Many a times we see breakthroughs being achieved not by some renowned scientist but by a common man. It is as they say, sometimes the answer is right before us but we are not looking and then comes along the common man and finds it for us. Meet Jack Andraka, a 15 year old teen, who lost a close family friend because of pancreatic cancer.
This loss motivated Jack to carry out research online and that led to his discovery. During his research he found out that in most cases (80%) the cancer is diagnosed when it’s in the later stages and very little can be done at that time. In fact, survival rate drops to two percent at that time. The method in use for detection of pancreatic cancer is older than Jack’s dad. This old test costs around $800 each time you take it and does not cater for around 30% of the pancreatic cancer cells. According to Jack; ‘Your doctor needs to be really suspicious before he will order a pancreatic cancer test.’
Jack’s research led him to find out that there are around eight thousand proteins which are found in pancreatic cancer. The next step was to find a common protein and Jack set out to put the numbers and find results. His attempt no. 4,000 proved to be a success; mesothelin. This protein is available in high concentration during early stages of pancreatic cancer.
Jack’s criteria for the test he was about to design was as follows; rapid, cheap, sensitive, simple, selective and minimally invasive. The breakthrough for Jack came in his Biology class where he learned about antibodies and carbon nanotech research. A mix of the two and the design was ready. So how does it work? It is quite simple; you start with some water and then you pour in nanotubes, add to it the antibodies and mix the whole thing, strips of paper need to be dipped in and then dried and finally you’re all set to detect pancreatic cancer.
Priced at merely three cents, this sensor has a very good accuracy rate when the cancer is in its early stage. Jack’s eyes are set on improving the survival rate of patients suffering from pancreatic cancer from 5% to almost 100%.