A test for early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer that costs only 3¢ per
test to produce has been discovered. It is not the product of a
long-suffering scientist spending years hidden in his lab, nor that of a
large medical Jack Andraka in the lab (You Tube Image)corporation with millions of dollars to spend. No indeed.
It was developed by a 14-year-old science nerd who looks like a cross
between Harry Potter and actor Mitchell Musso.
Jack Andraka was inspired to come up with the test after being devastated by the death of his adopted "uncle" who had battled pancreatic cancer. He was haunted by the words of the doctor who had said that the outcome may have been different if they could have caught it sooner. The problem was that there was no test that would allow doctors to catch it earlier. Andraka became obsessed with being to find a way.
Andraka started showing a strong interest in science when he was just a toddler. He and his older brother, Luke, were so determined to create experiments that his parents made them keep it all in the basement of the family home in Crownsville, Maryland. Their makeshift mad-scientist dungeon laboratory was born.
Enough youthful scientific mischief has happened there that when Luke decided the try and make his own nitroglycerin the pair ended up being notified by the FBI that they had made it onto a "watch list" because of their internet purchasing activity.
Andraka began his journey with doing an internet search on cancer, research, and all things pancreatic. He likes to joke that when he started on this journey he didn't even know he had a pancreas. In biology class he got caught reading a medical book.
Andraka demonstrates his test (You Tube Image)Once he had figured out what it would take to create the test he needed to find a real research laboratory to test it out -- his teenage set up just wasn't going to do. So he set about putting together all of his information, including protocol, budget, and a list of materials He sent it out to 200 cancer researchers and received 199 rejections. One researcher, Anirban Maitra, Professor of Pathology, Oncology, and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at John's Hopkins Medical School, was intrigued enough to give him a small corner in the lab and a post-doctoral student to supervise him.
Andraka then spent the next seven months going to the lab after school and on weekends. He learned proper laboratory procedures and got his testing device and test to the point where it was showing incredibly consistent and accurate results.
The test measures the body's level of mesothelin, a protein which is elevated when the cancer is in its earliest and most treatable stage. He used blood samples from both healthy donors and those with chronic pancreatitis to obtain his results.
Though he is still in high school he has made a major breakthrough. It was still just the start of an incredible journey. In 2012 he became the recipient of the grand prize of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair and received $75,000. Receiving the award caught him totally off guard. He had not expected to win anything at all. He also won smaller prizes in individual categories and he ultimately went home with more than $100,000 in prize money.
He has found himself something of a celebrity and has been traveling around the world for speaking engagements, including one to the prestigious Royal Society of Medicine in London. With his research and travel schedule he still manages to maintain a 4.0 average at school.
Andraka isn't the only star in the family. His brother has also won $96,000 at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2010. These two young men may have a portion of our future in their hands.
Sources: Smithsonian, Wikipedia, 60 Minutes