Child Prodigy and Cancer Researcher, Rishabh Jain at the age of 13 created an algorithm that uses artificial intelligence(AI) to accurately locate and track the pancreas in real-time during MRI-guided radiotherapy. He was also named the overall winner of the 2018 Discovery Education and 3M annual Young Scientist Challenge. Raelene Kambli speaks with the genius and aspiring doctor to understand his vision for healthcare in India
How did you get into AI at such a young age?
Some of my fondest memories come from STEM-related activities (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). I remember my first interaction with programming when I started using MIT Scratch, a simple drag-and-drop block environment. A few years later, I got exposed to the world of Lego robotics. Initially, I enjoyed building – but after a few years, I realised that my interests remained in programming. Again, the complexities of my projects grew, and I was soon working with my own Arduino programming projects. When I first started learning about artificial-intelligence in 2017, I was hooked. Since then, I have found AI fascinating and continue to use it in my projects.
You created an algorithm that uses AI to accurately locate and track the pancreas in real-time during MRI-guided radiotherapy. Elaborate on your work.
Pancreatic cancer is a highly lethal and incurable disease of which survival rates have not improved significantly in the past 40 years. Currently, MRI-guided radiotherapy utilising high-energy ion beams is used to help shrink cancerous tumours. However, due to inter-patient variability, where the manifestation of the pancreas is different in every patient, and infraction anatomical changes such as breathing, tumours do not get treated effectively. Despite the benefits of being non-invasive, radiotherapy tools are not becoming popular for pancreatic cancer due to manual intervention, human error, and movement of the pancreas during treatment. Today, pancreatic cancer oncologists are often forced to overshoot on the targeted pancreas to attempt controlling tumour size. My project proposes a novel artificial-intelligence-based tool to automatically segment out the pancreas in real-time. My tool, known as the Pancreatic Cancer Deep Learning System, uses a form of AI called deep learning. I trained my invention on images of the abdominal area and told it the exact location of the pancreas. After lots of fine tuning and adjusting, the accuracy began to increase and my tool became better at predicting the pancreas region. With such a capability, my invention can be paired with MRI-guided radiotherapy machines in order to offer a more accurate tool that saves more cells in the body.
Why did you think of working on pancreatic cancer? We know that it is one notorious kind of cancers but anything that you came across triggered it?
I have been deeply moved by family friends passing away from cancer, leading me to volunteer at the Fall 2018 Purple Stride 5K run. I met several pancreatic cancer patients and survivors. It was an inspiring moment to hear their personal stories of helplessness with a deep desire to be happy. Surprising statistics like the low survival-rate and aggressiveness hooked me in. As a technology enthusiast, I was inspired by Steve Jobs and knew how he had passed away from pancreatic cancer. I started thinking about what I could do to address the pandemic. While visiting a laboratory in Boston, I learned about pancreatic cancer radiotherapy and medical imaging. I asked myself, if I could use my knowledge in programming and AI to help tackle the pressing problem. Thus, my idea was born, and I was inspired to research in this area.
How are you going to further your research in pancreatic cancers? Any other areas of cancer you would like to target?
I have delved deep into understanding the root of treatments and wondered if there is a way to increase the success-rates of pancreatic cancer treatment. I am developing an AI system called The Pancreas Detective which detects the gene mutations of pancreatic cancer patients. By detecting such mutations, patients can then be given drugs that work for them. My tool is also able to shorten the current diagnosis and processing time required, offering a higher survival-rate for patients. In the future, I want to continue working on early-diagnosis for pancreatic cancer. I am interested in collaborating with a university in a medical setting. Further resources will help me improve my tools.
You aim to go to medical school and become a doctor. So what would be your areas of interest as a healthcare provider?
I would like to go into the field of medicine and become a surgeon. I have always been inspired by my relatives in the fields of medicine, getting to see how it gives them the opportunity to make an immediate difference in the lives of people. As a surgeon, I will have the opportunity to make that difference, while also having the chance to use leading technology to cure patients. At the same time, I would love to continue my research and hopefully one day, be able to call pancreatic cancer a cured disease.
You also advocate for improving access to scientific knowledge to young students. Can you share your vision on this?
I have co-founded the Samyak Science Society, a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organisation that provides and promotes for children. I envision a world where ALL students have the opportunity to be exposed to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics ) learning, regardless of age, gender, social status or ethnicity. This can be possible by creating a learning environment and providing exposure to STEAM at an early age. At the Samyak Science Society we are creating free STEAM workshops led by high school and college students to teach and mentor children-in-need. We are creating STEAM kits to donate in public libraries, schools, and clubs where we can reach thousands of students immediately. These kits will be accessible where underprivileged children can get access to engaging, hands-on content. Our activities and workshops are focussed on STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. The Samyak Science Society STEAM kit includes five activities/objects to represent each letter of STEAM – this approach works very cohesively and has had great success so far. By igniting this spark in STEAM, society can be improved, and we can get more thinkers to work on problems like pancreatic cancer.