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Jack Andraka

Jack Andraka
2013

Presenting at TEDxQUT in August

At the age of 15, Jack is an inspiration to our future scientists, techonologists, engineers and mathematicians. In his determination to find a cure for pancreatic cancer, he developed an early detection test that has the potential to save many lives. The test costs three cents, takes five minutes, and appears to have almost 100% accuracy, which could potentially detect pancreatic cancer in its early stages, when a person has a much better prognosis. Even better, Jack thinks the test could potentially be used to detect ovarian and lung cancer too. By switching a protein the test reacts to, it could be used to detect diseases as varied as heart disease and HIV/AIDS. Jack received the Intel International Science Fair award of $75,000, and presented at TED2013.

Jack Andraka (born in 1997) is an inventor, scientist and cancer researcher. He is the 2012 Intel Science Fair grand prize winner. Andraka was awarded the Gordon E. Moore Award for his work in developing a new method to detect pancreatic cancer.

Jack has given a number of accounts of what inspired him to work on pancreatic cancer, including the death of his uncle and an acquaintance. In looking for answers, he found that one reason for the poor survival rate from pancreatic cancer was the lack of early detection and a rapid, sensitive, inexpensive screening method. He began to think of various ways of detecting and preventing cancer growth and terminating the growth before the cancer cells become pervasive.

Jack said the idea for his pancreatic cancer test came to him while he was in biology class at North County High School, drawing on the class lesson about antibodies and the article on analytical methods using carbon nanotubes he was surreptitiously reading at the time. Afterwards, he followed up with more research using Google Search on nanotubes and cancer biochemistry, aided by free online scientific journals. He then contacted 200 professors at Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health with a plan, a budget, and timeline for his project in order to receive laboratory help. He had received nearly 200 rejection emails before he got a positive reply from Dr. Anirban Maitra, Professor of Pathology, Oncology and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

The result of his project was a new dipstick type diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer using a novel paper sensor, similar to that of the diabetic test strip. This strip tests for the level of mesothelin, a pancreatic cancer biomarker, in blood or urine, to determine whether or not a patient has early-stage pancreatic cancer. The test is over 90 percent accurate in detecting the presence of mesothelin. It is also 168 times faster, 26,000 times less expensive (costing around three cents), over 400 times more sensitive than the current diagnostic tests and only takes five minutes to run. He says the test is also effective for detecting ovarian and lung cancer, due to the same mesothelin biomarker they have in common.

Prof. Maitra is very enthusiastic about Andraka's future. He told the Baltimore Sun "You're going to read about him a lot in the years to come... What I tell my lab is, 'Think of Thomas Edison and the light bulb.' This kid is the Edison of our times. There are going to be a lot of light bulbs coming from him."