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Early Detection of Pancreatic Cancer

An Invention by a 15 year old

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.

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