WATCH: Maryland Teen’s AI-Enabled App Could Save Rural Cancer Patients

William Gao developed an AI diagnostic tool to support doctors and hospitals — allowing them to identify malignant tissue without long lab delays.

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For William Gao, his research is personal. Three of his grandparents, who lived in rural China with sparse access to health care, were diagnosed with cancer. 

“Poor health care meant late diagnoses,” Gao said. “And late diagnoses meant grim prognoses.”

During his research, 18-year-old Gao noticed that shortages in pathologists around the world cause long diagnosis times, especially in developing countries. He said this elevates mortality rates in breast cancer patients, for example.

To tackle these health care disparities, the teen from Centennial High School in Ellicott City, Maryland, developed an AI diagnostic tool to support doctors and hospitals in the diagnosis process. Rather than sending tissue samples to a separate lab, with long wait times for results, Gao’s app creates a heat map, then and there, of a biopsied tissue revealing exactly what part of the tissue sample could be malignant.

Knowing where to look in a tissue sample could vastly speed up the diagnostic process, Gao said. And, not only that — the app ameliorates the risks associated with patient privacy, since it eliminates the process of transferring patient data between institutions.

Gao said that this is a noteworthy step towards offering more equitable health care outcomes, and he sees room to collaborate with the venture and entrepreneur space to scale the app. 

“I hope it can be applied in rural areas which can create a real impact and really have an ability to support patients around the world,” he said.

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