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Problem Solving Student & Computer Scientist Neil Sahai Breaks New Ground in Fighting Cancer With A.I. & Machine Learning Research Project

Being able to accurately predict potential tumors based on lung CT scans would be a huge leap forward in an important part of healthcare. Neil Sahai is gaining impressive ground in this area – while still being a student.

April 5, 2021

Dr. Atul Butte, renowned researcher in bioinformatics and biotechnology entrepreneur, once said, “Hiding within those mounds of data is the knowledge that could change the life of a patient or change the world.” Neil Sahai (right), a passionate, dynamic, and strategic technology-driven student pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, understands Dr. Butte’s words very well. This young man has dedicated himself to diving straight into those data mounds in search of the provincial “needle in a haystack” answers to medicine’s (and mankind’s) headscratchers.

Many of us today are at least somewhat aware of how much data and information are being collected on us every single day. From the amount of time that we spend on an ad on a social media platform to the real-time heart rates that we can find on our smartwatches and fitness trackers, the Big Data mountain keeps reaching unprecedented heights. According to Eric Schmidt, the Executive Chairman of Google, “There were five exabytes of information created between the dawn of civilization through 2003, but that much information is now created every two days.” 

Still, HOW that data is used is another story that Sahai hopes to help encode in our world (pun-intended). 

With so much knowledge out there, so much power lies in wait to be harvested by humanity. In order to utilize that power, we need to first make sense of all that information. Of course, many people with incredible minds have been able to easily see patterns within all the data, but nowadays, this is no longer a “simple task.” Even the greatest of human minds can only make a certain number of observations about and connections within that information base. And with all that effort come trials, errors, and lots of time.

“It is like looking for a needle that has been broken up into a million pieces and hidden among billions of haystacks,” says Sahai. “It’s a huge puzzle just waiting to be found and put together.”

And with the power of technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI), computers can simultaneously integrate and produce infinite and accurate analyses on mountains of data in a micro-fraction of the time. Even better, AI can offer us observations in the data that even the best minds may not have been able to see because of how truly vast Big Data continues to grow! What AI can tell us has great impacts on how our society understands the world today and how we peek into the future. As Sahai puts it, “They can find the pieces of the needle, put it back together, and figure out where it will go next!”

This is especially true in the field of health and medicine. Predictive healthcare models and AI hold huge promise for helping make huge positive changes in the way people live their lives and address their serious health concerns. Traditionally, we have relied on the brain power of physicians and years of experience and training to make observations and predict certain diagnoses and treatment options for patients. But the time has now come to evolve. In exciting news for those following healthcare and technology developments, Sahai has been developing an Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning-based Research Project, with great promise especially for lung cancer.

Lung cancer can be caused by a variety of incidents, including smoking, secondhand smoke, exposure to certain toxins, and family history. There are two major types of lung cancer: non-small cell and small cell. Their symptoms can include a constant cough (often with blood), severe chest pain, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and rapid weight loss. However, these symptoms often do not appear until after the cancer is already advanced. By this point, it is often times already far too late. 

There are, of course, many types of treatments available, such as chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy, immunotherapy, and surgery. However, these treatments can have extremely adverse side effects; peoples can experience severe weakness, pains, depression, and a general decline in overall wellbeing. This is not to mention the time needed for these treatments, the money spent on them, and the emotional toll it can take on their loved ones. And the worst part of this is that, even after all that, a person with lung cancer would still be at high risk for a premature death. The best solution after prevention, then, is for us to be able to detect lung cancer as early as possible so we could avoid all that.

This is where Sahai comes in. With his experience, imagination, and a little computer science magic, he has created the aptly named “Lung Cancer Detection Application.” This program can analyze thousands of people’s lung CT scan images and can learn – by harnessing the awesome potential of AI, machine learning, and deep learning – to accurately identify and predict any tumors within those images. Sahai’s app is accessible online! All you need to do is enter your name and email, upload your CT image to the web application, and wait for the result.

This is a significant breakthrough as CT images, traditionally, have been difficult to use when screening for lung cancer. Even the most experienced physician may not be able to recognize a tiny fleck on the image or an abnormality that pops up in one out of half a million cases. With his “Lung Cancer Detection Application,” Sahai has high hopes that this project can capture those subtle nuances and learn from enough millions of images where such an issue is severely minimized.

“I am passionate about this work and seeing how Predictive Health Care Models & Artificial Intelligence, Data Visualization, and other areas of my research can help mankind,” commented Sahai. “It’s very rewarding to be able to study and work hard in this area, knowing that people’s lives could potentially be saved. I know it is a cliché, but I think all young people my age dream of transforming mankind and all their obstacles to good, long lives. And I think we are all lucky to be living in a beautiful time to be working toward ideal.”

As if his research project and humanitarian spirit were not impressive enough, Sahai is continuing to build extensive experience in the space where technology and healthcare meet. So far, he has had an internship with L.A Cloud, where he worked as a developer to help build their electronic infrastructure. He has also interned with Roche as a Junior Cloud Engineer. These two experiences have led to his current position as an Undergraduate Research Assistant at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. When asked what his next moves will be, Sahai excitedly shared that he will try to continue to grow his understanding of and experience with Artificial Intelligence and other healthcare technologies.

Currently, Sahai is proud to be proficient in Python, Amazon Web Services, Cloud Architecture, Java, Data Structures and Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence, Apache Spark, and much more. Additionally, with a head for business, he is a proud member of the University of Illinois’s premier student-run consulting firm, OTCR Consulting. His skill sets and experiences only continue to grow as this dedicated student with a knack for computers pushes forward in his studies and career – where only the sky is the limit. Besides revolutionizing medical technologies, his other dream is to bridge the gap between business and information technologies, using digital transformations and cloud journeys.

Whenever Sahai is not dreaming about his latest research interests or being a busy student, he can be found relaxing and hanging out with friends (in pandemic-friendly ways, of course!). He also enjoys traveling to new places, hiking in beautiful places, playing video games, and watching as many movies as humanly possible – no machine learning needed. Plus, if you are lucky, you might get to hear him sing you a tune!

To explore Sahai’s research project, click here. To access the page, you will need an email address, so keep that in mind if you are sharing the project with others.

To learn more and connect with Sahai, you can find him at

About Neil Sahai

I am a passionate, dynamic, and strategic technology-driven student pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. My interest in computer science stems from my passion for making a positive impact on this society, by creatively solving real-world problems through automation and programming. I am excited to continue learning and growing in these fields. One day, I hope to be able to marry my loves of software engineering, cloud computing, and business, while still being able to travel, hike, play video games, and watch a bunch of movies.

Media Contact

Neil Sahai

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