BASIS Chandler student invents blood test - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

BASIS Chandler student invents blood test

April 12th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
BASIS Chandler student invents blood test

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

Cancer survivor Ella Wang is channeling her passion for scientific research into finding new ways to help doctors detect fatal blood diseases for patients lacking easy access to health care facilities. 

Years after she overcame a severe childhood illness, the 17-year-old BASIS Chandler junior used her medical knowledge to devise a new web application capable of screening blood samples for diseased cells.

Ella came in first place last month at the Arizona Regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium for her detection system, which she has named “HemaVision.”

She will soon get to present her research at a national competition, where she will explain how HemaVision can potentially improve a patient’s health outcomes.

“HemaVision is a lot faster, cheaper, and more accessible than current screening methods,” she said.

Ella’s system involves attaching a device to a smartphone that converts the phone’s camera into a microscope. The phone takes high-quality photos of blood smears so they can be uploaded to an app that scans the images for signs of illness.

Ella said she has already tested her app on more than 100 blood smears and the system demonstrated a 98-percent rate of accuracy.

She is now looking to test HemaVision out in the field on real patients.

“I think it’s really important the work I do is able to have an impact on the world,” she said.

Ella’s project began about a year ago with a basic desire to expand access to health care in rural, underdeveloped countries.

“I was trying to tackle the problem in current disease-screening methods – which is that laboratory equipment is often unavailable or too expensive for developing nations,” she said.

During a fact-finding trip to India, she noticed how the country needed more doctors, equipment and laboratories to test locals for cancer and other ailments.

“I saw first-hand how these diseases were screened in local clinics,” Ella recalled. “These screening centers were overloaded with patients.”

Blood cancers have a much more significant impact on developing countries, she added, and patients in these nations have to wait longer for treatment because they’re not getting diagnosed fast enough.

Ella hopes HemaVision can facilitate detection of life-threatening conditions before they become lethal.

The teenager’s interest in health care began at a young age – much of which she spent around doctors and nurses after she was diagnosed with a soft-tissue cancer as a toddler.

She managed to overcome the illness before it could seriously interfere with her childhood but still has to regularly undergo check-ups at Phoenix Children’s Hospital in order to ensure the cancer doesn’t come back.   

Even though Ella doesn’t have many vivid memories of being sick, she believes her early exposure to medicine has instilled in her a fervor for fixing problems in how health care is delivered around the world.   

There’s so much interesting research being done in medicine, Ella noted, yet it seems like the work isn’t always resulting in better outcomes for patients.

Ella also credits her passion for scientific research to the rigorous curriculum she receives at BASIS Chandler and the many mentors there who have pushed her to discover a wide range of subjects.

When she began thinking about a new project to pursue during the pandemic, an Arizona State University professor guided her through the process of navigating medical databases and public health journals.

Ella spent hours each day reading articles on the latest medical discoveries until she zeroed in on how doctors diagnose blood diseases like sickle cell anemia.

But because there aren’t very many public databases with samples of blood diseases, Ella had to commit an extensive amount of time to creating her own database from scratch.

She spent days finding and uploading more than 10,000 images of blood smears into a custom-made database that the HemaVision system could use to more accurately detect signs of a disease.

It was the most tedious and arduous step to the project, Ella said, but it eventually resulted in a detection system that’s proven to be effective.

“I crashed my computer a lot of times,” she recalled. “But then Google Drive became a savior.”

Ella said she’s grateful to be given the opportunity to present all of her findings at venues like the Junior Science Symposium, where dozens of students got a chance to have their work reviewed and evaluated by a cohort of judges.

Nearly $10,000 in scholarships were handed out to the Symposium’s top students this year.

These events allow students to feel more like professional researchers and push them to be able to clearly articulate their projects to a diverse audience, Ella said.

“It puts a lot of focus on science communication and being able to interpret your results precisely and communicate them to a non-technical audience,” Ella added.

After she graduates from high school, Ella plans to double major in business and computer science — two disciplines she thinks will help her successfully market her innovative ideas.

“I think it’s really important that research and entrepreneurship are both part of my future,” she added.