January 10, 2014


  • Jack Andraka, teen winner of the Intel Science Talent Search and inventor of an early detection pancreatic cancer test

It’s not every day that a teenager is featured on “60 Minutes” and "The Colbert Report," but that’s the story of Jack Andraka, the fifteen year inventor of a test that could change the way we detect one of the world’s deadliest cancers.

Andraka's first forays into the medical sciences began with some good, old-fashioned home experimentation, with a bit of a twist. "My mom is actually on the FBI watch list because we used her credit card to order all these dangerous substances, one of which was a big vat of uranium from a sketchy Russian website," Andraka says. "We also cooked up some explosives on our kitchen counter top and we cultured E. coli and cholera where we make our sandwiches. Fortunately we haven't gotten sick yet, but I did have to find a lab for my cancer research."

Indeed, finding a lab proved to be more difficult than he initially expected. Of the 200 requests he sent to professors, only one said yes: Professor Anirban Maitra at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Once he had found a lab, Andraka focused his efforts on pancreatic cancer in honor of a family friend who died of the disease when Andraka was thirteen. 

After that, it took many late nights - Andraka even admits to occasionally sleeping in the lab - before he found success. "I remember it was late at night. I had been staying in the lab super late - most people were gone. All of a sudden, I got this positive result," Andraka said. "That was pretty exciting. I ran around the lab a couple of times, screaming."

The result of Andraka's work was an early detection test for one of the world's deadliest cancers, pancreatic cancer. The test takes a form similar to that of a diabetic test strip, a less invasive - and less expensive - method than the 60-year-old test that is currently used. However, Andraka's work has not come without controversy: read Forbes reporter Matthew Herber on the disputes over some of Andraka's claims.

To hear more about Andraka's research - including what he'll tackle next - tune in to our full interview, above.

cancer, Sci and Tech, Body and Mind, health care, medicine, health

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