CTD Student Targets Cancer with Healthcare Application
by Ross Middleton
Early cancer detection could soon be as easy as picking up a smartphone, according the work of an Ohio high schooler. Last year, Shruthi Ravichandran—a CTD alumna and a current sophomore—used her scientific knowledge and driving curiosity to develop a potentially life-saving application. Her project, titled “Learning to Detect Malignant Skin Lesions from Photographic Images Using Deep Neural Networks,” has already received acclaim on the science fair circuit and led to rare opportunities for further research.
“I had read a lot about different methods of cancer detection,” she shares, “and what struck me was that skin cancer is actually one of the easiest cancers to treat, but still it claims so many lives.”
The barrier, Ravichandran understood, was access to early detection. Considering the global increase in smartphone use, she “chose to incorporate the idea of a computer model, because artificial intelligence and machine learning have rapidly grown in the past few years, and their reach and application is so great.” Her resulting program scans images for warning signs of cancer; if found, the patient may then want to consult a doctor for further examination and treatment.
When Shruthi submitted the project to science fairs, it won her scholarships and special mentions throughout the state. In addition to these successes, Shruthi reports that she has been continuing her cancer treatment research among the biomedical engineers of Case Western Reserve University. “It’s a privilege for me to just be in the presence of these great researchers and watch and learn from them,” says Ravichandran of her lab studies of microscopic particles and their effect on hard-to-reach cancers.
Though she’s now in the company of professional researchers, Shruthi also has plenty of experience as an independent learner. In addition to the “really strong science curriculum” offered by her school, Shruthi found an outlet for her interests in the online communities of CTD. After taking the yearlong Biology Honors and Chemistry Honors courses through CTD’s online program, she met other students by using CTD Backpack, an online community where CTD students can collaborate with a network of like-minded peers and access weekly discussions and resources on STEAM topics. “A lot of times, it can be hard to try to pursue something outside the required, simply because none of your friends are doing it,” Shruthi shares. Through what she calls a “community of similar minded people,” Shruthi was able to connect with peers on Backpack as she developed her application.
Such a range of experience has enriched Ravichandran’s study of science, a field which she says demands a “multi-faceted approach.” Science is more than taking notes in class, the emerging researcher and app inventor explains; it’s also about “understanding the real-life applications of the things that we learn.”
Ross Middleton is an independent writer and formerly part of CTD’s Summer Program staff. Hereceived his BA in English Literature from Wesleyan University and an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence.