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15-year-old nabs $100,000 top prize in Intel-sponsored competition; his "dipstick" test is 90 percent accurate

Jack Andraka.  Andraka.

"Keep that last name in mind. 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."

Those are bold words, bolder still given that their source is one of the top medical researchers in the nation.  But Dr. Anirban Maitra, a pathology professor at Johns Hopkins University firmly believes what he says.

I. HS Freshman Invents Test That's 100x as Sensitive

The invention is incredible.  A "dipstick" style sensor, it is 90 percent accurate at testing for pancreatic cancer in blood samples.  It's also being considered as a prime candidate for testing for other diseases.

When it comes to pancreatic cancer timing is crucial.  Late detection or refusal to seek treatment can be deadly.  Indeed, this same cancer took a great toll on tech luminary and Apple, Inc. (AAPL) founder Steven P. Jobs, first claiming his liver with its complications, and later his life.

Incredibly, Mr. Andraka, a mere boy at 15, claims to have come up with the underlying idea for his method at just 3 years old, when he found that by dropping objects into a flowing river, he could test the current.  Encouraged by his parents -- a civil engineer (his father) and an anesthetist (his mother) -- and their small library of science magazines, the spark grew in the young man's mind.

Jack Andraka and PI
Jack Andraka (left) and his advisor, Dr. Anirban Maitra (right)
[Image Source: CBS (left) Johns Hopkins Univ. (right)]

That spark grew into the fire of a bold idea, after Mr. Andraka emailed 200 Johns Hopkins professors, University of Maryland professors, and officials at the National Institutes of Health, trying to get somebody to let him use their lab to create a dipstick test for disease.

Most faculty members expressed little interest.  But after about 200 emails, Dr. Maitra received a message from the boy and was intrigued.  Months later they had a sensor that was an estimated 100 times more accurate than current tests, dozens of times faster, but critically much less expensive at only 3 cents per test.

Pancreas
Pancreatic cancer is a deadly disease and early detection is critical.
[Image Source: About Cancer]

The test measures the level of mesothelin, a protein whose typically low levels spike in the bloodstream in individuals with early stages of pancreatic cancer.  Soon the test may be deployed "in the wild" saving many lives.

II. Honored For Excellence

For that amazing innovation a much deserving Mr. Andraka received the nod at the recent Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), winning the top $75,000 USD prize sponsored by Intel Corp. (INTC).

The young "Tony Stark" is only in high school at North County HS, a Baltimore, Maryland area school, but he is about to have a rare honor most high school students could only dream of -- speaking to the U.S. Congress.  He will deliver a talk next month as part of the Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Day.

He comments, "It's been my childhood dream to go to ISEF, and I never thought I would go onto that stage as the Gordon E. Moore Award winner.  This was a big accomplishment for me. It fulfilled my biggest and wildest dreams.  But also, it means that I can actually get the word out about this deadly disease and this new test that I use to detect it."

While the freshman may be living an unusual life, he is a typical young man in at least one way -- he's fiercely competitive with his older brother, Luke.  Luke is also a ISEF winner, taking home $96,000 USD in 2010 for his work on how acid mine drainage affected the environment.

Intel Science Fair
Jack and his brother Luke are both Intel Science Fair winners. [Image Source: Hot Hardware]

Luke and Jack are testement to what natural talent, solid parenting, and a school that gives its excelling students flexibility to explore independent studies, can do.  Both young men look to have bright futures as inventors and entrepeneurs.

Source: Baltimore Sun



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WOW
By Dr of crap on 5/25/2012 10:35:59 AM , Rating: 5
And most ther freshman are trying to concour the worlds in their Xbox games.

Way to go kid.

Does he get royalties on this test?




RE: WOW
By rodrigu3 on 5/25/2012 11:00:08 AM , Rating: 2
He's gonna be a rich man. Some pharmaceutical or medical tech company will probably try to buy the patent from him for many millions of dollars.


