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Early Detection Cancer Test by Teenage Prodigy Jack Andraka

Jack Andraka was a normal 14 year old boy who did not even know what a pancreas was. But now, this teenager has invented an early detection test for pancreatic cancer. How did it happen? How did it come about?

In his own words, Jack Andraka says, “Have you ever experienced a moment in your life that was so painful and confusing, you just want to learn everything you can to make sense of it all?”

For Jack Andraka that moment was when a family friend passed away because of pancreatic cancer. The man had been like an uncle to Jack.

Shocking statistics

As Jack Andraka googled pancreatic cancer, he found out some shocking statistics on the disease. He discovered that in 85% of the cases of pancreatic cancer, the disease is not diagnosed until its later stages, when a person has only a 2% chance of surviving.

Jack Andraka discovered that the reason for this is due to the fact that the same extremely expensive test for detecting pancreatic cancer has been used for many years. He also found out that the test is only given to a person if a physician thinks that person has pancreatic cancer.

Andraka said, “It’s a 60-year-old technique --- that’s older than my dad.”

Looking for a protein

Andraka’s goal was to invent a new test for pancreatic cancer that would be simple, sensitive, inexpensive, fast, selective and minimally invasive. What he looked for was a protein in a person’s bloodstream that would be a biomarker (biologic indicator) of pancreatic cancer. Andraka searched for a protein that would be present even in the earliest stages of the disease in all cases.

The problem for Andraka was that there were 8,000 possible proteins. He says when he was “close to losing sanity on the 4,000 protein,” he discovered one that would work. It was mesothelin, a protein that is encoded by the MSLN gene.

Then Jack Andraka encountered another problem. How would he detect the protein?

Andraka said, “I can’t really do cancer research on my kitchen countertop. My mom doesn’t like that.”

Space for research

So, Jack emailed 200 scientists, asking for space in their lab to do research. He was rejected 199 times. Even at a lab at John Hopkins University where a professor was willing to look at his theory, he was grilled with questions from graduate students trying to shoot down his procedure.

Eventually, Andraka invented a test that is 28 times faster, 26,000 times less expensive and 100 times more sensitive than the current test. The test also looks like it is close to 100% accurate. If that’s not enough, Andraka’s test also works for lung and ovarian cancer.

Potential for test

Even more amazing is the fact that Jack thinks his test has the potential to be used for diseases as varied as heart disease and HIV/AIDS. This could possibly be done by switching out the protein that the test reacts to.

Jack Andraka says, “Through this journey, I’ve learned an important lesson ---- that anything is possible with the internet. You don’t have to be a professor with multiple degrees to have your idea work.”
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