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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs