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

Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

Although international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the Islamic State group, analysts say conflicting alliances could escalate fighting More

Asia’s Middle Class Changes Demand for Wheat Grain Exporters

Changes in tastes and diets are boon for wheat exporters such as Australia and the United States More

S. African Comedian Taking Over Popular TV Show

Mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah, who is loved for his edgy jibes about race and language, is taking the helm from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show in US 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.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

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