Teenagers sometimes get a bad rap for their reputation as aimless and reckless kids. But young inventor Jack Andraka proved these negative stereotypes to be incorrect.
A few years ago, at just the age of fifteen, he was able to impress the world with a medical invention that has the potential to save numerous lives, turning grief into a passion project.
The now 22-year-old was first inspired to work on his passion project after losing a close friend to pancreatic cancer. At the time, he already knew that part of the cancer’s seriousness lies in the fact that first detection when it is already in its late stages often means a death sentence for the sufferer.
Jack, a native of Crownsville, Maryland, then wanted to find a way to effectively detect the illness earlier to give people a higher chance of surviving it.
Thus, he began his quest to invent a method that might not only be 168 times faster but also much less expensive than the current methods of detection available.
Even better, the method he found is said to be 100% accurate. In comparison, the older method only has an accuracy rate of 70%.
Jack told National Geographic:
“I made the discovery with a laptop, a smartphone, and some online searches.”
This early detection device can mean the difference between life and death for people who have the cancer. Early detection is crucial.
Ideas coming together
It took Jack about 4,000 tries before he was able to locate the protein mesothelin, said to be a biomarker of pancreatic cancer. This was only the beginning, though.
He also used his lessons about antibodies from his science class to make his discovery.
Considering what he learned, Jack was then able to establish a theory that purports that using antibodies interwoven with nanotubes, higher levels of mesothelin in the blood samples of potential early-stage pancreatic cancer sufferers can be detected.
Inventing the device
Continuing his quest, Jack wanted to put his theory to the test.
To do this, he needed a lab space that has the materials he needed to pursue testing. After drafting a proposal for his testing project, he sent it to about 200 researchers hoping that one of them would be kind enough to lend him the facilities he needed.
Only one of them said yes. They were a pathologist and fellow pancreatic researcher, Anirban Maitra. At the time, Anirban was working at the John Hopkins School of Medicine. It was the perfect situation.
With the opportunity available to him, Jack was able to invent a small device that is meant to detect cancer early on. The device is still preliminary. However, some drug companies have expressed their interest in the product.
A whole lot of hope for the future
And using similar concepts, Jack believes that the device could be developed to detect a list of other serious diseases too like other cancers, malaria, HIV/AIDS, and even Alzheimer’s.
Jack told National Geographic:
“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 struggle.”
Currently, Jack is enrolled at Stanford University and is reportedly majoring in both electrical engineering and anthropology.
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