Wondering why we have not heard about this. Test costs 3 cents and takes 5 min. Right now can detect pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer in early stages with a drop of blood.
Sadly, it will be 10 years before it is available.
Jack Thomas Andraka (born in 1997) is an inventor, scientist and cancer researcher. He is the recipient of the 2012 Gordon E. Moore Award, the grand prize of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Andraka was awarded the $75,000 Award, named in honor of the co-founder of Intel Corporation, for his work in developing a new, rapid, and inexpensive method to detect an increase of a protein that indicates the presence of pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer during early stages when there is a higher likelihood of a cure.
That fateful day in freshman biology class last year, Andraka had a lot on his mind. A close friend of his family had recently died of pancreatic cancer, and Andraka had been reading about the disease. At the same time, he and his father, Steve, a civil engineer, had been using carbon nanotubes to screen compounds in water from the Chesapeake Bay. Andraka had frankly become a little obsessed with the nanotubes, which look to the naked eye like little piles of black dust, but are really tiny cylinders about 1/50,000 the diameter of a human hair that can form microscopic networks. “They have these amazing properties,” Andraka explains. “They are stronger than steel. They conduct electricity better than copper.”
The Science paper he was covertly reading at his desk was about applications for nanotubes. With half an ear, Andraka listened to his biology teacher lecture on antibodies, which bind to particular proteins in the blood. Suddenly, the two ideas collided in his mind. What if he could lace a nanotube network with mesothelin-specific antibodies, then introduce a drop of a pancreatic cancer patient’s blood? 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. Other scientists had recently designed similar tests for breast and prostate cancers, but nobody had addressed pancreatic cancer. “It’s called connecting the dots,” Maitra says.
Andraka wrote up an experimental protocol and e-mailed it to 200 researchers. Only Maitra responded. “It was a very unusual e-mail,” he remembers. “I often don’t get e-mails like this from postdoctoral fellows, let alone high-school freshmen.” He decided to invite Andraka to his lab. To oversee the project, he appointed a gentle postdoctoral chemist, who took the baby-sitting assignment in stride. They expected to see Andraka for perhaps a few weeks over the summer.
Instead, the young scientist worked for seven months, every day after school and often on Saturdays until after midnight, subsisting on hard-boiled eggs and Twix as his mother dozed in the car in a nearby parking garage. He labored through Thanksgiving and Christmas. He spent his 15th birthday in the lab.
Not having finished even freshman biology, he had a lot to learn. He called forceps “tweezers.” He had a nasty run-in with the centrifuge machine, in which a month’s worth of cell culture samples exploded, and Andraka burst into tears.
But sometimes his lack of training yielded elegant solutions. For his test strips, he decided to use simple filter paper, which is absorbent enough to soak up the necessary solution of carbon nanotubes and mesothelin antibodies, and inexpensive. To measure the electrical change in a sample, he bought a $50 ohmmeter at Home Depot. He and his dad built the Plexiglas testing apparatus used to hold the strips as he reads the current. He swiped a pair of his mom’s sewing needles to use as electrodes.
About 2:30 a.m. one December Sunday, Jane Andraka was jolted from her parking lot stupor by an ecstatic Jack. “He opens the door,” she remembers, “and you know how your kid has this giant smile, and that shine in their eye when something went right?” The test had detected mesothelin in artificial samples. A few weeks later, it pinpointed mesothelin in the blood of mice bearing human pancreatic tumors.