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Jack Andraka Jack Andraka's pancreatic cancer test is 28 times cheaper and about 1,000 times more sensitive than current tests. (Society for Science & the Public)

A Teen Scientist Fights Cancer

A 15-year-old wins a top science prize for a new cancer test

By Tyrus Cukavac | May 23 , 2012
The two runners-up and more than 400 other finalists also won prizes in this science competition. (Society for Science & the Public)
The two runners-up and more than 400 other finalists also won prizes in this science competition. (Society for Science & the Public)

Last week, teen scientist Jack Andraka beat out more than 1,500 students from 70 countries at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Jack won the contest by developing a brand-new test for detecting pancreatic cancer—a dangerous illness that affects the pancreas, an organ that is part of the digestive system.

The 15-year-old native of Crownsville, MD lost his uncle to pancreatic cancer 10 months ago. So the budding teen scientist decided to do something to help fight the disease.

Victims of pancreatic cancer have large amounts of a chemical called mesothelin in their blood. Mesothelin can warn of the cancer early enough that it can be treated. However, current tests for mesothelin are very expensive. Often, the disease is detected too late for effective treatment.

Jack was inspired by diabetes tests, which use special paper to detect chemicals in the blood. He invented his own paper test, which checks urine or blood samples for mesothelin. The test can detect pancreatic cancer with 90 percent accuracy. It is also 28 times cheaper and about 1,000 times more sensitive than current pancreatic-cancer tests.

TEEN TITANS OF SCIENCE

For his efforts, Jack won the Gordon E. Moore award, the top award at ISEF. He also earned a $75,000 prize.

Two runners-up and more than 400 other finalists also won prizes in the contest, which is the world’s largest science fair for teens. The fair awarded more than $3 million in prizes for top science experiments. A total of 1,200 experts in 14 different fields evaluated the young scientists’ work.

Intel, a computer-chip manufacturer, has been sponsoring the contest since 1997. Wendy Hawkins, the executive director of the Intel Foundation, explained in a press release, “We support the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair because we know that math and science are imperative to future global growth. This competition encourages millions of students to engage their skills for innovation and develop promising solutions for global challenges.”

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