15 Year Old High School Student Revolutionizes Cancer Detection

1/30/13 12:05PM EST

jackandraka 15 Year Old High School Student Revolutionizes Cancer Detection

Jack Andraka, a 15-year-old from Crownsville, Md., has designed a diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer that can detect it earlier than any other. As a freshman in high school, Andraka developed a simple dip-stick test that determines levels of mesothelin—a biomarker for early-stage pancreatic cancer that is found in blood and urine. Pancreatic cancer is most of the most deadly forms of the disease—killing 19 out of every 20 patients within five years of diagnosis, mainly because it is difficult to diagnose until its final stages. Andraka’s test could ultimately save millions of lives.

Andraka’s invention won the $75,000 scholarship grand prize at the 2012 Intel Science Fair. The patent-pending test, which works similar to diabetic testing strips, has proven 28 times faster and 28 times less-expensive than tests currently available. Andraka claims his breakthrough is more than 90 percent accurate and costs only 3 cents—and could increase survival rates by 100 percent. The same test can be modified to detect other biomarkers for ovarian and lung cancer, as well.

“What’s so cool about that is its applicability to other diseases…for example other forms of cancer, tuberculosis, HIV, environmental contaminants like E Coli, salmonella,” Andraka told Take Part. “All for three cents for a test that takes five minutes to run.”

Andraka’s discovery came after a family friend died from pancreatic cancer and the student began to read up on the subject. After reading an article describing carbon nanotubes in a biology lesson, Andraka had an “epiphany.” From that momen, he spent weeks in a Johns Hopkins lab designing experiments and running tests, mentored by professor of pathology and oncology Anirban Maitra.

Andraka now hopes to market his tests—although it could be a decade before they become available to the public.

“Essentially what I’m envisioning here is that this could be on your shelf at your Walgreens, your Kmart,” he said. “Let’s say you suspect you have a condition… you buy a test for that. And you can see immediately if you have it.”