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Jack Andraka, 15, develops early 'dip stick' test for pancreatic cancer

  Watch Jack Andraka talk about his scientific breakthrough.
  Jack Andraka has developed a simple test which allows for detection of mesothelin, a biological indicator for early stage pancreatic cancer. The dip stick test, which can be used with either blood or urine, may revolutionise the treatment and detection of the deadly disease, which currently kills 19 out of 20 sufferers due largely to the fact that it is so hard to diagnose before it is too late.
When a family friend of US teenager Jack Andraka's died of pancreatic cancer, the teenager was shocked to discover there was no early detection test. So he set out to develop a screening tool himself.

Andraka, who turned 16 in January, began scouring the Internet for information about pancreatic cancer. He was shocked to learn that the cancer was typically found too late to save people. On top of that, the test used to screen for the illness was 60 years old.

"That is older than my dad," Andraka quipped. "More important, it is expensive, inaccurate, and your doctor would have to be ridiculously suspicious that you had the cancer to give you this test."

Searching for an early flag of the illness

He figured what was needed was a test that was inexpensive, fast, simple and sensitive. "Undeterred due to my teenage optimism, I went online to a teenager's two best friends: Google and Wikipedia," Andraka said. What he found was there were thousands of proteins that could be detected in the blood of people with pancreatic cancer, and he hunted for one that could serve as an early flag for the illness.

"Finally, on the 4000th try when I am losing my sanity, I found the protein," Andraka said. The revelation came in what he described as an unlikely place, a high school biology class.

"I was sneakily reading this nanotubes article under my desk while we were supposed to be paying attention to antibodies," Andraka recalled. "Suddenly it hit me that I could combine what I was reading with what I was supposed to be thinking about."

"As simple as making chocolate chip cookies"

He described a recipe for making paper sensors to detect the protein - mesothelin - in blood that is "about as simple as making chocolate chip cookies, which I love". The test costs three cents, takes minutes, and is believed to be 90 per cent accurate. Andraka is optimistic that with enough early warning, patients will now have a survival rate that is close to 100 per cent.

Andraka sent out 197 requests to scientists for lab space to continue his work, only to be rejected by all but Johns Hopkins University in the US city of Baltimore, where he was fiercely grilled before being taken in. Dr Anirban Maitra, a professor of pathology and oncology at Johns Hopkins University, gave him lab space and served as a mentor during the test's development.

Andraka commenced to fix holes he discovered in his procedure and went on to be awarded the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair grand prize of $75,000 in scholarship funds.

Andraka has applied for a patent for his test and is now carrying out further research at Johns Hopkins University. The young scientist described his approach as having the potential to be tailored to screen for other forms of cancer as well as heart disease or HIV/Aids. He said he was currently working on "something the size of a cube of sugar" that could "look through your skin" and study blood or signs of almost any disease. The cost? An estimated five dollars.

Source: The Daily Mail