When Jack Andraka was 15 years old, he didn't know what a pancreas was. Now, this teenager has created a test for the early detection of pancreatic cancer that, while still in the preliminary stages, looks promising. So how did he become a health innovator?
Andraka tells the story.
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 he asks.
For him, that moment came when a family friend, who'd been like an uncle to him, passed away from pancreatic cancer. In Andraka's Googling, he discovered startling statistics about this kind of cancer that in 85% of cases, pancreatic cancer is diagnosed late when a person only has a 2% chance of survival. As Andraka explains on the stage, this is because the same (very expensive) pancreatic cancer test has been used for decades, and is only given if a doctor already suspects you have the disease.
The 60-year-old technique thats older than my dad, says Andraka.
Andraka set out to develop a new test for pancreatic cancer thats inexpensive, rapid, simple, sensitive, selective and minimally invasive. He began by looking for a protein in the bloodstream that would be a biomarker for pancreatic cancer one that would be found in all cases, even in the earliest stages. The problem: there were 8,000 possible proteins. When Andraka was close to losing sanity on the 4,000th protein, he finally found one that could work mesothelin.
But then he found a whole new problem how would he go about detecting it?
My inspiration came from the most unlikely place for innovation high school biology class, that absolute stifler of innovation, says Andraka, to big laughs from the audience.