California Teen Invents a New Way to Detect Childhood Heart Disease

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Seventeen-year-old Ellen Xu of San Diego, California, took third place in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, one of the oldest and most prestigious science awards in the United States. Her invention uses an algorithm and ordinary smartphone images to help with early detection of Kawasaki disease, an illness that can cause long-term heart complications in babies and children. There is no current test for Kawasaki disease and doctors often misdiagnose it. Xu’s early detection tool was 85 percent effective in identifying between Kawasaki and non-Kawasaki symptoms in children.

Xu’s younger sister was misdiagnosed with Kawasaki disease at age three and wasn’t officially cleared of the disease until nearly ten years later. Xu hopes her invention will help protect children and prevent other families from dealing with the stress of misdiagnosis. As she told a San Diego reporter, “Even if I could change one life, that would be super, super meaningful.”

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