199 labs turned him down. This teen made a groundbreaking discovery at the 200th.

This is Jack Andraka. And trust me, you're going to want to remember that name.

Photo by XPRIZE Foundation/Flickr (altered).



Check out this short video on Jack's unbelievable scientific breakthrough, and then scroll down to see how this teenage whiz kid made it happen.

Jack's beef with pancreatic cancer is a personal one.

At 14, he lost a close family friend to the ruthless and aggressive disease. The pancreas sits deep inside the body and is difficult to scan. There's no hallmark symptom or lump to alert people to the growing danger.

The pancreas (enlarged in red) is nestled right in your abdomen near your liver, stomach, and gallbladder. Image by iStock.

So by the time someone with pancreatic cancer goes to the doctor, it's usually because the disease has spread to other organs. That's why an estimated 72% of patients with pancreatic cancer will die within one year of their diagnosis. And more than 40,000 people die from the disease each year.

But Jack turned his grief into action and set about developing a reliable test for pancreatic cancer.

Passionate about science, Jack ravenously read everything he could about the disease and its biomarkers, characteristics about the disease that are easily measured.

Jack's test for pancreatic cancer is based on a few important but seemingly unrelated ideas. Hold on tight, because it's about to get real science-y in here.

1. Carbon nanotubes are smaller than small — about 1/50,000th the diameter of a human hair. But you can use these microscopic tubes to make tiny networks that conduct electricity.

All GIFs via Upworthy/YouTube.

2. Antibodies like to attach to different proteins in the blood.

3. Mesothelin is one of the biomarkers of pancreatic cancer. It's a protein that the body produces when the cancer is in its early stage.

While Jack was sitting in class one day, it all came together.

As he surreptitiously read an article about carbon nanotubes during class, his biology teacher was giving a lecture on antibodies.

That's when it hit him.

Jack had the brilliant idea to coat a carbon nanotube network with mesothelin. The antibodies would bind to it and get bigger.


As the molecules enlarged, the nanotubes would expand too, changing the network's electrical properties. That change in electricity is quick, easy, and affordable to measure. Eureka!

While Jack had a great working theory, he needed a way to test his hypothesis.

He went home and wrote up his budget, procedure, materials, and timeline, then sent it to 200 cancer research labs, asking for their help. 199 said no.

But one, Dr. Anirban Maitra, then a professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University and now the chief pancreatic cancer researcher at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, said yes.


With Dr. Maitra's good news, Jack likely did something like this. Photo by iStock.

"It was a very unusual e-mail,” Maitra told Smithsonian Magazine. “I often don’t get e-mails like this from postdoctoral fellows, let alone high-school freshmen.”

Dr. Maitra let him come into the lab at Johns Hopkins to work on his project.

Maitra's yes didn't just come with lab access; it came with the assistance of Maitra's team of Ph.D. researchers, just the kind of team Jack needed to get the job done.

Jack went in after school and on weekends to work on his research. After seven months of preliminary tests and refinements, it started to work.


For his research, Jack has received international recognition and numerous accolades.

Since taking home the 2012 Gordon E. Moore Award, the top prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, Jack has earned awards and honors from organizations around the globe.


Notably, he received the 2012 Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award, named a Champion of Change by the White House, and received a fellowship as a National Geographic Explorer. And Jack (who came out as gay while still in high school), even earned a spot on Advocate's "40 Under 40" list.

Though Jack's test is promising, it's far from a silver bullet.

His work is extremely preliminary and has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal — the industry standard for measuring the merit and veracity of scientific research. Additionally, scientists who have read Andraka's work suggest a need for further research about the speed and price of his test.

Success is within reach but not guaranteed just yet. Photo by iStock.

However, Jack holds a patent on his test and is licensing it to pharmaceutical companies so they can run the often-monotonous clinical trials, a necessary step to ensure patient safety and accurate diagnoses.

"I don't wanna ... end up as a lab rat," Jack said in an interview with "60 Minutes." "I kind of want to be able to come up with a new idea and then really just move on to the next idea, and have other people do the repetitive trials."

In the meantime, Jack, who just turned 19, is keeping busy.

He's a first-year student at Stanford University, gives talks and lectures all over the world, and even co-wrote a memoir, "Breakthrough", about his experience.


And when he's not in the lab, studying for finals, advocating for LGBT youth in STEM careers, or championing pancreatic cancer research, you might find him in his whitewater kayak or catching up with friends and colleagues on social media. You know, typical teenage whiz-kid author/scientist stuff.

He may not fight crime or have special powers, but when it comes to helping others, Jack Andraka has all the makings of a hero.

Heroes
True
The CW

Mom and blogger Mary Katherine Backstrom regularly shares snippets of life with her two children on her Facebook page. One particularly touching interaction with her daughter is melting hearts and blowing minds due to the three-year-old's wise words about forgiveness.

Even adults struggle with the concept of forgiveness. Entire books have been written about how and why to forgive those who have wronged us, but many still have a hard time getting it. Who would guess that a preschooler could encapsulate what forgiveness means in a handful of innocent words?

Keep Reading Show less
Family

California has a housing crisis. Rent is so astronomical, one San Francisco company is offering bunk bedsfor $1,200 a month; Google even pledged$1 billion to help tackle the issue in the Bay Area. But the person who might fix it for good? Kanye West.

The music mogul first announced his plan to build low-income housing on Twitter late last year.

"We're starting a Yeezy architecture arm called Yeezy home. We're looking for architects and industrial designers who want to make the world better," West tweeted.

Keep Reading Show less
Cities

The U.S. women's soccer team won the Women's World Cup, but the victory is marred by the fact that the team is currently fighting for equal pay. In soccer, the game is won by scoring points, but the fight for equal pay isn't as clearly winnable and the playing field isn't as even.

We live in a world where winning the World Cup is easier than winning equal pay, but co-captain Megan Rapinoe says there's one easy way fans can support the team: Go see games.

Some people argue the men's team deserves to get paid more because they are more successful and earn more money for the United States Soccer Federation. Pay depends on merchandise and ticket sales, and in general, men's sporting events tend to draw a bigger crowd than women's sporting events. It's not about sex, many argue; it's about the fact that people just prefer to see men play.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

You think you know someone pretty well when you spend years with them, but, as we've seen time and again, that's not always the case. And though many relationships don't get to a point where the producers of "Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry?" start calling every day just to chat, the reality is that sometimes partners will reveal shocking things even after you thought you'd been all shocked out.

That's the case for one woman whose Reddit thread has recently gone viral. The 25-year-old, who's been with her boyfriend for five years, took to a forum for relationship advice to ask if it was normal that her seemingly cool and loving boyfriend recently revealed women shouldn't have a fundamental right. (And no, it's not abortion — although there are a lot of "otherwise best ever boyfriends" out there who want to deny women the rights to bodily autonomy, too.)

Keep Reading Show less
Recommended