Want some good news for your Memorial Day weekend?
A public high school freshman from Maryland who's always been interested in science won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair this year with a simple, cheap way to detect deadly cancers early.
Just heard about Jack Andraka on Marketplace on NPR; his story is fascinating and inspiring.
According to the Baltimore Sun, Andraka worked with Dr. Anirban Maitra, a professor in the Johns Hopkins University's department of pathology who gave Jack use of his lab to craft his invention, a cheap and effective "dipstick-sensor" method of testing blood or urine to identify early-stage pancreatic cancer and other diseases.
Maitra saluted Andraka after he won the most prestigious science prize for high school students:
Keep that last name in mind. You're going to read about him a lot in the years to come. What I tell my lab is, "Think of Thomas Edison and the light bulb." This kid is the Edison of our times. There are going to be a lot of light bulbs coming from him.More, below.
In the Marketplace interview with Kai Ryssdal, Andraka explained his breakthrough invention:
Andraka: I basically developed a paper sensor that can detect pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer and lung cancer before they become invasive -- for as little as 3 cents and five minutes.Andraka has patented his cancer test strip, that also provides early warning for two other very deadly cancers -- ovarian and lung -- and "can also look at drug resistance for cancer therapeutic drugs and it can look at how effective a chemotherapeutic drug is."
Ryssdal: OK, no seriously, how'd you do this? Because really, the best minds we have been working on this for decades.
Andraka: So, basically there are these antibodies which capture a specific protein that's found in your blood, because it becomes elevated when you have those cancers. And so then, when you have blood that has those elevated levels, it'll change the conductivity of my paper sensor, and basically I was just measuring that. And it can detect pancreatic cancer.
Ryssdal: Oh my god. I just understood nothing of what you just said. I have to tell you that, because I didn't do really well in science in school. How is this better than what we have now, though?
Andraka: So actually, the current gold standard for protein detection in your blood, it's called Elisa. My test is 168 times faster, over 26,000 times less expensive, and over 400 times more sensitive. Also, it's more accurate -- it's nearly 100 percent accurate in its diagnosis. Then also, it's portable and doesn't required specialized training.
Ryssdal: That's kind of amazing. Seriously, don't you think?
Andraka: Yeah, it was pretty cool to see that my sensor defeated the better one.
Andraka said he was inspired by the pancreatic cancer deaths of a family member and an acquaintance. He said his parents, a civil engineer and an anesthetist, encouraged him and his brother to explore science:
Ever since age 3, my parents really fostered my curiosity. They had us look up stuff, they didn't just tell us; they had us find out stuff through experiments; stuff like that. Because I have an older brother, he's two years older than me, so we would just do these amazing scientific experiments. Right now, he has taken over the basement with his chemistry experiments.Plus, Andraka is enrolled in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) "school within a school" at North County High School in Anne Arundel County, which provides "relevant, real-world, hands-on experience with cutting-edge technology."
Pancreatic cancer killed two of my uncles, and the father of a very good friend. It is super deadly (4 percent survival after five years, for most a wasting death within six months of diagnosis) because it cannot be detected early enough to make a difference.
Ovarian and lung cancers are also super deadly, for the same reason.
Andraka appears to have changed that dramatically, and won the imprimatur of Johns Hopkins and Intel.
Production and distribution of Andraka strips could soon create thousands of jobs, and save millions of lives. The strips will surely cost more than 3 cents, but nowhere near as much as current tests that are far less effective.
So, is that some good news for your Memorial Day weekend or what.