Sunday, August 4, 2013

Out Spotlight

Today's Out Spotlight is an inventor, scientist and cancer researcher. He is the recipient of the 2012 Gordon E. Moore Award, the grand prize of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair beating out billion dollar pharmaceutical companies with his diagnostic cancer test. Oh and he's 16 years old. Today's Out Spotlight is Jack Andraka.

Jack Thomas Andraka was born January 8, 1997 and hails from from from a science family from Crownsville, Maryland. His father, Steve, is a civil engineer and his mother, Jane, is an anesthetist. His mother told the Baltimore Sun Newspaper in an interview "... we're not a super-athletic family. We don't go to much football or baseball." "Instead we have a million [science] magazines [and] sit around the table and talk about how people came up with their ideas and what we would do differently."

His older brother, Luke, won $96,000 in prizes at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2010, with a project that examined how acid mine drainage affected the environment. In 2011, Luke won a MIT THINK Award (Technology for Humanity guided by Innovation, Networking, and Knowledge), which recognizes students whose science projects benefit their communities

In an interview with the BBC, Jack said the idea for his pancreatic cancer test came to him while he was in biology class at North County High School, drawing on the class lesson about antibodies and the article on analytical methods using carbon nanotubes he was surreptitiously reading in class at the time. Afterward, he followed up with more research using Google Search on nanotubes and cancer biochemistry, aided by free online scientific journals.

He has given a number of accounts of what inspired him to work on pancreatic cancer, including the death of his uncle and an acquaintance, sharing them recently during his Ted Talk. In looking for answers, he found that one reason for the poor survival rate from pancreatic cancer was the lack of early detection and a rapid, sensitive, inexpensive screening method. He began to think of various ways of detecting and preventing cancer growth and terminating the growth before the cancer cells become pervasive.

He then contacted 200 professors at Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health with a plan, a budget, and a timeline for his project in order to receive laboratory help. He had received nearly 200 rejection emails before he got a positive reply from Dr. Anirban Maitra, Professor of Pathology, Oncology, and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

The result of his project was a new dipstick type diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer using a novel paper sensor, similar to that of the diabetic test strip. This strip tests for the level of mesothelin, a pancreatic cancer biomarker, in blood or urine, to determine whether or not a patient has early-stage pancreatic cancer. The test is over 90 percent accurate in detecting the presence of mesothelin. According to Jack, it is also 168 times faster, 26,000 times less expensive (costing around three cents), over 400 times more sensitive than the current diagnostic tests and only takes five minutes to run. He says the test is also effective for detecting ovarian and lung cancer, due to the same mesothelin biomarker they have in common.

He cultured MIA PaCa cells, from a commercial pancreatic carcinoma cell line, which overexpress mesothelin, a biomarker for pancreatic cancer. The mesothelin was isolated, concentrated and quantified with ELISA. After optimization with the Western Blot assay, the human mesothelin-specific antibodies were mixed with single walled carbon nanotubes and used to coat strips of ordinary filter paper. This made the paper conductive. The optimal layering was determined using a scanning electron microscope. Cell media spiked with varying amounts of mesothelin were then tested against the paper biosensor and any change in the electrical potential of the sensor strip (due to the changing conductivity of the nanotubes) was measured, before and after each application. Specifically, what happened was this:

The antibodies would bind to the mesothelin and enlarge. These beefed-up molecules would spread the nanotubes farther apart, changing the electrical properties of the network: The more mesothelin present, the more antibodies would bind and grow big, and the weaker the electrical signal would become.

A dose-response curve was constructed with an R2 value of .9992. Tests on human blood serum obtained from both healthy people and patients with chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia (a precursor to pancreatic carcinoma), or pancreatic cancer showed a similar response. The sensor’s limit of detection sensitivity was found to be 0.156 ng/mL; 10 ng/mL is considered the level of overexpression of mesothelin consistent with pancreatic cancer. His sensor costs $0.03 (to compare to a $800 cost of a standard test) and 10 tests can be performed per strip, taking 5 minutes each. The method is 168 times faster, 26,667 times less expensive, and 400 times more sensitive than ELISA, and 25% to 50% more accurate than the CA19-9 test.

