Mixing it up for Good Health
By Dee Woods
He seems like a normal 15-year old high school freshman, but the fact is, he’s a genius.
Several weeks ago, I heard about Jack Andraka, who developed a 3-cent sensor test to detect the earliest possible stages of pancreatic, lung and ovarian cancers. Jack is the first to tell his audience he didn’t even know he had a pancreas when he began his research for an early cancer detection system.
Andraka expounded on his research at a TEDX event. He outlined the methodology he used to develop his system, explaining his step-by-step research.
The youth explained the impetus for his research was watching a family friend go from healthy and vibrant to a skeleton within a three-month period. That piqued his desire to learn more about the insidious disease as well as the methods used to detect it before it was too late.
He was now on a mission and his grand adventure began as he researched on “Google” and “Wikipedia.” Jack was able to glean enough information to help him gather data on 8,000 proteins. His goal was to find an easier way to isolate and detect one particular protein, mesothelin, a biomarker in detecting these cancers.
Mesothelin can be found in both blood and urine. Andraka says his detection system is 100 percent accurate and only involves a dip-stick sensor that can provide an answer within five minutes. Even better, it costs about three cents. The current detection system is more than 60 years old, not very reliable at detecting early stage cancers, and costs over $800.
Andraka knew he was onto something but needed a laboratory and some guidance. He applied to 200 laboratories, and 199 rejected him while the 200th gave him a “maybe.”
He found a mentor, however, at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine where he finalized the system. Anirban Maitra, a top researcher in pancreatic cancer at Johns Hopkins believes the youth will someday come up with even greater medical advances.
“He is really full of ideas,” Maitra said. “I think this kid is going to come up with something quite extraordinary in the years to come.”
Last December, Andraka’s invention won him Intel’s prestigious $75,000 Gordon E. Moore Award at their Science and Engineering Fair, considered the world’s largest research and science competition for high school students.
Andraka modestly notes one need not have a degree or fancy education to seek such answers, and points to perseverance as the key. Smithsonian Magazine explains he has a homemade particle accelerator in his basement — which, we must confess, is not the average teen’s pastime.
Andraka believes his invention can be modified to become helpful in detecting many other diseases in their earliest stages. This boy is a hero. He intends to mass market the test and have it sold at Walgreens and other big box stores.
There are numerous lessons here. The first is one that this altruist genius will learn quickly that genuine science can move at a snail’s pace. I don’t mean to sound jaded, but his over-the-counter test will probably be held up by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as the gigantic and politically influential pharmaceutical companies. It may eventually hit stores, but most likely with a huge increase in price. Government and market-share can stand in the way of such advances.
The second lesson to each of us is that we can change the world even without advanced degrees. If you have an idea or have the drive and perseverance, go ahead, do it! You can change the world!
Dee Woods is available to give presentations about alternative health treatments and healthy living. She can be reached at