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Meet the Stanford Student Who Could Revolutionize How We Treat Epilepsy

Meet the Stanford Student Who Could Revolutionize How We Treat Epilepsy

When speaking to Christine Liu, I typically discovered myself forgetting that she’s nonetheless solely a sophomore at Stanford. Wanting again, it’s not arduous to see why.

For starters, she’s obtained a resume to make even probably the most draconian of tiger mother and father proud, boasting a printed scientific paper (with one other one in assessment), a startup, and a world science truthful medal — all by the age of 19. Her profitable science truthful venture, a machine studying algorithm for predicting epileptic seizures, has the potential to transform the best way we strategy epilepsy well being care. But, what stood out probably the most, above and past her myriad accomplishments, was a really distinct sense of maturity, of knowledge past her years. There’s a objective to her ambition, one rooted in private expertise and a deeply intrinsic want to succeed — maturity was merely a requisite.

Most school college students do not know what they need to do sooner or later, not to mention have clearly delineated analysis pursuits.

However Christine isn’t your typical school scholar, and her analysis pursuits are greater than well-defined. They lie on the intersection between neuroscience and know-how, an thrilling area that applies the slicing fringe of machine studying and synthetic intelligence to the ever-pressing considerations of biomedicine and well being care. As a potential Biomedical Computation main with a minor in Electrical Engineering, she goals to mix computational approaches with medical science to enhance the best way we deal with neurological illnesses, with a specific give attention to epilepsy.

“I began doing analysis my sophomore yr of highschool,” she advised me throughout our hour-long telephone dialog. “I type of all the time had an curiosity in epilepsy [as] my youthful brother was truly recognized with epilepsy when he was 2 years previous, and he had his first seizure when he was, I feel, 6 months previous.”

Epilepsy, a neurological dysfunction characterised by recurring and uncontrollable seizures, is assumed to have an effect on over 50 million individuals worldwide. The reason for the dysfunction is usually unknown and there’s no remedy out there, though treatment might be helpful in controlling seizures for a lot of sufferers.

“Simply type of going by means of the journey, simply seeing my brother should bear these 24 hour EEG’s [electroencephalography] and in addition simply seeing him wrestle with dwelling with this situation,” she mirrored, “[…] I feel it simply type of struck some twine in me that [made me] need to pursue a greater understanding of what epilepsy was and to discover and grasp a greater understanding of what individuals have been doing to develop options and remedy this illness.”

Christine reached out to a professor at Emory College who, to her shock, responded; after attending to know one another over espresso, the professor was impressed sufficient to supply Christine a place within the lab. Maybe it was a chance to tackle a highschool scholar with no programming information on the time, however it was one vested within the precept that zeal tends to win out, and Christine clearly had numerous it — to not point out no scarcity of mind.

By her senior yr, she was engaged on an unbiased analysis undertaking, albeit beneath the steerage of one other professor at Emory. Having taught herself Python and machine studying by way of Coursera, Christine performed round with a bunch of knowledge each already collected by the lab and from the web, and developed a machine studying mannequin that would predict the onset of epileptic seizures with “semi-successful […] accuracies and sensitivities.” The challenge gained her a Grand Award on the Intel Worldwide Science and Engineering Truthful, the most important and most famous international highschool science occasion on the earth.

“It was fairly cool; it was a pleasant expertise.”

Quick ahead two years: Christine, now at Stanford, is constructing off of her award-winning mannequin within the hopes of creating an precise wearable gadget that would change the lives of epilepsy sufferers.

Her analysis has two streams: prevention and prediction. Beneath prevention, Christine is contributing to work pioneered by Stanford scientists through which mild is used to “induce a change within the electrical channels within the mind,” a area generally known as optogenetics. If refined sufficient, the method presents a probably non-invasive approach to cease seizures of their tracks.

Maybe extra instantly actionable, and extra intently associated to her highschool work, is the aspect of prediction — if we will precisely predict and warn sufferers when a seizure goes to happen, well being outcomes would considerably enhance as a result of, as Christine defined, the unwanted side effects of sudden epileptic assaults are often extra harmful than the seizures themselves.

“Numerous sufferers and other people have advised me tales of people who had epilepsy and ended up driving in a automotive or have been swimming they usually had an epileptic seizure they usually both crashed the automotive or drowned or one thing occurred to them. The thought is that when you have some kind of system that’s accessible and matches with their day-to-day schedule, then you can be continuously conscious of when you may probably have a seizure and so, in the event you’re driving or one thing, you possibly can pull to the aspect of the street.”

