Jack Andraka, a 15 year old Maryland high school student, recently won the prestigious Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) for his work on cancer identification technology. His winning project was an early detection test that can be used to detect pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancers. We got a chance to ask him about his project and achievements—here’s what this talented young scientist had to say:
Q: Where did you get your inspiration for your work in science, engineering and cancer research?
A: My inspiration for science, engineering, and cancer research comes from a burning curiosity that my parents really fostered when I was a kid. This led me to generally like science and engineering. Before this year though, I really didn’t have very much interest in cancer research, but I was highly interested in these materials called single-walled carbon nanotubes due to their fantastic properties. Then a family friend died of pancreatic cancer and I wanted to use skills from my previous scientific research in order to make a difference for this cancer.
Q: How would you describe your specific project and focus of research?
A: The focus of my research was to create a new type of sensor that could detect pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer. Essentially what I did was create a novel paper sensor for these three diseases that costs as little as three cents and only takes five minutes. This new sensor is 168 times faster, over 26,000 times less expensive and over 400 times more sensitive than the current gold standard. The sensor works by detecting a certain cancer biomarker called mesothelin. It is found in elevated levels in your blood when you have any of those three cancers.
Q: Were there any obstacles that you had to overcome with your research?
A: Over the course of my experiments I faced a variety of challenges, especially in the development of my sensor. However due to my persistence, I continued my research and eventually created this novel paper sensor. I am currently filing for a patent and I expect a plethora of challenges accompanying this as well.
Q: How do you feel about accomplishing so much at such a young age?
A: Winning the Intel ISEF has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid. I always wanted to attend ISEF, but I did not expect to win the entire fair. The accomplishment I am most proud of is creating this sensor—it just fills me with pride and joy knowing that I will positively impact someone’s life. Being only 15 just sweetens the fact.
Q: How do your family members and friends feel about this recent accomplishment?
A: My friends and family members are extremely proud and excited for all of the media attention that I have been getting as well as the fact that a 15-year old is helping shape the future of cancer research. I remember that I would always be super excited to see a previous ISEF winner or talk to them, so I suppose it’s the same for my friends and family members now.
Q: Will you continue to work on cancer research, specifically pancreatic cancer?
A: I definitely plan on continuing my research on pancreatic cancer, I’m super excited about publishing my results in a scientific journal and working more on understanding and fighting this disease!