RE: WOW
By ltfields on 5/25/12, Rating: 0
RE: WOW
By ppardee on 5/25/2012 12:56:43 PM , Rating: 5
He could, but he's got probably 70 more years ahead of him. Imagine what someone with his drive and intelligence could do if he also had lots of funding and a really strong motivator (self-interest is always more motivating that altruism)over the course of 70 years...


RE: WOW
By bupkus on 5/25/12, Rating: 0
RE: WOW
By Mitch101 on 5/27/2012 12:46:32 PM , Rating: 1
Maybe more than 70 years if can prevent/cure even more possibilities before reaching them. If he does live up to Einstein levels Id chip in to cryostat him if he doesn't reach that level.

Still he will probably discover girls soon and they will ruin him.


RE: WOW
By JKflipflop98 on 5/27/2012 1:34:04 PM , Rating: 2
Remember David Kim.


RE: WOW
By dark matter on 5/26/2012 9:06:59 PM , Rating: 1
Well I'm sure whenever he goes out to the store, or the cinema, or to the theatre, or bowling, or just buying a Blu Ray, he can always get it on the house because "Hey, he's that guy who gave his idea away for free".

I'm sure that would work paying for groceries at Wal Mart.


RE: WOW
By Orchunter on 5/25/2012 11:06:44 AM , Rating: 5
And they are going to turn this 3 cents test into an expensive one with little to no improvement.

Nonetheless, this is a great achievement. Good job , kid.


RE: WOW
By anactoraaron on 5/25/2012 11:59:54 AM , Rating: 2
Who says current tests aren't that cheap already? Remember everyone involved gets paid when tests like this are done. The doctors, nurses, lab tech, janitors, the janitor's stepkid, etc. That's why tests are so expensive. How will this test be expensive? They need a 'dipstick specialist' to perform the exam, etc. /endrant


RE: WOW
By anactoraaron on 5/25/12, Rating: -1
RE: WOW
By ShaolinSoccer on 5/25/2012 5:20:51 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Does everyone on the internets today think these doctors and other specialists shouldn't be paid for their work?


Well, if it's something that can be easily done, why not? My diabetic grandmother doesn't need to go to the Dr. every time she needs to check her blood...


RE: WOW
By geddarkstorm on 5/25/2012 3:36:57 PM , Rating: 2
Shows the power of tenacity, constantly e-mailing labs till finally someone with the resources allowed him to put his idea into motion. We definitely need more of this sort of thing. We're most creative when we're young like this, and so many brilliant ideas die out simply due to the lack of resources and opportunity to try to put them into motion.


RE: WOW
By mmatis on 5/26/2012 12:26:58 PM , Rating: 2
Won't happen. I understand that the RIAA claims Bobby Brown owns copyright on this idea from one of his songs...


RE: WOW
By yourwhiteshadow on 5/27/2012 6:26:30 PM , Rating: 2
too bad the research he did was at a university, and that university or probably some government grant funded the research. probably at the end of the day the university is going to hold the grant and get all the money. such is academia...


RE: WOW
By GotThumbs on 5/29/2012 1:56:20 PM , Rating: 2
He is NOT an employee of that university, so he retains full ownership. Their may be some credit/$ that goes tot he university, but He is currently in discussions with patent experts to make sure his patent is solid and then it will be released.

A great example of the power of a young mans potential. So many of today's youth waste away in a chair in front of a computer game. I guess they figure Obama will take care of them after their parents kick them out. Sorry, had to get that political jab in.


How much was his own work though?
By Paedric on 5/25/2012 11:12:07 AM , Rating: 3
I don't know if this kid did it almost entirely by himself, maybe he did, and kudo to him.
But how many other kids project are their parents/relatives doing?

Here is a comment posted on Slashdot by vlm that is really interesting.

quote:
Who did the work? I'm not thinking the kid did. He may have "developed" it in the same sense that modern americans talk about how they are "building a house" when they really mean cutting a check for someone else to build it.

I'm thinking most of the list is "This is what my dad does at work and this is what they did while I watched them".

Plausible projects that could actually be done by kids would be:

"Euglena: The Solution to Nanosilver Pollution" Nothing too unobtainable here, nothing requiring a weird environment, clearly possible in a basement, or in my basement anyway.

