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

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' 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.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs