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

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.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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