The imaginative and prescient is straightforward: “tremendous modern and slim, one thing waterproof and one thing worn like a headscarf so you possibly can nonetheless get the neural exercise [which] corresponds to an app in your telephone.” The app would notify the affected person of an impending seizure, and supply scorching keys for emergency contacts — she’s kind of already programmed all of that.

In fact, whereas the know-how is there, the precise implementation of such a tool has introduced a problem Christine hadn’t fairly anticipated. Apart from the apparent technical and aesthetic considerations (how do they match a full-fledged EEG, mandatory for accumulating electrical knowledge from the mind, right into a wearable gadget with out making it appear to be they’re strolling round with a helmet?), there’s the query of security, and getting it permitted and able to roll out. 

“How does it do with water? It’s waterproof, however can I put on this whereas mountaineering or swimming or showering? Will this give me most cancers? […] Does it have radiation? Numerous random well being points that I didn’t take into consideration whereas making this gadget as a result of I used to be so targeted on the outcome and the performance of the system.”

The expertise has given Christine a first-hand look into the disconnect between elementary analysis and societal software. “The hole between the analysis bench and the affected person is one thing that all the medical and analysis world is struggling to beat,” she stated.

However, Christine continues to chug away at it. She balances her analysis work with a rigorous full-time course load, a number of management roles and a totally separate enterprise referred to as KYCK Inc., the place she’s the co-founder and CTO. The startup is at present targeted on offering a simple answer for power optimization, changing the unhealthy however ubiquitous power drink with a easy, dissolvable caffeine strip. In the long term, nevertheless, Christine envisions a pivot in the direction of the medical subject: as an alternative of caffeine, the strip would ship medicine, offering a useful useful resource for these with difficulties swallowing drugs.

With all of this expertise, it will seem that Christine has firmly established her place in an business which, to today, continues to be dominated by males. And by all means, she has; you’d be hard-pressed to seek out many individuals, male, feminine or in any other case, who’re as distinguished at such a younger age. She’s a burgeoning position mannequin for ladies in STEM, that goes with out saying. However that doesn’t imply the adversities confronted by ladies in STEM have escaped her.

“I feel the primary time I actually questioned every thing was the time once I first got here into the lab in my sophomore yr [of high school],” she stated when requested about her ideas on being a lady in tech. “I keep in mind the primary time I walked into that lab, I used to be like 14 years previous – I don’t know if I had actually labored in knowledgeable setting earlier than – and I used to be tremendous excited and optimistic and I keep in mind strolling into the lab and everybody apart from one individual was male on the lab assembly and I used to be simply… dissatisfied, I assume, is a method of placing it. I simply keep in mind considering, ‘oh, this type of sucks [that] there’s just one different lady on this whole lab amongst all these tremendous completed individuals.’ There was only a second in my thoughts the place I assumed, ‘do ladies not do that?’ ‘Is that this one thing I’m not purported to do? Is that this a area the place I can pursue a profession?’”

Evidently, Christine was capable of transfer previous these preliminary emotions of uncertainty. Sadly, many ladies don’t. Even when the curiosity and expertise is there, poor illustration and stereotype menace typically push younger individuals away.

“I feel simply feeling such as you belong is an enormous a part of it, as a result of so typically there’s so many ladies which have the talents and have the power to succeed, however the issue is simply having that confidence.”

Instilling that confidence, she believes, is just a matter of outreach and normalization.

“I feel it’s actually essential that we sort of convey pc science to a common standpoint and type of train youngsters, and ladies particularly, the fundamentals and fundamentals from an early age in order that once they come to college or get into business, they aren’t intimidated.”

That sort of universality will take time, however in a world the place programming expertise have gotten more and more desired and valued, it’s not too farfetched in any respect to think about a society during which coding expertise are taught with the ubiquity as, say, writing and studying. In any case, as Christine believes, anyone can discover ways to code; the issue is convincing them that they need to.

“If I feel [about] the place my technical expertise have been 5 years in the past versus the place they’re now, it truthfully amazes me how one can come from a background with no computational expertise in any way to some extent the place you’re implementing these excessive degree machine studying and deep studying algorithms with relative ease.”

She’s extremely optimistic concerning the future. Given her proximity to the guts of Silicon Valley, that’s a really promising factor to listen to.

“I feel we’re undoubtedly heading in the right direction. If I take into consideration [what] I felt 5 years in the past versus how I really feel now, I feel we’re undoubtedly getting there and I’m excited to see what the longer term seems to be like in one other 5 years.”

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