“If we focus more on those biological concepts and combine them together, we can help a lot,” says Alexis Li as she describes her research project on Alzheimer’s.

The 16-year-old scientist is taking on the fight against the devastating disease using new technology to improve diagnostics.

“One of the best ways we can tell is using MRI scans, but the changes can be subtle, especially for patients in the earlier stages,” said Li.

She is developing and testing prototypes to create an artificial intelligence model that could catch the disease earlier, factoring in more nuance for individual patients and creating a more standardized path to MRI testing for doctors.

“A cool thing about AI is it can notice patterns that we haven’t so we can do more research on specific brain pathways or look into new symptoms that could appear for a patient,” she said.

While the ins and outs of her data may be hard to follow for some, her passion speaks volumes because it’s personal. She just lost one of her grandmothers to this devastating disease. It happened during the pandemic, so traveling to China to see her wasn’t an option, and their visits were restricted to Facetime, so she watched from a distance as her “Nai nai” disappeared before their eyes.

“It was really hard watching all the videos and suddenly she wouldn’t really remember who I was or who my dad was,” remembers Li, whose own mind is now set on making a difference.

And she’s well on her way.

Just stepping into senior year at Hamilton High School, Li’s research is already so thorough that she’s poked holes in some of the most prominent medical journals. She’s also been recognized as one of “Junior Achievement of Arizona’s 18 under 18” winners and at the International Science and Engineering Fair.

Now planning the next steps, she’s expanding her field of study into mood disorders, aiming for a university that will support her lab work and maybe one day will be able to help buy others just a little more time with their loved ones.

“This is something my grandparents are currently afraid of, my parents are afraid of, I could potentially get it in the future so anything I can do to contribute to the cause is really important.”