Jack Andraka is a 15-year-old freshman at North County High School who lives in Maryland. Jack is part of the Junior National Wildwater Kayaking Team and enjoys playing with his dog and folding origami. He excelled at school, winning several national and international math competitions. But Jack is no ordinary boy.
Jack was able to single-handedly develop a paper sensor capable of detecting pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer in 5 minutes for just 3 cents. Here is his story.
make the best of the worst
Jack Andraka was only 15 when he first experienced grief. His heart broke seeing his uncle, who was more of a father figure to him, die of pancreatic cancer. At first he felt helpless in the face of circumstances, wondering why life could be so unfair.
The more he thought about it, the more he told himself that medicine might have intervened and saved his uncle. Since medicine didn’t seem to be making great strides in cancer research, Jack decided to take matters into his own hands.
In just a year and a half
It all started when he was researching pancreatic cancer statistics online. He was surprised to find that 85% of pancreatic cancers were diagnosed late, giving patients only a 2% survival rate or three months to live.
Jack’s conclusion was that cancer medicine had a big problem with early detection tests. His project was to find a way to create a test that could detect pancreatic cancer in the early stages. With his whole life ahead of him, he decided to make it his goal. Little did he know that it would only take him a year and a half to reach it.
Why does this change a lot of things
The sad reality is that when a person is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, they are often already terminal. This means there is not much doctors can do to cure someone. It doesn’t matter if they are young or old, the chances are just very slim. In fact, pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer. The average lifespan after diagnosis is about 5-6 months; 5-year survival is about 5% and complete remission is still extremely rare (American Cancer Society, 2008).
What Jack wanted to do was extend their lives and give them a fighting chance. At only 15 years old, he managed to completely transform this field of medicine and increase the chances of survival with early detection.
A test with 100% accuracy
Not only was Jack able to find a way to test with early detection, but he created a sensor that was 168 times faster, 26,000 times cheaper, and 400 times more sensitive than those available.
Jack’s test only costs about 3 cents and takes 5 minutes. Plus, it’s 100% accurate compared to the previous accuracy rate of 70%!
It changed his life
In a Ted Talk, Jack shared, “Earlier this year I won an international science fair, and everyone keeps asking me how a 15-year-old could develop a new way to detect pancreatic cancer? My answer ? A year and a half of hard work and millions of failures. »
The problem with pancreatic cancer was that it had no symptoms beforehand, so by the time a patient arrived for diagnosis it was often already too late, early detection was the key to a cure. The search for the boy is an inexpensive, simple, and sensible breakthrough that is sure to save many lives.
By wanting to save others, Jack overcame his grief and created a life full of purpose and opportunity. All it took was a will, a vocation and a motivation.
A new path for modern medicine
The young man has developed a new paper sensor for the detection of pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer.
Before its arrival, the test still relied on a 60-year-old technique that missed more than 30% of pancreatic cancers. In the United States, the test alone cost around €800 and was not covered by insurance plans. That means low-income patients weren’t even lucky enough to be able to get tested.
Jack’s findings show that we can help everyone around us, regardless of circumstances or limitations we think we have.
Saving millions of lives… and euros
Jack’s invention could save thousands of lives, even millions of dollars. Think of all the patients who can go home after their diagnosis thinking that it’s not the end and that they have a second chance to prolong their life after their diagnosis.
The young man’s drive to overcome his grief and help others so they don’t have to feel his pain helped him find something that will change lives. He was not discouraged, not even when he was rejected by 197 scientists when he asked for help. He did it on his own, but he did it.
The boy’s research only lasted a year and a half, although medical research like this often takes years. Call it fate, genius or luck, but by examining a database of 8,000 proteins and trying different combinations, his 4,000th try helped him find the solution.
His advice for dreaming big and achieving anything is: “Thanks to the Internet, anything is possible. Theories can be shared and you don’t have to be a professor with multiple degrees for your ideas to be valued. It’s just your ideas that matter. »
Using our resources to our advantage, instead of wasting time taking selfies like everyone else, is key for Jack, he adds: “Instead, you could change the world.”
Anyone can change the world
Jack emphasizes being brave and fearless and thinking of unconventional ways to get things done.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box to think for yourself and see what kind of impact you can make on the world. If a 15-year-old could do it, he says, “imagine what you could do.”