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ODA student programs computer to detect cancer

Brittany Wenger hopes to refine her project this summer.
Brittany Wenger hopes to refine her project this summer.
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LAKEWOOD RANCH — Brittany Wenger’s competition at the 2011 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles in May was astounding.

Featuring some of the most brilliant high school scientists from throughout the world, the fair included entries from students as far away as China and Saudi Arabia. One student from the Czech Republic presented a computer cursor that could be controlled with the eye, and the student set up right next to Wenger had built an MRI.

But Wenger, a sophomore at The Out-of-Door Academy, came ready to compete. And her project, titled “Neural Network Diagnostics for Breast Cancer,” won second place in the Medical and Health Sciences category as well as honorable mention from the American Statistical Association.

And if that title makes no sense to you, Wenger, 16, offers a simpler explanation.

“I taught a computer how to detect breast cancer,” she said.

Utilizing artificial neural networks (artificial intelligence), Wenger successfully programmed a computer to diagnose tumors. To test her program, Wenger used breast cancer data from University of Wisconsin’s Dr. William H. Wolberg. From there, her program considered criteria including clump thickness, uniformity of cell size and shape, and mitoses to determine whether a tumor was benign or malignant.

Her results were impressive. Of the 700 tumors tested, Wenger only received six false positives and 13 false negatives.

Wenger’s love of science stretches back to her childhood.

“I started doing science fairs when I was in the fifth grade,” Wenger said.

By seventh grade, Wenger was taking college-level computer science courses. And since starting high school at ODA, Wenger has continued to cultivate her love of science.

Wenger received a $1,500 award for her project and plans to continue refining the project.

“I want to continue with the project, get more data and reduce the false results going forward,” she said.

Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].


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