LAKEWOOD RANCH -- While many high school students were focusing on video games, shopping at the mall or downloading a new application for their cellphone, Out-of-Door Academy student Brittany Wenger was determined to create a computer program that could change breast cancer research.
"One of the programs that I have built is an artificial neural network (ANN). The network is programmed to think like the brain and detect patterns that are far too complex for humans to identify. My program is designed to diagnose breast masses as malignant (cancerous) or benign (noncancerous)," she said.
For her work, Wenger, a 17-year-old junior, was select
ed as a finalist for the 2012 National Center for Women and Information Technology Award for Aspirations in Computing. The award recognizes high school women for their computing-related achievements and interests.
Her program analyzes data from fine needle aspirates, which are noninvasive mass biopsies, she said.
"The program has a malignant sensitivity of 99.11 percent, which means it is diagnosing malignant cases correctly almost every time," she said.
Breast cancer afflicts one of eight women, Wenger said.
"My cousin has breast cancer. It touches all of us," she said.
Wenger was encouraged to apply for the award by her computer technology teacher, Joanne Barrett, after Wenger finished second at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles for her creation. A total of 200 finalists were selected from high schools across the country.
Wenger was interested in computer technology at an early age. In the seventh grade, she finished a college textbook on computer science. Her father is a computer architect for Jackson Hewitt tax service. She said he had no part in designing her program.
"He's very proud of me," she said.
Wenger, who has a 4.0 unweighted grade point average and scored a 2190 on her SAT, founded a science fair club at Out-of-Door and has won Best in Show at the Sarasota County Science Fair. Years ago, she and a group of friends formed a Future Program Solving and Community Problem Solving club, which is based on applying critical thinking and writing skills to extemporaneous problems. On Saturdays, the community team teaches other high school students at Southeast High.
The club recently took first in a regional competition. The future problem solving team won for its work on coral reefs while the community team won for their work teaching computer technology to students.
If that's not enough, Wenger plays on the school's varsity soccer and track and field team. She also plays on a club soccer team.
"Everyone that knows Brittany knows about her talent and her work ethic and determination to make a difference in the world," said David Mahler, head of Out-of-Door. "The combination of the three ingredients give an understanding of her successes and make clear what a bright future she has ahead."
Her program can be found in the Internet at http://cloud4cancer.appspot.com/
If she wins the national award, Wenger will receive a scholarship and laptop computer, and will be flown to North Carolina for an award ceremony. She hopes she can update the program to test other forms of cancer. She wants to pursue a field in pediatric oncology.
"I love to help people," she said. "I have a passion for medicine. I love biology and computer science and I love how they intertwine."
Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 0411. Tweet: @_1NickWilliams