Jack Andraka’s Breakthrough Pancreatic Cancer Test
Jack Thomas Andraka (born January 8, 1997) is an American inventor, scientist and cancer researcher. He is known for his award-winning work on a potential method for detecting the early stages of pancreatic and other cancers, which he performed while he was a high school student.
Jack Andraka is a teenager who lost a close family friend to pancreatic cancer when he was just 14, and turned his grief into action by setting about developing a reliable test for pancreatic cancer.
Nobody believed that a mere teen could come up with a better diagnostic test for the cancer than the one that’s been the medical standard for decades, but this did not deter Jack.
The pancreas (enlarged in red) is nestled right in your abdomen near your liver, stomach, and gallbladder.
The pancreas is situated deep inside the body, nestled right in the abdomen near the stomach, liver, and gallbladder, making it rather difficult to scan.
There is no trademark symptom or lump to alert people to the growing danger of pancreatic cancer, which means that by the time the individual feels sick enough to go to a doctor, it is because the cancer has already spread to other organs.
Unfortunately this means that approximately 72% of patients with pancreatic cancer will die within 12 months of their diagnosis. More than 40,000 people die from pancreatic cancer each year.
Jack is Passionate about science, and because his beef with pancreatic cancer is such a personal one, he read everything he could find about the disease and the characteristics about the disease that are easily measured.
Jack’s test for pancreatic cancer is based on a few important but seemingly unrelated ideas:
Carbon nanotubes are tiny – about 1/50,000th the diameter of a human hair, but these microscopic tubes can be used to make tiny networks that conduct electricity;
Antibodies like to attach to different proteins in the blood; and
Mesothelin is a protein that the body produces when the cancer is in its early stage, and therefore one of the biomarkers of pancreatic cancer.
All GIFs via Upworthy/YouTube.
One day, as Jack was sitting in class surreptitiously reading an article about carbon nanotubes while his biology teacher was giving a lecture on antibodies, it suddenly all came together for him; if he coated a carbon nanotube network with mesothelin, the antibodies would bind to it and get bigger.
Jack posited that, as the molecules got bigger, the nanotubes would expand too, altering the network’s electrical properties. This change in electricity would be quick, easy, and affordable to measure.
While Jack had a great working theory, he needed a way to test his hypothesis, so he wrote down his budget, procedure, materials, and timeline, then forwarded it to 200 cancer research labs, asking for their help.
199 of his requests received a negative response, but the 100th, Dr. Anirban Maitra, then a professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University and now the chief pancreatic cancer researcher at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, said yes.
Dr. Maitra gave Jack access to the lab at Johns Hopkins to work on his project, as well as the assistance of her team of Ph.D. researchers. Jack worked on his research after school and on weekends, and after 7 months of preliminary tests and refinements, it started to work.
Jack’s work is extremely preliminary and has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, and further research is called for, but while Jack holds a patent on his test, he is licensing it to pharmaceutical companies so they can run the often-monotonous clinical trials necessary to ensure patient safety and accurate diagnoses.
Jack has received international recognition and numerous accolades for his research, including:
• The 2012 Gordon E. Moore Award, the top prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair;
• The 2012 Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award;
• Being named a Champion of Change by the White House;
• Receiving a fellowship as a National Geographic Explorer
• Earning a spot on Advocate’s “40 Under 40″ list.
Jack, who just turned 19, is keeping busy; He’s a first-year student at Stanford University, gives talks and lectures all over the world, and even co-wrote a memoir, “Breakthrough“, about his experience.