WASHINGTON – One local teenager has developed a new scientific process that could forever change finding cancer before it becomes incurable.
Jack Andraka, 15, from Crownsville, Md., submitted his new sensor for detecting early stages of pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancers at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, where he won the top award and $75,000. His new method is hundreds of times more efficient than anything that currently exists in medicine, he says, and helps pinpoint cancer before it develops into a fatal stage.
In one blind study, Andraka’s sensor was 100 percent accurate, he says.
“I did not expect for it to be this good,” he said at ISEF. “I’m blown away.”
Pancreatic cancer particuarly has an “extremely low” survival rate, Andraka says. His uncle died of the illness, which first inspired him to look for ways to detect it in early stages.
“It’s really crucial to detect them in their early stages when survival rates are at their highest,” he says.
The paper sensor employs atom-thick tubes of carbon mixed with antibodies, a molecule that binds to one other molecule, he says. Andraka opted for the cancer antibody “biomaker” Mesothelin. These tubes are “the superheroes of material science,” he says.
The idea first came to him in his high school biology class. Andraka fleshed out the sensor working in the lab of Johns Hopkins University’s Anirban Maitra, associate professor of pathology and oncology.
The resulting sensor is 168 times faster than the current “gold-standard” of detecting cancerous molecules, over 26,000 less expensive and over 400 times more sensitive, Andraka says.
As a boy, he dreamed of attending ISEF, “the olympics of science fairs.”