Part of the problem is that this cancer is usually diagnosed quite late, contributing to the abysmal five-year survival rate. It also shows you just how ineffective conventional detection methods and treatments are.
All of that may soon change however — all due to the persistence and dedication of a high school kid who decided there must be a better way to detect this lethal cancer sooner…
Yes, a 15-year-old boy named Jack Andraka has done what scientists with millions of dollars-worth of research grants at their disposal have failed to do. He invented a dipstick-type sensor to detect pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer that is:
- 168 times faster
- 26,000 times less expensive, and
- 400 times more sensitive than the current standard of detection
And he did it using Google and Wikipedia as his primary research tools — online resources that are available to virtually anyone on the planet with an internet connection. What’s more, the test costs three cents, takes five minutes, and has a 90 percent accuracy rate. Compare that to the current standard, which employs 60-year-old technology, costs about $800, and misses 30 percent of all pancreatic cancers.
Jack Andraka Speaking at a TED talk:
How Could a High School Kid Make Such an Amazing Discovery?
You are in for a real treat. Please find the time to watch this awesomely inspiring video of a high school freshman who accomplished a major feat that most of us will never surpass in our lifetime. It is clearly one of the most inspiring videos I have ever seen. You are left with the impression if this high school freshman can do this, why can’t I achieve my goals?
Last year, Jack was awarded first place in the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair for his invention.2 To me the most impressive part of his story are the thousands of failures he went through that did not deter him in the pursuit of his goal. Absolutely magnificent story.
When Jack first began his research, he didn’t even know he had a pancreas, but when pancreatic cancer suddenly claimed the life of a close family friend who was like “an uncle” to him he got to thinking… and researching, using readily available online tools and freely available studies, he determined that the reason we haven’t done a better job at detecting pancreatic cancer is because we’re looking for a particular protein present in the blood, called mesothelin.
This protein is always present, but in ovarian, pancreatic, or lung cancer patients, this protein is elevated. The problem is, detecting elevated levels is like “finding a needle in a stack of identical needles.”
After determining the parameters for an ideal detection sensor — noninvasive, rapid, inexpensive, simple, sensitive, and selective — he set to work trying to figure out how to detect elevated levels of mesothelin. The idea for his dipstick sensor came during a high school biology class on the subject of antibodies, during which he was secretly reviewing a paper on analytical methods using the 21st century technology of carbon nanotubes. (His approach would be absolutely impossible when I was in high school as carbon nanotubes would not be discovered for many decades.)
Antibodies fit like a lock and key into an antigen binding site. In this case, that would be the mesothelin protein. His idea involved lacing the nanotubes with the antibody, which would subsequently only attract the mesothelin protein. The nanotube strip would then generate an electrical response large enough to detect with a simple ohm meter.
Once he had locked down his theory, he needed a lab space. He applied to 200 laboratories working with pancreatic cancer and promptly received 199 rejections. But there was one “maybe.” He “hunted down” the professor and eventually landed a meeting. And a place to work. Seven months later, after countless trials and errors, he had created his first paper sensor. The sensor has now been tested in blind studies on humans, and has been found to have a 90 percent accuracy rate. Another key is that this protein becomes elevated during the earliest stages of cancer, allowing for a greatly increased survival rate.
“Through the internet anything is possible,” -Jack says.
I couldn’t agree more. Not only is this story amazing because of his youth, it’s also an incredible testament to the power of the internet. Anyone can now, quite literally, change the world by putting the available information to good use! That is really the primary reason why I am able to provide all these news stories for you in the newsletter. Virtually all of them are carefully researched on the internet. We supplement these stories with my 20-plus years of clinical experience treating 25,000 patients and interviews with some of the leading health experts in the world.