Young innovators: Meet the brains behind an artificial brain

Teen's computer program helps fight cancer and leukemia
In 7th grade, Brittany Wenger created an artificial neural network that mimics how the human brain makes decisions. Since then, she's created a neural network that helps fight cancer and leukemia. Jim Axelrod reports.

(CBS News) It doesn't take a long conversation with Brittany Wenger to get a sense of her intellect.

"Some artificial neural networks are definitely like that but mine particularly works with cancer diagnostics," she explained

Wenger was in 7th grade when she wrote a computer program that mimics how the human brain makes decisions - something called an artificial neural network. Her first application: how the brain thinks when playing soccer.

Five years later, she'd developed a focus that was a bit more sophisticated: using her artificial neural network to try to help fight breast cancer and leukemia.

"I kind of worked on it from my bedroom for, you know, that two-and-a-half year period and then I took it to the Google Science Fair, which is the largest online science fair. And I ended up winning the grand prize, which was absolutely insane. "

The software she developed in her bedroom essentially crunches massive amounts of date collected worldwide. That allows breast cancer to be detected by a biopsy that is less invasive and more reliable - now 99 percent accurate. Wenger took home a $50,000 scholarship and a unique trophy.

"Yeah, it's made out of Legos. ... It's really, really cool," she said, showing it off.

This recent high school graduate, from Sarasota, Fla., is at the head of her generation's class.

"Well, of course no bias here, but I think we have a lot of potential. I mean, I know that older people definitely have their gripes with us, but our generation is really lucky to be living in the information age. We can literally learn whatever we want at our fingertips," she said.

And what she wants to learn could help many generations to come.

"It's really exciting and it gives me a lot of hope that my research can and will be out there someday helping real people."

This fall, Wenger will be continuing her research as a freshman at Duke University.

  • Jim Axelrod
    Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the chief investigative correspondent and senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.