Jack Andraka enjoys mountain biking, whitewater rafting, kayaking and science. According to his Facebook page, he’s a fan of Beavis and Butthead,Family Guy and The Simpsons. Oh yeah, the 15 year old also created a new diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer that is 28 times faster, 28 times less expensive and over 100 times more sensitive than the current diagnostic tests. And, in case that’s not impressive enough, the test also works for ovarian and lung cancer.
His diagnostic test earned him first prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world’s largest pre-college science research competition (the photo is from the competition).
I love Jack’s modesty. Interviewed before the fair, he said, “I’m incredibly excited. It’s like the Olympics of science fairs. It’s just amazing to be here — even if I don’t get a prize.” Well, Jack Andraka did win, which included about $100,000 in prize money that the high school freshman said he will put towards college tuition ($75,000 from the grand prize and over $25,000 from other smaller prizes).
After his uncle died of pancreatic cancer, Jack became interested in finding a better early detection diagnostic test. Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer is usually detected too late to save the patient. Jack thought about the problem and came up with a plan and budget. Jack contacted about 200 professors at Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute of Health about his plan. He got 197 rejection letters and then finally got an acceptance from Dr. Anirban Maitra, Professor of Pathology, Oncology and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. It’s at Maitra’s lab where Jack developed his test.
Why did a 15 year old beat out billion dollar pharmaceutical companies with his diagnostic test? Perhaps as a young person with no experience, he hadn’t yet learned what everyone else in the industry “knew couldn’t be done.” Certainly, in no small part because Anirban Maitra gave him a chance. Not to mention that Jack had an idea and went out and gave it a try.
Think about Jack Andraka the next time you hear something can’t be done, someone asks you to help out with his project or you’re hesitating to give one of your ideas a shot. Also, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need a lot of money, a giant team, billions of dollars in resources or even more than 15 years of life experience to do something amazing.
This article mentions the results of Jack’s diagnostic test. The International Society for Science and the Public published the results on their web site.
If you’re interested in hearing Jack talk about his invention, the video below is from an interview at the science fair.
If you enjoyed this article, you’ll also like: 7 Easy Ways You Can be a Better Person (one of the most popular posts in this blog’s history) and Caine’s Arcade about an inspirational 9-year-old entrepreneur.