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Jack Andraka

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Jack Andraka
Jack Andraka 2013.jpg
Andraka in 2013
Born Jack Thomas Andraka
(1997-01-08) January 8, 1997 (age 18)
Crownsville, Maryland, U.S.
Residence United States
Nationality American
Fields Cancer research, medical research, invention

Jack Thomas Andraka (born January 8, 1997) is an American inventor, scientist and cancer researcher. He is known for his work in developing a new, rapid, inexpensive, and patent pending[1] method to detect an increase of a protein that indicates the presence of pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer during their early stages. On December 12, 2014, Andraka announced that he would be attending Stanford University as a member of the Class of 2019.


Research and experimentation[edit]

Andraka talks about his work

Andraka cultured MIA PaCa cells, from a commercial pancreatic carcinoma cell line, which overexpress mesothelin, a biomarker[2] for ovarian, lung and pancreatic cancers. The mesothelin was isolated, concentrated and quantified with ELISA.[3] After optimization with the Western Blot assay, the human mesothelin-specific antibodies were mixed with single-walled carbon nanotubes and used to coat strips of ordinary filter paper. This made the paper conductive. The optimal layering was determined using a scanning electron microscope. Cell media spiked with varying amounts of mesothelin were then tested against the paper biosensor and any change in the electrical potential of the sensor strip (due to the changing conductivity of the nanotubes) was measured, before and after each application. Specifically, what happened was this:

The antibodies would bind to the mesothelin and enlarge. These beefed-up molecules would spread the nanotubes farther apart, changing the electrical properties of the network: The more mesothelin present, the more antibodies would bind and grow big, and the weaker the electrical signal would become.[4]

A dose-response curve was constructed with an R2 value of 0.9992. Mr. Andraka claimed that his tests on human blood serum obtained from both healthy people and patients with chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia (a precursor to pancreatic carcinoma), or pancreatic cancer showed a similar response. The sensor's limit of detection sensitivity was found to be 0.156 ng/mL; 10 ng/mL is considered the level of overexpression of mesothelin consistent with pancreatic cancer. Andraka claimed that his sensor costs $0.03 (compared to his estimation of $800 for a standard test[5]) and 10 tests can be performed per strip, taking 5 minutes each. According to him, the method is 168 times faster, 1/26,667th as expensive, and 400 times more sensitive than ELISA, and 25% to 50% more accurate than the CA19-9 test.[3]

The result of the project was a new type of diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer using a paper sensor, similar to that of the diabetic test strip. This strip tests for the level of mesothelin, a soluble cancer biomarker first described by Scholler and colleagues in PNAS in 1999,[6] to determine whether or not a patient has early-stage pancreatic cancer. The test is over 90 percent accurate in detecting the presence of mesothelin.[7]

He has patented his method of sensing pancreatic cancer and is communicating with companies about developing an over-the-counter test.[1] According to Susan Desmond-Hellmann, oncologist and chancellor of UCSF, any practical usefulness of the test remains to be seen. Much more testing, possibly over several years, is needed to demonstrate that the test can catch cases early and reliably enough.[8]


A 2011 article published by Sharon et al.[9] refutes many of Andraka's claims about specificity of using mesothelin as a biomarker for pancreatic cancer. Specifically, the group showed that mesothelin serum levels in healthy donors were not statistically different from serum levels in pancreatic cancer patients. George M. Church, professor of genetics at Harvard University, has raised concerns about the cost, speed, and sensitivity claims.[8] Furthermore, a carbon-nanotube based sensor similar to Andraka's was reported in 2009 (three years before Andraka won the Intel ISEF) by Wang et al.[10]

While being an advocate for open access, he was criticized at OpenCon 2014[11] for not publishing his discovery openly for anyone to use and build upon, and moreover filing a patent[1] for it.


Andraka in an interview with Francis Collins on open access.

Andraka found that one reason for the poor survival rate from pancreatic cancer was the lack of early detection and an effective screening method.[3] According to his account, his teenage optimism left him undeterred, and he went on to consult "a teenager's two best friends: Google and Wikipedia",[12] also drawing upon content from YouTube.[13] He began to think of various ways of detecting and preventing cancer growth and terminating the growth before the cancer cells become invasive.

In an interview with the BBC, Andraka said the idea for his pancreatic cancer test came to him while he was in biology class at North County High School, drawing on the class lesson about antibodies and the article on analytical methods using carbon nanotubes he was surreptitiously reading in class at the time.[1] Afterward he followed up with more research on nanotubes and cancer biochemistry aided by free online scientific journals. He then contacted 200 professors at Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health with a plan, a budget, and a timeline for his project, hoping to receive laboratory help. He received 199 rejection emails before he got a positive reply from Anirban Maitra, Professor of Pathology, Oncology, and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.[4]


In October 2013, Andraka appeared as a guest on The Colbert Report.[14]

Personal life and family[edit]

Jack Andraka was born in Crownsville, Maryland and is of Polish ancestry.[15] He has given a number of accounts of what inspired him to work on pancreatic cancer, including the death of a family friend whom he described as almost an uncle.[16][17][18][19] These various narratives have been told by him as recently as his talk in TEDxNijmegen 2013.

