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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.

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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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.

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.

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer

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