Jack Andraka invented an innovative, cheaper and sensitive sensor for the rapid and early detection of pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer, based on functionalized carbon nanotube.
Jack had the sparkly idea to functionalize carbon nanotubes with antibodies sensitive to mesothelin, that is a a protein found in high level in people with pancreatic cancer.
Jack’s harder work was the identification of the right cancer biomarker among (a mess of) 8000 proteins present in the blood of people with pancreatic cancer. It is the “right” biomarker because it is present in high concentration also in the early stage of the development of the cancer.
When mesothelin is captured by the antibodies, the functionalized carbon nanutube changes its electrical conductivitiy and one can measure the concentration of the protein with high sensitivity.
Finally, carbone nanotube are extremely fragile and they need a physical support in order to work. Jack choose a simple paper.
Jack proposed to build and test his idea to 200 labs. 199 labs rejected and 1 accepted his proposal (Dr. Anirban Maitra, Professor of Pathology, Oncology and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine).
As a result, Jack and his team developed a cancer detector shown 100% accuracy, find cancers earlier than current method and costs 3 cents !!!
After I’ve read Jack’s story, two things impressed me.
1) Jack emphatizes on the role of internet (Wikipedia and Google) and open access research. They were the gold path to its discovery. But, high school was essentially an obstacle.
2) I ask myself: If a “Jack Andraka” send me an email with a research proposal, do I belong to 99.5 % of people who rejected his idea, or not ? I hope my mind isn’t obscured by clouds (cit.).
Now enjoy Jack’s brilliant talk on TED