A paper on carbon nanotubes, a biology lecture on antibodies and a flash of insight led 15-year-old Jack Andraka to design a cheaper, more sensitive cancer detector.
After Andraka’s proposal to build and test his idea for a pancreatic cancer detector was rejected from 199 labs, the teen landed at Johns Hopkins. There, he built his device using inexpensive strips of filter paper, carbon nanotubes and antibodies sensitive to mesothelin, a protein found in high levels in people with pancreatic cancer. When dipped in blood or urine, the mesothelin adheres to these antibodies and is detectable by predictable changes in the nanotubes’ electrical conductivity.
In preliminary tests, Andraka’s invention has shown 100 percent accuracy. It also finds cancers earlier than current methods, costs a mere 3 cents and earned the high schooler the 2012 Intel Science Fair grand prize.