Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of the disease, though improvements have been seen from decade to decade, the disease is still considered largely incurable. According to the American Cancer Society, for all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year relative survival rate is 20 percent, and the five-year rate is 4 percent.
However, a new test created by 15 year-old Jack Andrake, a North County High School sophomore in Baltimore, Maryland has created a cheaper test that can detect pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer, 168 times faster than anything else in the field.
As early detection is a crucial step for treating any form of cancer, especially pancreatic, the innovative design has huge potential.
In an interview with Public Radio International, Andrake described his the inspiration behind the invention that won him $75,000 at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
“I became interested in pancreatic cancer specifically because my family has been impacted by it, and we know some people who have died because of it including a close family friend,” said Andrake. “So, I became very interested in early detection in pancreatic cancer and what I found was that 85 percent of all pancreatic cancers are diagnosed late. Once diagnosed, it spreads and this gives a patient less than a 2 percent chance of survival.”
The dipstick style sensor can detect pancreatic cancer with 90 percent accuracy; the sensor is faster in detecting pancreatic cancer, and costs approximately three cents per test. The inexpensive design of the test is a paper sensor with single atom-thick tubes of carbon that are impregnated with antibodies that detect mesothelin, a protein that is created in abnormally large quantities with certain kinds of cancer.
“I’ve been interested in carbon meritage since it’s a very applicable material due to the amazing electrical and thermal properties,” said Andrake. “Then I was reading an article about them in biology class and some of their properties. We were learning about antibodies at the time, and then I kind of connected the dots.”
Though being such a young protégé is impressive, it does come with some disadvantages. Notably being that it’s difficult to do any sort of serious research when you’re a sophomore in high school.
“I first came up with the idea and wrote out a procedure, a budget, a timeline, and materials list. I then contacted about two hundred professors at John Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health and over the course of about a month I got 199 rejections and one acceptance. Then I went through this really long interview process and I finally got into the lab.”
American Cancer Society estimates roughly 44,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year. Of those diagnosed, only approximately 5.8 percent of patients will survive five years after their diagnosis, according to the National Cancer Institute’s SEER study.
Even with this breakthrough, Andrake still feels he has a lot to give to cancer research. After high school he hopes to be part of the Peter Thiel 20 Under 20 Fellowship.