Teenager invents revolutionary way to detect cancer - Los Angeles Local News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

Teenager invents revolutionary way to detect cancer

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Is he the young man who someday finds a cure for cancer? A child prodigy from Maryland, 15-year-old Jack Andraka, has been honored for his work on cancer detection.

FOX 10's Jude Lacava met Andraka recently, and learned more about the teenager who has a beautiful, young mind.

This is the last thing you want to hear when your oncologist tells you "you have stage four pancreatic cancer." The survival rate for stage IV is so low, less than one percent survive beyond 5 years. But a young researcher by the name of Jack Andraka decided to look at this horrible illness in a very different way. What if you could diagnose pancreatic cancer well before it ever becomes a tumor?

"I actually first became interested in pancreatic cancer because a close family friend who was like an uncle to me passed away from the disease," says Jack Andraka.

We sat down With Jack Andraka while he attended this year's Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix. This was jack last year in Pittsburgh when he was named the Gordon E. Moore award winner for his work developing a new test for pancreatic cancer.

The prize included $75,000 and a trip to the White House. What was it like to visit Obama?

"It was like there he is, and I got a shot during the White House Science Fair, wow."

So how does his test work?

"Essentially what happens you take this antibody and you weave it into this network of carbon nano tubes so you have a network that will seek one specific protein."

What? More simply put, Andraka developed a very simple cancer screening test. Using a drop of blood and a small strip of test paper, a doctor can identify if a patient has mesothelin in his or her system. Mesothelin is a pancreatic cancer biomarker.

So essentially what you are looking at is a simple blood test. Almost like a diabetes test, that can alert a person at risk that mesothelin could be signaling the coming of pancreatic cancer. It's not just people at risk. This could be used at your local doctors checkup, for example, when you go into a doctor anyone can get tested. It's like a diabetic test strip -- just prick a finger and you can tell in five minutes if you have pancreatic or lung cancer.

His simple test was anything but simple to develop. After writing up his proposal, Andraka sent it out to more than two hundred labs.

"I sent out 200 different emails to National Institutes of Health and John Hopkins University and I got 199 rejections."

But one lab at John Hopkins University said yes.

"I got into a lab at John Hopkins University… I started cranking this out and seven months later I had one paper sensor."

How Andraka's cancer screening test works will soon be published as open source research so it can be shared with others.

"I have a non-disclosure agreement with lab corp and trying to get it on the market as soon as possible with them."

An early test for pancreatic cancer was not available for Drew Wathey's wife Dee Dee. She was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer at age 47 and died about a year later.

"The early detection was not there," says Drew Wathey.

"At first I didn't believe it at all and a couple days later it really hit me and it was one of the tougher moments in my life," says son Kevin Wathey.

We sat down with Dee Dee's husband Drew and her son Kevin. When they heard her diagnosis, the news was beyond devastating, especially once they learned more about stage IV pancreatic cancer.

"You are in shock, you are working in a state of disbelief for those first couple of weeks, first couple of months even," says Drew. "You look online and everything is just horrible, there's no really hope at all."

"You think you have no chance at all, you have no hope," says Kevin.

The five year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is less than 5-percent. With stage IV, meaning the cancer has already spread to other organs, the average life expectancy is only three to six months.

"Dee Dee did a phenomenal job of fighting this deadly disease, she was given an initial prognosis of three to six months she doubled that, she lived 13 months with that disease," says Drew.

The Watheys can only wonder what an early detection test like the one invented by Jack Andraka could have done for Dee Dee.

"With the ability to detect it in the early stages without it having metastasize is the key to beating this deadly disease."

"Once it gets to that point, you need to enjoy, kind of accept it and enjoy your final days, months or years with your loved one," says Kevin.

"It's definitely been hectic and it's changed my life but it's fun and I enjoy meeting all these people," says Andraka.

Since his breakthrough in cancer screening, all the attention Jack has received makes a normal teenage life almost impossible.

"I am never in school anymore. For the first month people thought I dropped out I wasn't in school that often."

But he says it's all worth it because his test can help save lives.

"My sensor can actually detect it before stage one when someone has 100 percent chance of survival so that's the future, being able to detect it even before it's happening."

And he's confident the day will come when the next big breakthroughs arrive.

"A cure for cancer has always been five to ten years out. It almost depressing at some points but I know that there's great science going on and we're going to be able to get this magic bullet kind of and it might not be a single bullet, it might be several magic bullets that bring down cancer."

The test strips Andraka invented cost only three cents to make and they are said to be 90-percent accurate in detecting pancreatic cancer.

And Andraka says if you just change the protein, you can use his test to detect other cancers, Alzheimer's and even HIV.

Jack's father Steve Andraka told me two national labs are hoping to get Jack's invention to oncologists within the next three years. The biomarker science community will tell you there is promise in this science but an enormous amount of validation is needed to accurately predict the connection to specific biomarkers and the cancer that may be coming.

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