The first early test for pancreatic cancer – devised by 15-year-old Jack Andraka
Jeremy Laurance is a writer on health issues. He is former health editor of The Independent and the i and has covered the specialism for more than 20 years. He thinks the harm medicine does is under-appreciated, the harm it prevents over-rated, and that cycling works better than most drugs. He was named Specialist Journalist of the Year in the 2011 British Press Awards.
Sunday 05 May 2013
A 15-year-old US high school student whose uncle died of pancreatic cancer has developed the first test for the disease that could detect tumours before they become too advanced to treat.
Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate for any cancer, which has remained unchanged for 40 years. It is symptomless in its early stages and strikes more than 8,000 people a year in the UK and 45,000 in the US. Four in five patients are inoperable by the time they are diagnosed and fewer than four in 100 live for five years.
Jack Andraka wrote from his home in Maryland to 200 professors seeking laboratory time to develop his idea for a screening test that would be as simple to use as a pregnancy test. The son of a civil engineer and an anaesthetist, he got the idea after researching the problem on the web and coming up with a system.
Of the 200 professors, 199 rejected or ignored him. But Professor Anirban Maitra, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, an expert in the genetics of pancreatic cancer, was intrigued. He invited Jack to come and speak to specialists in the disease who interrogated him for more than an hour.
At the end of the interview, the specialists were sufficiently impressed to allow him space in their laboratory to develop his system. The result was a dipstick paper sensor that detects the level of a protein called mesothelin in the urine (or blood) which is a biomarker for pancreatic cancer.
It is 168 times faster than the existing, inaccurate method of measuring serum tumour markers, more sensitive and, at 5 cents (3p) each, cheap. It won the $75,000 Grand Jury prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair last year. Jack was recently invited to speak at the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) in London.
Experts say the pancreatic dipstick stands a chance of becoming the world’s best and cheapest test for the disease – but it will take many years of trials and further development before it can be made commercially available. Several pharmaceutical companies are said to be interested.
Jack was invited by Michelle Obama to the State of the Union address in February, where Barack Obama told the crowd what he had achieved. “Not bad for a guy who is just barely old enough to drive,” the President joked.
When Jack was asked at the RSM meeting whether he was worried that, having sent his idea round to so many experts, somebody else might take it up and develop it, he replied that it would not have mattered because it was for the benefit of humankind. That won him the loudest applause of the day.
Mentor’s view: 'An honour to have him in my lab'
Jack Andraka’s mentor, Professor Anirban Maitra, said: “Jack Andraka is fabulous. I have been delighted and honoured to have him in my lab. He sent me a nice write-up on his lab plans and research, very interesting coming from a 15-year-old boy... I am fortunate to have answered his email.”
Steve Pereira, a member of Pancreatic Cancer UK’s medical advisory board and consultant gastroenterologist at University College Hospital, London, said: “It is very impressive that a 15-year-old can be interested and stimulated to look into an area that is under-researched.
“Mesothelin has been looked at before but the innovation was to develop the test as a dipstick for urine...
“The excitement is in using new technology to bind an antibody to a dipstick and then use it like a pregnancy test.”
- 1 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 2 Watch: Man takes selfie every mile of 2,600 mile hike, creates amazing timelapse video
- 3 The day I starred in Only Fools and Horses
- 4 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
- 5 Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that dramatically cuts the calories
Germanwings captain Patrick Sondenheimer tried to break into locked cockpit door 'with an axe' as plane was descending
Saudi Arabia says it won't rule out building nuclear weapons
The battle for the Middle East's future begins in Yemen as Saudi Arabia jumps into the abyss
Jeremy Clarkson 'could be given minder' ahead of a potential Top Gear return
#FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers
£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...
£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...
£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...