A fifteen year old high school student from Maryland, Jack Andraka, has discovered a test to diagnose pancreatic cancer before it spreads. Pancreatic cancer is extremely difficult to diagnose and by the time the diagnosis is made- the patient is not likely to survive more than twelve months. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. This new test is 90% accurate. It is also less expensive than current available testing and it is able to detect the cancer much earlier than present testing methods. Andraka used a diabetic test strip to create a similar dipstick to test blood or urine for early stage pancreatic cancer. This test is 28 times faster and over 100 times more sensitive than tests currently in use for pancreatic cancer screening. He currently has a patent pending.
The discovery won the grand prize for Intel Science and Engineering fair along with $100,000 during an awards ceremony in Pittsburg. Andraka says the money will go toward paying for college. “I’m really passionate about science. It’s just my thing,” he said. “I like working on medical research. I got interested in early detection because that’s the best chance of treating the cancer. The only practical way of doing this is through routine blood tests so that’s what I developed here.”
Andraka has been working with Dr. Aniban Maitra on the testing procedure. This test “detects an abnormal protein that you find in the blood when you have a pancreatic cancer,” said Dr. Maitra, “He conceived this idea and I think the fact that he is 15 makes this whole story more remarkable.” Dr. Maitra is the professor of Pathology, Oncology and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
This year, over 43,000 will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the U.S. Of those, over 37,000 will die from the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all the cancers they currently track. 94% of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will survive less than five years and 74% will not make it more than one year.
More than 1,500 students competed in the competition, with more than 1200 judges. According to a statement, Wendy Hawkins, executive director of the Intel Foundation, said, “We support the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair because we know that math and science are imperative to future global growth. This competition encourages millions of students to engage their skills for innovation and develop promising solutions for global challenges.”
Andraka became interested in diagnosing pancreatic cancer after his uncle died from the disease.