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Monday, June 27, 2022

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Allison Langley (right) with her mother, Jennifer Langley. Allison Langley (right) with her mother, Jennifer Langley.

She’s Got Something Unique

SDSU computer engineering student Allison Langley developed a skin cancer detection app.
By Tobin Vaughn

“I enjoy finding solutions and building things—creating things. I really like the idea of helping people with this app because I know it’s something that is needed.”

SDSU computer engineering major Allison Langley can tell you all about skin cancer. 

“It’s the most common form of cancer,” the senior from San Diego is quick to point out. “There are more instances of skin cancer each year than breast cancer, prostate, lung, and colon cancer combined, so there's a lot of it.”
She knows from personal experience.
Langley herself had a spot on her arm. Her mother, Jennifer Langley, was diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. It’s an insidious disease that often goes undetected until it’s too late to avoid disastrous consequences.
Detection can be difficult. Physicians advise frequent self-examinations and monitoring the skin for unusual growths, discoloration or changes in mole sizes, but without visiting a doctor, few patients can be certain whether they are in real danger.

“Nothing is out there”

“The problem is, you really can't see the changes that are taking place,” Langley explained, and that’s what got her thinking. What if you could identify those changes?
She came up with the idea of developing an app that works with the camera in a mobile phone. Through images taken with the phone camera, size and coloration changes in skin growths or moles could be tracked and compared over time.
The app would flag any changes. Special hardware would allow for doctors to examine the images and determine possible courses of action.
"This is something my mom and I were looking for, and nothing is out there that does what we needed it to do,” Langley said. “So I just started on this.”

Snail grabbers

Langley’s entrepreneurial instincts were developed at an early age. When she was six years old, she and her brother started a small business called Snail Grabbers.
"My dad would pay us, like, a penny per snail, to pick up snails in the yard,” Langley recalls. “We made little business cards and gave them to our neighbors. It worked, but we soon discovered it was easier to charge by the pound than count every single snail. We have always been trying little things here and there. It's fun."

The grit

Langley has come a long way since those days. At SDSU, she found a mentor for her entrepreneurial idea in Ken Arnold (’77), an SDSU alumnus who lectures in the College of Engineering. He had been familiar with her work since Langley took his Comp E160 class, Introduction to Programming for Engineers.

In subsequent courses  that Langley has taken, Arnold has been impressed by her intellect, drive, and display of “the grit,” as he calls it. 

“She has that ability to be patient and persistent and is determined to reach the goal,” he said. “Those are the things I think stood out from the very first class."
Arnold advises Langley that she will likely encounter what he calls “speed bumps,” challenges with human patient data and federal regulations. Still, he likes the young entrepreneur’s chances.
“Will this business be successful? I don't know,” Arnold said. “There are so many barriers and uncertainties you can't be sure, but will she be successful? If she were a company I would buy stock in her because I know in the long term, career-wise, she's going to be very successful.”

Finding solutions

With Arnold’s help, Langley is working with SDSU’s Zahn Innovation Platform Launchpad through HiTech EdVentures, described on its website as an independent‚ self-funded‚ for-profit public benefit business that benefits STEM education by building bridges between the business and academic worlds. She receives guidance and professional advice regarding things like patents, federal regulations and cost projections.

To help advance her app project, Langley is working with the SDSU Alumni STRIVE crowdfunding platform in hopes of raising $6,000. Her goal is to complete enough research and refine her app to the point where she will have a workable product by the time she graduates in May. All the while, she will be learning and developing as an entrepreneur.
"I enjoy finding solutions and building things—creating things,” she says. “I really like the idea of helping people with this app because I know it’s something that is needed.
“Just from when my mom was diagnosed with melanoma, I know a skin cancer diagnosis is one of the most terrible times of your life. So it’s really important to me that we could be offering a solution that could help so many people."
You can help Allison Langley advance her skin cancer detection app by making a donation online at