This Genius San Ramon Student Uses AI To Predict Chemo Outcomes

SAN RAMON, CA — One in eight U.S. women will develop breast cancer, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. So Janice Yang, a Dougherty Valley High School senior, decided to do something about it.

“As a woman, I feel like that’s a big problem,” she said.

At age 17, Yang has developed an artificial intelligence model to help doctors determine whether a patient is responding positively to a form of chemotherapy earlier on in the process.

Her work focuses on neoadjuvant chemotherapy, a form of chemo that doctors give to patients with mid-to late-stage breast cancer, in an attempt to shrink the tumor and make it easier to perform surgery without complications, she said.

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Here’s the catch: It’s difficult and sometimes impossible to tell whether the patient will respond. Sometimes tumors worsen, but doctors usually don’t see that until the process is over, Yang said. It’s possible to see whether the chemo is helping by performing a biopsy on the lymph nodes, but that’s invasive and comes with troublesome side effects.

MRIs, however, are not invasive. They don’t harm the patient and can help doctors determine whether a patient will respond.

Yang collected MRI scans of women who did and did not respond to neoadjuvant chemo, created an algorithm and fed her data into a model that taught itself to predict whether a patient would have success.

Her original research landed her among 300 finalists for the national Regeneron Science Talent Search and came with $2,000 prizes each for her and her school. Yang said she plans to put some of that money toward college and continue her research.

It was a very competitive process, she said, and she was surprised to see she was selected as a finalist among the thousands of applicants across the country.

After all, Yang was introduced to AI just a few years ago at a Stanford University event to introduce freshman girls to AI. She was introduced there to experts working in all disciplines.

She decided to hone in on the nexus of AI and medical imaging while working with the Simons Summer Research Program at Stony Brook University in New York. Her mentor, Dr. Tim Duong, worked in radiology, she said.

Yang doesn’t yet know where she’ll go to college, but she plans to study computer science and AI. She said she wants to get a master’s degree, or maybe a doctoral degree to become a professor and continue doing research.

She hopes to eventually publish a paper on her work.

In the meantime, Yang said she plans to continue gathering data to feed into her model to make it increasingly reliable.