicine has a responsibility to help cancer sufferers right NOW. It is not good enough to tell them, “Sorry, mate, we’re concentrating on finding the ultimate cure, hard luck!”. The problem is to strike a balance between long term and short term aims.

  22. drai ‘Prevention, as you keep mentioning, typically lowers one’s risk of contracting a disease, it’s no guarantee against it, unlike a genuine cure.’

    Sorry, but did you miss the mention of smallpox? It has been 100% effective, YOU cannot get infected with smallpox, polio will soon go the same way. these two alone are bigger than ANY cure we might ever have hoped to have developed.

    Smallpox, at it’s height, affected 50 million people per year, one quater died. Any ‘Cure’ would still require these people to get sick, be blinded and scared for life.

    Sorry, but you can shuv your cure up your backside.

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