When It Comes to Cancer Research Apparently We Don’t Know Jack
By Daniel Zeevi
Jack Andraka, who used to be commonly refereed to as the “cancer paper boy” is a high school sophomore who developed a revolutionary new test to diagnose pancreatic cancer, one of the most deadly diseases known to mankind. It’s so deadly because over 85% of pancreatic cancers are diagnosed only by the time a patient has less than a 2% chance of survival. Jack Andraka is looking to put the odds back into our favor.
See, the current detection method is over 60 years old, so there has to be a better way to detect pancreatic cancers, right? Jack was in his sophomore biology class learning about single-walled carbon nanotubes and antibodies, molecules that attach to certain proteins, when a breakthrough occurred. He realized he could introduce this antibody into a network of carbon nanotubes so that the network reacted only to the one protein, Mesothelin, which would then change its electrical properties based on the amount present. Jack was pretty sure he found a way to attack pancreatic cancer through this cellular isolation even though his own parents doubted him (it’s not typical for a high schooler to come up with a potentially world-changing idea, after all). But do we need to reevaluate this group thinking?
We shouldn’t underestimate what a young mind can imagine. It doesn’t surprise me that kids are making more of a contribution to society at younger ages than ever before since a weath of information is now available to anyone curious enough to explore it, young or old. Also, our experiences and education teach us that things are one way or another, which can eventually shape our new ideas to be very similar to those from before, especially as we grow older. Fortunately our children have not been corrupted as we adults have by pseudo-knowledge from the past, allowing their imaginations more flexibility regardless of experience.
The problem is, though, that adults and academia are quick to dismiss fundamentally different ideas, let alone those of a 14-year-old boy. Jack contacted over 200 universities and professors that had anything to do with pancreatic cancer in hopes of testing out his theories. Jack got rejected by 199 of them, and received one maybe! Finally after three months and an interview, Jack was granted the lab space he needed. After much trial and error, he developed a working cancer test strip that was 168 times faster, over 26,000 times less expensive and over 400 times more sensitive than the current standard. And most importantly, the patient has close to a 100% chance of survival if detected at the earliest stages with this new technology.
Jack went on to win the 2012 Gordon E. Moore Award and the grand prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. His inexpensive cancer detection method can now be used to detect the presence of pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer at the very earliest stages, increasing the likelihood of successful treatment. Officials at Intel say the technology is 90% accurate and Jack is currently communicating with drug companies about developing his patent into an over-the-counter test for commercial use.
Even iconic scientists like Albert Einstein, often portrayed in his elder years with wild whiteish hair, made many of his key discoveries in his youth.
“The future of science is in the hands of our youth,” says this GE FOCUS FORWARD story, featuring innovative people who are reshaping the world with their new ideas and inventions.