News / Science & Technology

Spurred by Loss, Teen Invents Pancreatic Cancer Test

Last year, more than a quarter-million people worldwide died from pancreatic cancer. After losing a close family friend to the disease, Jack Andraka, 16, learned firsthand just how deadly it can be.

That prompted the Maryland teen to create a simple test to detect pancreatic cancer at its earliest stage of development, a breakthrough that could save many lives.

The gifted young scientist, who was an invited guest of First Lady Michelle Obama at the president's State of the Union address Tuesday, is now working to bring his invention to market.

Last year, Jack's pancreatic cancer test won him the grand prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the largest high school science competition in the world.

He is the youngest-ever recipient of the $75,000 award, beating out more than 1,500 students from 70 countries.

Former President Bill Clinton invited Jack Andraka to participate in an annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2012. (Courtesy Jane Andraka)Former President Bill Clinton invited Jack Andraka to participate in an annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2012. (Courtesy Jane Andraka)
x
Former President Bill Clinton invited Jack Andraka to participate in an annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2012. (Courtesy Jane Andraka)
Former President Bill Clinton invited Jack Andraka to participate in an annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2012. (Courtesy Jane Andraka)
Jack's win follows a lifelong interest in science. It's a passion encouraged by his parents, inspired by his brother  -a prize winner at the 2010 Intel Fair- and nurtured at his high school in Glen Burnie, near Washington.

Jack began working on the simple and inexpensive test soon after his close family friend died of the disease.

“I went on the Internet and I found that 85 percent of all pancreatic cancers are diagnosed late, when someone has less than a two percent chance of survival, and I was thinking, ‘That’s not right.  We should be able to do something,’” Andraka said.

He also learned people with pancreatic cancer have elevated levels of a protein called mesothelin in their bloodstream, and that early detection is key to increasing the chances of surviving pancreatic cancer.

After gaining permission to work in a lab at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Andraka developed a simple paper sensor -incorporating a novel mesh of tiny carbon nanotubes and antibodies- which can detect the mesothelin in a single drop of blood, signaling the presence of pancreatic cancer at its earliest stages.

His test has proven accurate 90 percent of the time and is 100 times more sensitive than current tests.

"One of the most important things about this is that it's found in the earliest stage of the disease when you have close to 100 percent chance of survival," Jack says. "It costs three cents per test, only five minutes to run. [The] urine or blood sample requires one-sixth of a drop."

Jack's achievement would not have been possible without Dr. Anirban Maitra, professor of Pathology and Oncology at Johns Hopkins University, and the only person out of 200 researchers to respond favorably to Jack's emails describing his project.
 
“I have to admit I was very surprised that this was a 15 year old writing this and I have to admit my curiosity was piqued," Maitra says. "I wanted to meet this gifted young man and see what he wanted to talk about and so I called him over for an interview. He’s very impressive.”

Jack Andraka, 16, with his pancreatic cancer sensor strip at the Johns Hopkins lab in Baltimore. (Courtesy Jane Andraka)Jack Andraka, 16, with his pancreatic cancer sensor strip at the Johns Hopkins lab in Baltimore. (Courtesy Jane Andraka)
x
Jack Andraka, 16, with his pancreatic cancer sensor strip at the Johns Hopkins lab in Baltimore. (Courtesy Jane Andraka)
Jack Andraka, 16, with his pancreatic cancer sensor strip at the Johns Hopkins lab in Baltimore. (Courtesy Jane Andraka)
Maitra gave Andraka a corner of his lab, where he worked for seven months completing his project.
 
“I think a lot of credit also goes to his parents, who throughout his childhood immersed him and his brother in scientific magazines and encouraged them to read,” Maitra says.

Jack has patented his pancreatic cancer sensor, and is talking with companies about developing it into a simple, over-the-counter test, which could eventually provide life-saving early detection of other types of cancer as well.

Whatever happens, his mentor believes Jack Andraka's name is one we'll be hearing again over the next 10 to 20 years.

 "If he’s done what he’s done at 15, who knows what he’ll do when he’s 25 or 35," Maitra says. "But wherever he’ll end up, he’ll have a positive impact. I have no doubts about that. He’s a very special kid.”

You May Like

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Robert Hartley from: Ottawa, Canada
February 14, 2013 8:05 AM
Way to go Jack! Keep it up, If you found a way to diagnose this by 15, you should be able to cure it by 25! Let's put some faith and funding behind these young energetic minds.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisisi
X
March 06, 2015 12:28 AM
There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Winter Weather Strikes Eastern US...Again!

A new wintry blast has hit more than 20 states in the U.S. Midwest and Mid-Atlantic region, adding more snow to the piles from previous storms. Tired of shoveling snow, breaking the ice and dealing with accidents, flight delays and property damage, most Americans hope this is the last bout of cold for the season. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Myanmar's Traditional Fashion Choices Endure

The sartorial choices of Myanmar’s men and women quickly catch the eye of any visitor to the tropical Southeast Asian country. But at a time when Myanmar’s political and economic opening is bringing affordable western fashions to the masses, will the country’s unique fashion trends endure? VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Yangon explores that question.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More