My Grandmother’s Inspiration

In 4th grade, my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although the clear glass of my memory has since yellowed at the edges, I still remember her venous hands, cracked with delicate streaks of wisdom and sensitivity, embracing my smiling fingers of naiveté. We would walk through gloomy streets in misty mornings, taking daily trips to buy breakfast: hot dry noodles — my dad and grandfather’s favorite treat. Sitting in our warm summer apartment in Wuhan, my grandmother would teach me sections of Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” — in between gulps of dumplings and chrysanthemum tea, her explanation of paradigms within scientific research planted the seeds for my own scientific explorations. I did not know it then, but these trivial, clay molds of my childhood have since solidified into magnificent terracotta sculptures of my mind, propelling a deeply-rooted ambition to understand — and cure — cancer.
To me, it didn’t matter that I was 14; seeing how cancer affected my grandmother, I cold-emailed professors about research opportunities in an effort to save lives. Working in wet lab research, specifically on cancer biomarker discovery and drug discovery at the University of Southern California and Purdue University, science is what enables me to find the most meaningful problems to solve — to save lives and benefit humanity. After months of genotyping, I discovered a novel biomarker for colorectal cancer. While publications are rewarding, I find more fulfillment meeting people at international conferences; chatting with the oncologist on the bus, we reflect how cancer impacted his mother, frustrations at research funding deficits, fascination with cultures—on our five-minute commute, I teach him how to memorize Chinese characters while he enlightens me on Arabic slang. Together, we connect our experiences to pioneer novel cancer solutions.
Yet, working directly in the drug development and cancer diagnosis pipeline has allowed me to see first-hand the shortcomings of the status quo in traditional laboratory techniques. Oftentimes, cancer diagnosis is costly and time-consuming, and drug discovery faces issues of drug resistance that render treatments ineffective for patients. Working as a dual-detective, I seek to uncover avenues for innovation, creating PocketOnco, an app that uses AI to diagnose and stage colorectal, breast and skin cancer from histology and dermoscopic images in a matter of seconds and Blossom, an app that uses AI to detect hotspots on proteins, optimizing the drug discovery process by years. After cold-emailing about my projects, I was invited to present at Google’s headquarters and Silicon Valley startups; under the gaze of offices calling in from around the world, I feel right at home, outlining my vision to democratize medicine through technology.
Exploring the intersection of disciplines — artificial intelligence, humanities, philosophy, and biology — I see myself launching multiple startups in the realm of technological applications to biomedicine and global healthcare issues. With every problem I tackle, I seek creative angles to pioneer novel solutions to improve upon problems in humanity: disease, climate change, mental health, natural disasters, unequal healthcare. Maybe I’m foolishly idealistic and overly naive. I don’t know—and I don’t really care. At 17, my vision empowers me to tackle humanity’s biggest problems; with nothing to lose, there is no better time to inspire and be inspired; to learn and apply; to live and create.

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