Recently my friend posted a video on my Facebook wall of a Ted talk having to do with a new way of detecting Pancreatic cancer. Amazingly, the scientist who discovered this new method is a 15-year old boy from Crownsville, Maryland. Jack Andraka became interested in working with pancreatic cancer after his uncle, a very close friend of the family, died. After his death he began researching pancreatic cancer to try to understand why the survival rate was so low for this specific cancer. Ankraka found that lack of early detection and the lack of a sensitive, inexpensive screening method was the main reason this cancer was so deadly. He began brainstorming various ways of detection and preventing the cancer growth, when he finally came up with an idea while sitting in his high school biology class. Andraka drew from what he was learning in class about antibodies and from an article he was reading about carbon nanotubes to create the method of detection. After contacting 200 professors at the National Institutes of Health and Johns Hopkins University, one professor agreed to allow him to work in his lab on his project. After seven months, Andraka had designed a diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer using a novel paper sensor much like that of a diabetic test strip. The strip tests for levels of mesothelin, a pancreatic cancer biomarker, in blood or urine, which can determine early-stage pancreatic cancer. The test is over 90% accurate in detecting the presence of mesothelin, 168 times faster, 26,000 times less expensive and 400 times more sensitive than the current test. Up to 10 tests can be preformed on one strip, it takes only 5 minutes to run and it costs $.o3. Yes, that is right, THREE CENTS! Compared to the $800 of the standard test used today. And it gets even better, mesothelin is a biomarker for ovarian and lung cancer as well.
Andraka began by culturing cells from a commercial pancreatic carcinoma cell line that over expressed mesothelin. The mesothelin was then isolated, concentrated and quantified using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). He used a Western Blot assay for optimization and then mixed the human mesothelin-specific antibodies with single walled carbon nanotubes. This mixture was used to coat strips of regular filter paper making the paper conductive. Antibodies would bind to the mesothelin and enlarge. These molecules would spread the nanotubes apart and change the electrical properties of the network. Higher levels of mesothelin, means more antibodies bind which in turn would weaken the electrical signal.
Watching Jack Andraka talk about all of his hard work really spoke to me. I mean, this kid was 15 when he came up with all of this. It really is hard to believe. But it is simply incredible and inspires me to work harder and dive into my passion.
Link to the Ted talk: