Broadcom semifinalist determined to increase lung X-ray accuracy

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Stoller Middle School student Aditya Jain holds two differnet scans of cancer in a lung. The traditional scan on the left, makes it hard to see the early-stage cancer, while the image on the right, utilizing algorhythms that he developed, clean up the image to give better accuracy. His work made him this year a Broadcom Master's Semifinalist.Holding up an X-ray of a human lung, Aditya Jain asks a visitor to his seventh-grade science classroom to detect aberrations to indicate damaged tissue in the organ.

None of the more obvious white masses the visitor observes represent dangerous growths, but a nearly invisible 5-millimeter black speck — which Jain carefully points to near the top of the lung — turned out to be a cancerous nodule.

Jain, through a science project that took him to the semifinalist round of the 2013 Broadcom Foundation MASTERS competition, seeks to bridge that gap between detectability and danger.

His goal? No less than saving lives of early-stage lung cancer patients.

“My project is all about lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S.,” says Jain, an upcoming eighth-grader in Stoller Middle School’s advanced Summa program. “In many cases, these deaths could’ve been avoided had they been diagnosed earlier. I’ve found that current diagnostic tools, which rely heavily on human intervention, are missing out on cancer nodules humans can’t see.”

For his effort, Jain was named one of 300 semifinalists for Broadcom’s annual competition, whose MASTERS acronym refers to “math, applied science, technology and engineering for rising stars.” Semifinalists come from 253 middle schools across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Jain was one of around 20 semifinalists from Oregon, two of them from Stoller. Seventh-grader Arjun Somayazulu also was recognized for his work using plant dyes to seek an environmentally friendly alternative to silicon solar cells.

Jain and Somayazulu were selected as finalists for their respective projects at this year’s Intel Northwest Science Expo at Portland State University, which led to the Broadcom semifinals.

Jain, 13, who’s been participating in science fairs since third grade, said his project stems from a fourth-grade experience when his grandmother fell ill with pneumonia.

“I became interested in the lungs and exploring how they work,” he said. “By seventh grade, knowing more family friends, I was more and more interested in lung cancer. I wondered why are we not able to save more people. I researched more and more and found a way to fix the problem through my project.”

A closer look

Jain set about creating an automatic computer diagnosis tool to be used for the early detection of malignant solitary pulmonary nodules, or SPNs. The tool takes a picture of the lung, and through Java-programmed software, applies image processing algorithms and median filterization techniques to detect cancerous nodules as small as 5 millimeters on a lung.

“It’s a computer tool that assists radiologists in finding nodules and highlighting certain SPNs that could be cancerous,” Jain said. “It’s based on early detection, at stage 1-A, before it gets to a state that is cancerous. It’s a lot easier to stop it then.”

For his Broadcom-recognized project, which he worked on above and beyond his regular science coursework, Jain achieved an accuracy level of 72.4 percent, 22 percent higher than the standard 50 percent cancer probability. As impressive as that sounds, Jain will not rest until he reaches the 99.999 accuracy TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Stoller Middle School science teacher Todd Freiboth talks about the impressive research that Aditya Jain and other  students are acheving at such a young age.

“There were some bugs with the programming,” he said. “It took some nights working pretty late to fix them. I’m now at 72.4 percent accuracy, but I know I can get a lot better.”

With guidance and encouragement from Todd Freiboth, his seventh-grade Summa program science teacher at Stoller, and Dr. Christina Fu, a radiologist at Oregon Health and Science University, Jain — whose father, Sandeep, has been an Intel engineer for 17 years — plans to continue refining his approach.

Along with four other seventh-graders who advanced beyond the Intel competition to Broadcom, Jain presented his project to fellow students in Freiboth’s class.

“It elevates the classes’ understanding,” said Freiboth, who came to Stoller last year after teaching for 10 years at Highland Park Middle School. “It’s cool to see this stuff happening. Students are coming in knowing more about technology. The students are very dedicated, and the parents are very involved. It’s fun to come to work every day.”

Onward and upward

Although neither Jain nor Somayazulu were chosen when Broadcom announced competition finalists on Tuesday, Jain plans to plow forward. He’ll submit his updated findings for the next Intel competition in March 2014.

“I was happy with how far I got, starting from scratch and all,” he said. “I had to submit an essay, and maybe that didn’t help (judges) understand it that well. I know this could be a pretty big thing in the future whether or not it could win the competition.”

Freiboth, who helped mentor Jain and the others who won in their categories at the Intel competition, said he’s in awe of where Jain is setting his sights.

“I think it’s to a point where I couldn’t have thought of that,” Freiboth said of Jain’s radiological innovations. “On that level, I’m not computer savvy as far as writing programs. It’s amazing to see, working with students who actually follow through.

“They are going to change the world with what they’re


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