This 16-Year-Old’s App Could Truly Change People’s Lives

And it's inspired by her grandpa

This 16-year-old's App Could Truly Change People's Lives

(Artwork: @andrea.lux)

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In case you needed more proof that teen girls are magic, allow us to introduce you to Kavya Kopparapu, a computer scientist, nonprofit CEO, TedX speaker and all-around boss.

The 16-year-old, from Herndon, Virginia, recently invented a smartphone app and accompanying 3D-printed lens to diagnose a preventable disease that causes blindness in people with diabetes (called diabetic retinopathy).

Our favorite part? It was actually Kopparapu’s grandfather who inspired her to create the technology. He lives on India’s east coast in a small city and suffers from diabetic retinopathy.

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Because care is difficult to access, most cases go undiagnosed and untreated — which sadly often leads to blindness. More than 66 million Indians suffer from diabetes, and one in five of them will develop diabetic retinopathy — leading to blindness.

Kopparapu’s grandfather is one of the lucky ones, as he was diagnosed fairly early and received treatment (so his eyesight remains intact even though it has deteriorated).

“The lack of diagnosis is the biggest challenge,” Kopparapu told the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). “In India, there are programs that send doctors into villages and slums, but there are a lot of patients and only so many ophthalmologists.”

Access to doctors is one thong. But the test for this disease can typically be up to two hours long and require eye-scanning equipment that costs thousands of dollars.

That’s where Kopparapu’s technology comes in.

 

Kopparapu’s system, cleverly called Eyeagnosis (which rhymes with “diagnosis”) requires only a smartphone equipped with her 3D-printed lens. The lens then photographs the eyes in a snap, and her app provides a preliminary diagnosis.

Pretty incredible, right?

Using 34,000 retinal scans from the National Institutes of Health, Kopparapu and her team taught their app’s artificial intelligence system (robots!) to identify eyes affected by diabetic retinopathy. Many of images were blurry, or over- or under-exposed — but Kopparapu said that was actually a good thing.

“It’s very representative of the real-world conditions you’d get with using a smartphone,” she explained.

She finished a prototype in November 2016, shipping it to Aditya Jyot Eye Hospital in Mumbai, where it has already made five correct diagnoses! And last month, she presented her work at the O’Reilly Artificial Intelligence conference in New York. She also gave a fascinating TedX talk on her findings, which you can watch here:

Eyeagnosis will still need to undergo clinical trials to show that it works in different conditions — small clinics in rural India versus hospitals in big cities, for example — but experts say it has major commercial potential.

J. Fielding Hejtmancik, a visual diseases specialist with NIH, says the Eyeagnosis system could be a game-changer because it’s cost effective and easy to use.

“These kids have put things together in a very nice way that’s a bit cheaper and simpler than most [systems designed by researchers] — who, by the way, all have advanced degrees!” he told IEEE.

Kopparapu, meanwhile, just continues to innovate and inspire. Aside from Eyeagnosis, she’s the founder and CEO of  Girls Computing League, a nonprofit that brings computer science workshops for girls into Kopparapu’s local community. Plus, at age 13, she came third in an IEEE competition for an app she created called “Diabreathometer,” which is designed to diagnose diabetes and alert patients when to take insulin.

Like we said, teen girls are magic.