Jack Andraka

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Image from the tumblr blog Faith In Humanity Restored. Click to go there.

Reading about 16-year-old American Jack Andraka, the scientist who developed an early-detection test for pancreatic cancer, and what he has achieved through curiosity, determination and hard work is powerful stuff. I first came to know about him from the Facebook page of Pink Dot SG a few days ago, when I read about him being honoured by the Pope with an award in Rome. The International Giuseppe Sciacca Award, which is given to young adults the Vatican considers to be positive role models.

A few years ago when Jack was 13, a close family friend passed away from pancreatic cancer, and Jack felt compelled to learn more about the disease. He went online to find answers, and was shocked to learn that over 85% of pancreatic cancer patients were diagnosed late, and that the current tests used for this are terribly outdated and more than 60 years old. Not to mention prohibitively expensive at US$800 per test, and inaccurate, missing 30% of all pancreatic cancer.

If I watch only one video a year, that’s fine as long it has the same significance of Jack’s TED talk below. I felt impressed and hopeful for the future, yes, if more young people are like him. But also scared and angry about the current state of testing for pancreatic cancer. If people in so-called First World countries who have the means to pay for their medical tests and treatments can still be so screwed, what hope is there for the rest of us?

The Advocate.com article also mentioned that Jack is “in negotiations with a couple of biotech firms to refine and market the test, which would likely be available to the public in five to 10 years.” I hope that it will still be affordable and accessible to everyone by the time it does reach the market.

From his bio page at Ted.com:

After Andraka’s proposal to build and test his idea for a pancreatic cancer detector was rejected from 199 labs, the teen landed at Johns Hopkins. There, he built his device using inexpensive strips of filter paper, carbon nanotubes and antibodies sensitive to mesothelin, a protein found in high levels in people with pancreatic cancer. When dipped in blood or urine, the mesothelin adheres to these antibodies and is detectable by predictable changes in the nanotubes’ electrical conductivity.

In preliminary tests, Andraka’s invention has shown 100 percent accuracy. It also finds cancers earlier than current methods, costs a mere 3 cents and earned the high schooler the 2012 Intel Science Fair grand prize.

And according to Wikipedia:

Jack has been openly gay since he was 13,and discussed that in interviews with The New Civil Rights Movement,the London Evening Standard,and Washington’s MetroWeekly,among others. When asked to be interviewed about his sexual orientation, Jack responded, “That sounds awesome! I’m openly gay and one of my biggest hopes is that I can help inspire other LGBT youth to get involved in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics]. I didn’t have many [gay] role models [in science] besides Alan Turing.”