Andraka at Capital Pride in 2014

Andraka has been openly gay since he was 13.[20][20][21][22] When asked to be interviewed about his sexual orientation, Andraka responded, "That sounds awesome! I’m openly gay and one of my biggest hopes is that I can help inspire other LGBT youth to get involved in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics]. I didn't have many [gay] role models [in science] besides Alan Turing."[21]

He likes white-water kayaking and is a former member of the National Junior Wildwater Team, folds origami, and enjoys watching Glee and Bones.[23] He notes: "I suppose I'd want [people] to know I'm not a complete nerd. I actually get out and stuff. I go kayaking. I'm not the creepy guy that wears big glasses and hides out in the corner."[20]

Andraka's father, Steve, is a civil engineer and his mother, Jane, is an anesthetist. She told the Sun "... we're not a super-athletic family. We don't go to much football or baseball." "Instead we have a million [science] magazines [and] sit around the table and talk about how people came up with their ideas and what we would do differently."[24] Andraka's older brother, Luke, won $96,000 in prizes at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2010 with a project that examined how acid mine drainage affected the environment. In 2011, Luke won an MIT THINK Award which recognizes students whose science projects benefit their communities.[17]

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • 2012 Gordon E. Moore Award[7]
  • 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, Fourth-place, Chemistry.[17]


  1. ^ a b c d "US teen invents advanced cancer test using Google". BBC. August 20, 2012. 
  2. ^ Argani, P; Iacobuzio-Donahue, C; Ryu, B; Rosty, C; Goggins, M; Wilentz, RE; Murugesan, SR; Leach, SD; Jaffee, E; Yeo, CJ; Cameron, JL; Kern, SE; Hruban, RH (Dec 2001). "Mesothelin is overexpressed in the vast majority of ductal adenocarcinomas of the pancreas: identification of a new pancreatic cancer marker by serial analysis of gene expression (SAGE).". Clinical cancer research : an official journal of the American Association for Cancer Research 7 (12): 3862–8. PMID 11751476. 
  3. ^ a b c Andraka, Jack. "A Novel Paper Sensor for the Detection of Pancreatic Cancer". ME028 (Andraka). Society for Science & the Public. Retrieved August 22, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b Tucker, Abigail. "Jack Andraka, the Teen Prodigy of Pancreatic Cancer". Smithsonian magazine. Retrieved December 28, 2012. 
  5. ^ Based on this TEDx conference by Jack Andraka.
  6. ^ Scholler, N; Fu, N; Yang, Y; Ye, Z; Goodman, G. E.; Hellström, K. E.; Hellström, I (1999). "Soluble member(s) of the mesothelin/megakaryocyte potentiating factor family are detectable in sera from patients with ovarian carcinoma". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 96 (20): 11531–6. doi:10.1073/pnas.96.20.11531. PMC 18068. PMID 10500211.  edit
  7. ^ a b "Innovative Cancer Test Garners Gordon E. Moore Award". Intel. 
  8. ^ a b Herper, Matthew (January 8, 2014). "Why Biotech Whiz Kid Jack Andraka Is Not On The Forbes 30 Under 30 List". Forbes. 
  9. ^ Serum mesothelin and megakaryocyte potentiating factor in pancreatic and biliary cancers. E Sharon, J Zhang, K Hollevoet, S M Steinberg, I Pastan, M Onda, J Gaedcke, B M Ghadimi, T Ried, R Hassan. Clin Chem Lab Med. 2012 April;50(4):721-5. doi: 10.1515/CCLM.2011.816. [1], PMID 22149739
  10. ^ Simple, Rapid, Sensitive, and Versatile SWNT-Paper Sensor for Environmental Toxin Detection Competitive with ELISA. L Wang, W Chen, D Xu, B Shim, Y Zhu, F Sun, L Liu, C Peng, Z Jin, C Xu, N.A. Kotov. School of Food Science and Technology, State Key Lab of the Food Science & Technology, Jiangnan University; Department of Chemical Engineering, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Michigan. 2009 Dec;9(12):4147–4152. doi: 10.1021/nl902368r. [2], PMID 19928776
  11. ^ "Live stream". 
  12. ^ "US teenager Jack Andraka develops $5 test to detect pancreatic cancer". AFP. February 28, 2013. Retrieved October 14, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Jack Andraka's Recipe to Make a Difference in the World: YouTube, Google, Wikipedia, a Laboratory, and an Amazing Mentor". American Society for Clinical Pathology. October 23, 2012. Retrieved October 14, 2013. 
  14. ^ Baum, Stephanie (October 31, 2013). "Jack Andraka talks innovation, open access & life as a teen scientist on Colbert Report". Retrieved March 18, 2014. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ WSJ interview "Intel Science Winner Develops Cancer Tech". Wall Street Journal Live. Retrieved December 30, 2012. 
  17. ^ a b c Burris, Joe (May 24, 2012). "North County student wins Intel Science Fair's top prize". Baltimore Sun. 
  18. ^ Damien Gayle (January 29, 2013). "Did this 15-year-old just change the course of medicine? Schoolboy invents early test for pancreatic cancer that killed Steve Jobs". Daily Mail. Retrieved January 30, 2013. 
  19. ^ Dr. Richard Besser (June 21, 2012). "Boy Invents Cancer Test". ABC News. 
  20. ^ a b c Riley, John (August 29, 2013). "Maryland's Gay Wunderkind". MetroWeekly, Washington, D.C.'s Gay & Lesbian News Magazine. 
  21. ^ a b Stuart, Wilber. "Standing on the Right Side of History: 16 Year Old Jack Andraka Is ‘The Edison Of Our Times’". New civil rights movement. Retrieved December 28, 2012. 
  22. ^ Edwardes, Charlotte (June 14, 2013). "He's 16, still in braces and by the way he's invented a test for cancer". London Evening Standard. 
  23. ^ Riley, John (August 29, 2013). "Wait, Did This 15-Year-Old From Maryland Just Change Cancer Treatment?". Forbes. 
  24. ^ Joe Burris (May 24, 2012). "North County Student Wins Intel Prize". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved February 24, 2013. 

Notes and interviews[edit]

External links[edit]