It is likely you know of someone who has had pancreatic cancer. It is one of the most common and lethal forms of cancer known to humankind. Pancreatic cancer typically gives no external symptoms until it has typically reached an advanced state, which results in the low survival rate for those diagnosed with it, with only a 6% survival rate after 5 years after diagnosis and treatment. Famous victims include astronaut Sally Ride, entrepreneur Steve Jobs, actor Patrick Swayze, and tenor Luciano Pavarotti; and that is only going back 5 years.
The opportunity to catch this deadly cancer early may have just arisen, thanks to a 15 year old boy named Jack Andraka, from Crownsville, Maryland. How it works he explains in his own words (from Crooks and Liars):
So, what I did; is create this paper sensor and it basically has single wall carbon nanotubes which are atom thick tubes of carbon mixed with anti-bodies to this one cancer bio-marker called mesothelin. An anti-body is basically a molecule that binds specifically to one other molecule. So, what happens is; when I compared it, to the current gold standard of protein detection called called ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay), it was actually 168 times faster, over 26,000 times less expensive and over 400 times more sensitive. And what I found is that my sensor in a blind study it actually had a 100% correct diagnosis, in diagnosing pancreatic cancer and could diagnose the cancer before it actually became invasive.
I did not expect for it to be this good at detecting pancreatic cancer, anti-bodies and stuff so – I was blow away by how sensitive it was.
I actually got into this kind of work because my uncle he died due to pancreatic cancer it metastasized and I got interested in early diagnosis and I found the blood tests where the only practical way to detect it in routine screening, so then I got interested in mesothelin and actually loved single wall carbon nanotubes, they are the superheros of material science and so then I was just thinking how I could apply them here and it came to me one day in biology class.
I am incredibly excited, it’s like the Olympics of science fair, it’s amazing to be here, even if I don’t get a prize.
Of course, as humble as he was, he did, in fact win a prize. The grand prize in fact of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in the medical and health sciences category, as you can see here:
He is now a full on celebrity at his school, on par with any sports figure or rock star. Something well deserved for those who will not be given a fighting chance against the specter of pancreatic cancer.
He is now being featured in Smithsonian Magazine this month, including this video where you get to meet this boy genius, whom his mentor has called the Edison of our times:
And all of this before he even has a drivers license.
For those countless whose lives you will save, thanks to your research and innovation, we salute you Mr. Andraka. Thank you, for our friends, our family, ourselves.