"Design and Creation of Small Wind-Power Engines for Low Wind Speeds Based on Magnus Effect" Totally designable and buildable by a kid, key word being "small" and "low speed"

"Repelling Effect of Plant Extracts on Bees-A Study on Preventing Bees from Pesticide Toxicity" Plenty of normal civilians keep bees, at least in rural areas, coincidentally same place plants to extract and pesticides to sample also reside. Totally believable that a smart hard working kid could do this alone.

"Effect of Food Types on Quantity and Nutritional Quality of Weaver Ant". Ants, we got em. Food, we got it too. Can we count? Yes we can. Sounds like good science doable by an actual kid.

Implausible projects that could not have been done by kids:

"A Study of the Endogenous Activity Rhythms of the Marine Isopod Exosphaeroma truncatitelson" Where does a kid get that and the testing environment necessary?

"Analysis of Photon-Mediated Entanglement between Distinguishable Matter Qubits" Oh come on. Well I'll head on over to home depot and get a can of qubits on the way home from school, and then...

"DNA Repair Mechanisms: Investigations of Base Excision Repair Pathway in Differentiated and Proliferative Neuronal CAD Cells" Oh come on. How big was the lab that did this work? 50 people and 10 million bucks of gear maybe?

"Synthesis of Trimethylguanosine Cap Analogues with the Potential Use in Gene Therapy" Oh come on

"Synthesis of Triazene Compounds and Their Application in Spectrophotometric Determination of Cadmium" Nobody's doing cadmium work outside a lab, at least without turning the basement into a "radioactive boyscout" situation. I would promote this to "possible" if and only if it were done as independent study at a high school chem lab.




RE: How much was his own work though?
By MrBlastman on 5/25/12, Rating: 0
By Argon18 on 5/25/2012 12:08:40 PM , Rating: 2
It will likely remain that way until all the proper patents and IP are taken care of, so that nobody rips off his idea.


By bh192012 on 5/25/2012 12:34:58 PM , Rating: 2
If picking up a tiny amount of chemicals binding to some test material in a drop of blood is difficult, I could see where putting a "dipstick" of the material into a vein for a while could pick up more of the chemicals to be bound.
(increasing it's sensitivity) I'm guessing it's as simple as that, most good ideas are like that.


By Amiga500 on 5/25/2012 12:28:15 PM , Rating: 3
I disagree.

If he had a theoretical idea, emailed it around, eventually got it tested and it worked - how is that not his idea?

From the article, it pretty clearly states there was no testing until he got someone within academica (with access to suitable equipment) involved...


RE: How much was his own work though?
By Hector2 on 5/25/2012 5:34:04 PM , Rating: 2
That kind of thinking in this instance is flawed.

1. His father is a civil engineer and not in the medical field.
2. Dr. Maitra at John Hopkins didn't get involved until he started looking for a lab to use to test out the dipstick test.
3. No one else has come out with this test and it's a huge breakthrough.

This kid is really deserving. End of story.


By Mitch101 on 5/27/2012 12:43:22 PM , Rating: 2
I say who cares if its the kid or father another great breakthrough in health. Im betting its the kid.


My hat goes off...
By MrBlastman on 5/25/2012 11:00:17 AM , Rating: 3
To this kid and especially his parents, for providing the encouragement, nurturing, discipline and environment he needed to foster his young mind. This is fantastic that such a young man could achieve something like this so early in life. I look forward to whatever else it is he might discover and create for the world.




RE: My hat goes off...
By kattanna on 5/25/2012 11:04:03 AM , Rating: 5
quote:
Most faculty members expressed little interest. But after about 200 emails, Dr. Maitra received a message from the boy and was intrigued.


and lets not forget Dr Maitra.. someone who actually seems to be able to think outside the box.


RE: My hat goes off...
By MrBlastman on 5/25/2012 11:36:11 AM , Rating: 2
The sphere. Thinking outside the box is so "everyone is doing it." ;)

He took a risk on this kid and amazing things happened. It should serve as a reminder of all academia to not forget their mission which is not to receive grants and conduct personal research, but it is for the betterment of all inquisitive minds for a cause that benefits all.


