A recent article talked about Jack Andraka, who is not the average 15 year old. This young man has just made “the biggest breakthrough in pancreatic cancer detection methods in more than half a century”. Jack, a high school student from Maryland is being praised around the world as a genius.
But what inspired this young man to start his research? When he was 13, a family friend developed pancreatic cancer and unfortunately passed away. Jack did some research and found that the traditional method for checking for pancreatic cancer only worked 30% of the time. Even worse is that the method had not been updated in 60 years and cost about eight-hundred dollars! Upset about the situation, a 13 year old Jack decided to change all of this.
The issue with pancreatic cancer detection is that by the time it is usually found, it has spread from the pancreas to other vital organs. The survival rate of this cancer is less than two percent, but Jack is hopeful that his new method for detecting this cancer will change that statistic.
The old method included doctors “having to spot a minute irregularity in the level of one of the over 8,000 proteins that can be measured in the bloodstream”. This 60-year-old detection test called enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (or ELISA) was lacking in efficiency. You can read more about the previous test here. Jack’s test came from his idea of using a piece of paper containing a carbon nanotube (a tube of carbon with a thickness of a single atom), this paper contains antibodies that would react in the presence of mesothelin (a protein found in high levels in people with pancreatic cancer). When the paper is dipped in blood or urine, the mesothhelin adheres to the antibodies and changes can be detected in the nanotubes electrical conductivity. The best part is that this is a non-invasive test!
Jack’s promising idea however was not accepted by many institutions. He had sent his proposal paper to over 200 institutions. In the span of two months he had received rejections from 199 of these institutions- but one place, Johns Hopkins University, reconized the genius of his idea. They agreed to work with the teen and in just seven months Jack’s new test was complete. And the results were astounding!
His test has proved to be 168 times faster than the previous existing tests, it has been accurate 100% of the time, and it only costs 3 cents! Not only is his new test able to detect pancreatic cancer, but it may be able to test for other types of cancer as well as HIV!
Because of his amazing success, Jack has been granted scholarships from Intel, and other donors. He won the Gordon E. Moore award and was invited to speak on TED talks. You can find his talk here.
Jack hopes to start up a company to commercialize his test. He offered advice to teens all around the world- “Make sure to be passionate about whatever it is you get into, because otherwise you won’t put the right amount of work into it”. I know Jack has inspired many high school students across the country, and he has sure inspired me! What will you do by the time you are 18?