Quote of the Month
“Dream big and then make it happen!”
-Jack Andraka, 16-year-old Awe-inspiring Cancer Researcher
Jack Andraka, April Amazing Kid of the Month
16-year-old Jack Andraka has been making headlines ever since winning the 2012 Intel Science Fair for his invention of a device that can detect early stages of pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer. These aggressive cancers, namely pancreatic cancer, are often found in late stages when it is hard to treat.
So how did Jack invent such a miraculous and awe-inspiring cancer detector?! Amazing Kids caught up with Jack to find out all about his invention, his work with cancer research, and what is next for him!
A New Era for Medicine
Flashback two years ago and Jack didn’t know much about the pancreas or pancreatic cancer. That would all change though when the Andraka family lost a close family friend to pancreatic cancer. Jack dedicated his time to pour over information on the Internet using search engines like Google to research the deadly pancreatic cancer. What he found shocked him. “Pancreatic cancer has few symptoms and is usually found late when there is only a small chance of survival,” Jack explained. What Jack also found was that the current blood test to detect pancreatic cancer is decades old, very expensive, and isn’t very accurate. “I knew there had to be a better way.”
Jack spent the summer refining his experimental design before sending out proposals to hundreds of local professors specializing in pancreatic research asking to work in their labs. “Then I sat back waiting for the acceptances to come in, and waited, and waited!” Jack received over 199 rejections and one “maybe” from Dr. Maitra at John Hopkins School of Medicine. “He took the time to listen to me, and gave me a chance to work in his lab under the supervision of a post doc named Dr. Chenna,” Jack said.
Jack’s research resulted in a new dipstick invention. His device uses strips to test blood or urine for high levels of the mesothelin. This protein is high in people with pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancers because it gets overproduced. Compared to other methods of detecting pancreatic cancer, Jack’s invention is 168 times faster, 26,000 times less expensive, and over 400 times more sensitive. In fact, each test would only cost around three cents! “I tell kids ‘If I can create a sensor to detect cancer using Google, imagine what you can do!’”
This new method of detecting various cancers will undoubtedly change the future of medicine! Way to go, Jack!
Overcoming Challenges in the Lab
Nowadays Jack has a lot to show for his hard work, but he did face challenges during the development and research phases. Going into his research Jack had some experience with culturing cells, but he needed to learn how to use more advanced lab equipment. One of these devices was the centrifuge, which is used to separate out substances. “I spent weeks growing my cell culture and then used the wrong size tube in the centrifuge and broke the glass tube,” Jack said. This mistake made him have to start all over again!
Jack went into overdrive and worked every day after school, on weekends when possible over holidays, and even over his birthday. “I finally got strips that worked,” he said.
Ever since creating the new diagnostic sensor Jack has meet with people all over the nation, including President Obama, former President Mr. Clinton, astronauts, and business entrepreneurs. “I’ve also been able to meet people and their families who are fighting ovarian and pancreatic cancer and hear their stories,” Jack said.
“AKOM04-Jake-Clinton.png” Caption: Jack with Mr. Clinton.
Winning the 2012 Intel Science Fair
Jack’s new method of cancer detection won him the grand prize at the 2012 Intel Science Fair. The Intel Science Fair is by far one of the largest pre-collegiate science research events. The program awards scholarships and grants to students all over the world.
“It was my dream to go,” Jack said about attending the 2012 Intel Science Fair. His older brother Luke went twice, and Jack was inspired by his work. “Just to be able to go was such an honor, and then when I won and I was standing on stage with the confetti falling all over me, well it was a dream come true.”
At the Intel Science Fair Jack won the Gordon E. Moore award along with prizes from smaller categories.
An Inspiring Future
Life for Jack since winning the grand prize at the 2012 Intel Science Fair has been a whirlwind of events, including traveling across the nation, speaking at different events like the Ted conferences, and spending time in the lab. Even so, Jack has still found time to keep up with his schoolwork, doing much of the work online and completing tests and turning in homework when he gets back to school.
Back in the lab Jack is working on his next science fair project. In addition he is also working with a group of teen scientists who call themselves Generation z. “We are working on the Quallcom Tricorder X prize to make a sensor like in Star Trek to detect diseases without blood sample,” he said.
We can’t wait to see what Jack comes up with next! In the meantime he has advice to all of our readers. “Dream big and then make it happen! Kids have fearlessness and creativity and time, so think about the change you would like to see in the world and make it come true.”