High School Freshman Confounds Researchers, Invents New Pancreatic Cancer Test
May 25, 2012 10:21 AM
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."
, 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. (
) 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 (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. (
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.
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.
"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke
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