Officials at Intel have said that his method is more than 90 percent accurate in detecting the presence of mesothelin. He has patented his method of sensing pancreatic cancer and is communicating with companies about developing an over-the-counter test. 

Professor Maitra is very enthusiastic about Andraka's future. He told the Baltimore Sun "You're going to read about him a lot in the years to come... What I tell my lab is, 'Think of Thomas Edison and the light bulb.' This kid is the Edison of our times. There are going to be a lot of light bulbs coming from him."

Jack was awarded the $75,000 Award, named in honor of the co-founder of Intel Corporation, for his work in developing a new, rapid, and inexpensive method to detect an increase of a protein that indicates the presence of pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer during early stages when there is a higher likelihood of a cure. In addition to the Gordon E. Moore Award, he also won other prizes in smaller individual categories for a total of $100,500 in prize money. He also won a fourth place award in Chemistry at the 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair with a project focusing on a novel Raman spectrometer with real world applications.

Jack is openly gay, confirmed in interviews with The New Civil Rights Movement and the London Evening Standard. When asked by the author of the first article about his willingness to be interviewed and his sexual orientation, he responded "That sounds awesome! I’m openly gay and one of my biggest hopes is that I can help inspire other LGBT youth to get involved in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics]. I didn’t have many [gay] role models [in science] besides Alan Turing."


Jersey Tom said...

Awesome young man.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jersey Tom said...

It just floors me that this young man is so comfortable with his sexuality at his age. It is wonderful. God when I think of myself at that age. I was so confused and afraid. There were no role anywhere. Only whispers of those who very different and outcasts. Thanks to the many of those who have come out so that the young people of today have had role models. They are true heroes.

new pics in LA said...


Kismet said...

Incredible story!

Gotta pick a name said...

" Anonymous said...
I really love your Out Spotlight feature. I'd much rather see this than get all wound up about some third rate actor who's not interesting or relevant.

I mean, Austin slogs away, and he's a great actor, and I think he'll get recognition as he gets older, because he always plays character roles and he is interesting to watch.

But Jake? He's still good looking, and I guess that has its appeal, but he is so completely boring, and so irrelevant I can't even see him working on cable. He's just not that special. So, kudos on the Out Spotlight.

August 5, 2013 at 9:24 AM"

Name, name, name

prairiegirl said...

I am blown away by this young man. Blown away! This is one of the best ones you have written on, Special.

Pancreatic, lung and ovarian - 3 of the most difficult of the big C's to detect early and 3 of the most difficult to beat, and this kid comes up with a strip test!!

What a gift! How blessed that whole family is and they're doing great things with their smarts. Can you imagine their gene pool? LOL.

Fantastic story!

Methodical Muser said...

Jack Andraka is an incredibly impressive young man and scientist. Groundbreaking on so many levels. I loved reading about his unaffected, can do approach to coming up with a low cost test to combat a monumental medical challenge. Inventive and inspiring. Wow!

And, on top of all that he is only 16 and wonderfully open about his sexual orientation, understanding that role models are important in science, as well as when it comes to making your way in the world. Helping other youths to not feel so alone is a wonderful gift to share and, in some ways, a real discovery deserving of recognition too. If this is what the 21st century looks like, there is much to be optimistic about our future. Thanks for sharing this story with us, Special.

Seaweed said...

A very impressive young man, and a great Out Spotlight. Hopefully a better future than we can sometimes come to expect, after seeing some of these hiding and bearding antics.

Cloud 9 said...

Great Spotlight, just an amazing young man.

destiny said...

What an inspiring young man! Awesome spotlight.

Regarding pictures of Jake at the airport, they probably take them when he arrives, and if they don't want it known he's there for a few days, they wait awhile to release them, to make it look like he just arrived.

Jake arriving in LA twice several days after we get tweets about him there is just too much of a coincidence.