Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Schoolboy (15) develops first early test for pancreatic cancer

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A 15-year-old American school student whose uncle died of pancreatic cancer has developed the first test for the disease that could detect tumours before they become too advanced to treat.

Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate for any cancer, which has remained unchanged for 40 years. It is symptomless in its early stages and strikes more than 8,000 people a year in the UK and 45,000 in the US. Four in five patients are inoperable by the time they are diagnosed and fewer than four in 100 live for five years.

Jack Andraka wrote from his home in Maryland to 200 professors seeking laboratory time to develop his idea for a screening test having researched the disease online.

Of the 200 professors, 199 rejected or ignored him. But Professor Anirban Maitra, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, was intrigued. He invited Jack to come and speak to specialists.

The specialists were impressed enough to allow Jack to develop his system. The result was a dipstick paper sensor that detects the level of a protein called mesothelin in the urine (or blood) which is a biomarker for pancreatic cancer.

It is 168 times faster than the existing, inaccurate method of measuring serum tumour markers, more sensitive and is cheap. It won the $75,000 ($57,000) Grand Jury prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair last year.

Jack was recently invited to speak at the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) in London.

Experts say the pancreatic dipstick stands a chance of becoming the world's best and cheapest test for the disease.

Jack was invited by Michelle Obama to the State of the Union address in February, where US President Barack Obama told the crowd what he had achieved. "Not bad for a guy who is just barely old enough to drive," Mr Obama joked.

(© Independent News Service)

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