Originally posted on TED Blog:
Jack Andraka is not your typical teenager. The soon-to-be high school junior spends his free time in the science lab concocting better, cheaper ways to spot disease. One such project — a test for the early detection of pancreatic cancer — won Andraka first place in the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
As Andraka explains in today’s talk, his “teenage optimism” played a big role in this accomplishment. [ted_talkteaser id=1787]At age 13, after losing a close family friend to pancreatic cancer, Andraka began researching the disease to better understand what had happened. Andraka was shocked to find that 85 percent of all pancreatic cancer cases are diagnosed late, when a patient has less than a 2 percent chance of survival. Alarmed at the lack of affordable and accurate tests to detect this cancer at its earliest stages — when treatments can actually work — he pored over a list of 8,000 proteins associated with the disease, trying to find an appropriate target for a theoretical detector. On the 4,000th try, he hit on mesothelin — which is found at high levels in the bloodstream during early stages of pancreatic cancer.