At only 15 years old, Jack Andraka from Crownsville, Maryland, is making a big impact in medicine by inventing his own medical breakthrough that has the potential to save an untold number of lives.
Andraka created a device with the ability to detect pancreatic cancer much earlier on. This could mean the difference between life and death for a huge number of cancer sufferers.
When he was 13 years old, Andraka lost a close family friend to pancreatic cancer. That was what set his mind seeking for a solution that could have saved his friend’s life.
With research, he discovered that a big part of the problem was a lack of early detection methods. Late-stage pancreatic cancer detection is virtually a death sentence, however, if detected early, the chances of survival were very good.
During his research, he found that the most up-to-date method of detection was 60 years old and it was largely inaccurate, and took upto 5 days to get the results.
So he worked to invent a method that is, according to reports, 168 times faster, 26,000 less expensive, and 400 times more sensitive than the current methods. The best part, it’s 100% accurate, compared to the 70% the older method promised!
“I made the discovery with a laptop, a smartphone, and some online searches,” he revealed to National Geographic.
First, Andraka needed to isolate a molecule as a “bio marker” of pancreatic cancer, one that occurred during the early stages of the disease. The name of the protein is mesothelin, and he was able to locate it on his 4,000th try.
“I found an online database of 8,000 proteins associated with pancreatic cancer and started searching for a bio-marker,” he recalls.
Coincidentally, Andraka’s biology class was discussing antibodies – molecules that bind with one specific protein.
Andraka joined the two things and that gave him the idea of finding an antibody that would bind with his mesothelin bio marker.
This led Andraka into coming up with a theory that by interweaving antibodies with a network of nanotubes. High levels of the protein in a drop of blood from someone with pancreatic cancer would attach to the antibodies and cause them to enlarge, thus changing the network’s electrical charge and indicating the presence of cancer.
Andraka now needed lab space to test his theory. So he drafted a budget, compiled a list of necessary materials, a time line and a procedure.
Then he sent this information to 200 researchers in the hope that one of them would grant him lab space. 199 refused him. Only one lab director, Anirban Maitra, from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine said yes.
At the lab, Jack Andraka invented a small device that could detect cancer early and its reportedly 100% accurate.
He now holds an international patent on the device. While its still preliminary, drug companies are already interested, and word is spreading
Andraka believes his detection method could be applied to virtually any disease. “By changing the antibody, this sensor could detect bio-markers for Alzheimer’s, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other cancers,” he said.
“I couldn’t save my friend who died of pancreatic cancer, but I hope I’ve discovered something that means other families won’t have to face similar struggles.” He added.
Wow! What an inspiring young man, and what an incredible thing you’ve accomplished!
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