15-year-old discovers a paper sensor that detects pancreatic cancer


In case you can't recognize your own organs, that is a pancreas. With this new test, you can find out if you have pancreatic cancer 168 times faster.

In case you can’t recognize your own organs, that is a pancreas. With this new test, you can find out if you have pancreatic cancer 168 times faster.

Image: RAZCREATIONZS/Shutterstock

A Cheap, Accurate Cancer Sensor, Created By A 15-Year-Old

This new test is better than old tests for pancreatic cancer by astronomical margins. And it was invented by someone who’s still worried about passing his driving test.

Every year, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair wows us with the ingenuity of high school students. This year’s first place winner is particularly impressive. Jack Andraka, a 15-year-old student from Maryland, came up with a paper sensor that detects pancreatic cancer 168 times faster than current tests. It’s also 90% accurate, 400 times more sensitive, and 26,000 times less expensive than today’s methods. In short: It’s a lot better.

Andraka was inspired to focus on pancreatic cancer because a friend’s brother was killed by the disease. “I became interested in early detection, did a ton of research, and came up with this idea,” he says.

Andraka (center) with the other winners.

Andraka’s dip-stick sensor can test urine or blood for a certain protein (mesothelin) that indicates the existence of the specific cancer. The paper strip changes conductivity based on how much of the protein is in the blood. It can, according to Andraka, detect the cancer even before it becomes invasive.

This isn’t Andraka’s first science fair. “I really love science and science fairs because you get to meet these people that you would never meet before,” he says. “Before this I was into the environment. A few years ago I was detecting bioavailable water pollution with glowing bacteria.”

All of Andraka’s $75,000 in winnings will go to his college education. He plans on studying to become a pathologist. In the meantime, the high school student plans to start clinical trials with the sensor, meet with Quest Diagnostics, and get the product on the market within 10 years. What were you doing in high school?

Ariel Schwartz

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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