Of all the things that happened this year, one of the most important innovations is one you probably didn’t know about. A fifteen-year-old boy named Jack Andraka has developed a cheap, easy and highly accurate paper sensor for the early detection of pancreatic cancer, and in May, he won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in the medical and health sciences category, earning a $75,000 prize.
If you live in America, chances are you’ve lost at least one relative or friend to the disease, because it’s one of the most common (and most lethal) forms of cancer. (I lost my dad to pancreatic cancer a few years ago.)
So, what I did; is create this paper sensor and it basically has single wall carbon nanotubes which are atom thick tubes of carbon mixed with anti-bodies to this one cancer bio-marker called mesothelin. An anti-body is basically a molecule that binds specifically to one other molecule. So, what happens is; when I compared it, to the current gold standard of protein detection called called ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay), it was actually 168 times faster, over 26,000 times less expensive and over 400 times more sensitive. And what I found is that my sensor in a blind study it actually had a 100% correct diagnosis, in diagnosing pancreatic cancer and could diagnose the cancer before it actually became invasive.
I did not expect for it to be this good at detecting pancreatic cancer, anti-bodies and stuff so – I was blow away by how sensitive it was.
I actually got into this kind of work because my uncle he died due to pancreatic cancer it metastasized and I got interested in early diagnosis and I found the blood tests where the only practical way to detect it in routine screening, so then I got interested in mesothelin and actually loved single wall carbon nanotubes, they are the superheros of material science and so then I was just thinking how I could apply them here and it came to me one day in biology class.
I am incredibly excited, it’s like the Olympics of science fair, it’s amazing to be here, even if I don’t get a prize.
He’s patented the method himself, and hopefully won’t allow Big Pharma to jack up the prices so high that people can’t afford the test. What a remarkable young man, and what a great thing this is.
UPDATE: I wanted to add this bit from Wikipedia:
“Andraka’s older brother, Luke, a junior at North County High, won $96,000 in prizes at the Intel ISEF two years ago, with a project that examined how acid mine drainage affected the environment. Last year Luke won an MIT THINK Award (Technology for Humanity guided by Innovation, Networking, and Knowledge), which recognizes students whose science projects benefit their communities.
“The boys’ father, Steve Andraka, is a civil engineer. Their mother, Jane Andraka, is an anesthetist. She told the Sun “… we’re not a super-athletic family. We don’t go to much football or baseball.
“Instead we have a million [science] magazines [and] sit around the table and talk about how people came up with their ideas and what we would do differently.”