RE: My hat goes off...
By kattanna on 5/25/2012 12:31:24 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The sphere. Thinking outside the box is so "everyone is doing it." ;)


LOL.. IF only that was true hahaha

deeds..not words


wow
By houghe9 on 5/25/2012 12:50:44 PM , Rating: 2
Based on the posts here it just confirms people are really sad. People will spend more energy trying to discount this then supporting new ideas from unexpected places.

Reality:

We will have a new tool to help all people everywhere. Humanity will benefit.

kid is a freshman in highschool....means nothing. kid had help? maybe but even if he did humanity still wins. who cares where it came from how it was found? if the people that cry and complain and try to discredit the kid the idea the testing methods the cost would worry about things that matter maybe they will find a cure or testing method that will help others we would all be better off.

the idea and instructions could have come in a bottle floating around in the water. who cares? if it works why spend time trying to figure out if the bottle it came out of is really glass? negativity is much more fun i guess.




RE: wow
By Paedric on 5/25/2012 1:01:54 PM , Rating: 3
What about fairness?

It's a science contest, to reward kids with good ideas.
Do you want to reward the kid who has patiently studied ants for months using a rigorous scientific protocol, or the one who published a ground-breaking result on qubit theory at 14 because his father works in this domain?

Sure, the latter is most probably way more useful than the former, but that's not the point. And if it's a lab that developed it for the kid, don't worry, it was going to be commercialized anyway.


RE: wow
By 91TTZ on 5/25/2012 2:34:40 PM , Rating: 2
Or how about this:

Maybe it was Dr. Anirban Maitra's idea all along. He might have been working on something like this and saw a kid entering a contest as a perfect vehicle to get his work published.


By HPSwami on 5/25/2012 1:01:24 PM , Rating: 4
Hopefully they can develop a new dipstick test for prostate cancer. Not too crazy about the current one.




Can we all agree on:
By Homerboy on 5/25/2012 1:26:45 PM , Rating: 2
Suck it cancer. We're sick of you and going to kick your @ss.




RE: Can we all agree on:
By 91TTZ on 5/25/2012 2:52:25 PM , Rating: 2
Cancer isn't a foreign illness that you can get out of your body. It is you, just with data replication errors.


Clarification
By sld on 5/25/2012 1:03:15 PM , Rating: 3
I read the original article at Baltimore Sun. It does not say that dropping things into water currents at the age of 3 inspired him to come up with this dipstick test.

It does say that it sparked his interest in science.




99%
By jimbojimbo on 5/25/2012 6:46:36 PM , Rating: 2
Good thing this kid's around because he's going to have to pick up the slack from the rest of the 99% of idiots he's going to school with. I guarantee almost nobody in his grade even knows what a pancreas is... no, I'll bet almost nobody in his school.




Speaking to Congress
By superstition on 5/26/2012 5:53:17 AM , Rating: 2
A rare "honor" indeed.




Don't Forget...
By mmatis on 5/26/2012 12:35:01 PM , Rating: 2
to thank NASA, as well as Johnson and Johnson, for developing the electrophoresis which enabled the molecular separation that identified mesothelin as a protein string associated with pancreatic cancer. Earth-bound scientists had been trying to separate protein strings for years using electrophoresis, but with no success due to the interference of gravity. J&J developed and launched their Continuous Flow Electrophoresis in Space (CFES) middeck experiment, which flew several times on Shuttle missions. Those experiments enabled them to understand how to get electrophoresis to work in low gravity, and they were then able to adapt it to use such as this in normal gravity.

Who knows how far behind we would be in medicine if it were not for the long-range research such as that?




Einstein
By Chaosforce on 5/27/2012 9:31:16 AM , Rating: 2
"If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it"

Simple proving this time and time again




NPR interview
By masimons on 5/29/2012 5:20:33 AM , Rating: 2
He was interviewed shortly after winning, said he has a patent attorney finalizing things, will split a percentage with the Dr. and Hopkins; wants to really get a in-home test out, and said he's working on something bigger hopefully for next years competition.




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