Jack Thomas Andraka is an American scientist, inventor, and cancer researcher. As a high school student, he won the grand prize at the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair with a method to possibly detect the early stages of pancreatic and other cancers. His work has been questioned by some scientists and writers because it has not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal; multiple experts who reviewed the paper identified potentially serious flaws in the work, and Andraka himself described it as "just a high school science fair project." As of 2018 he was enrolled at Stanford University as a junior majoring in anthropology and in electrical engineering.
Pancreatic cancer sensor
Andraka's winning project consisted of a sensor, similar to diabetic test strips, for early-stage pancreatic cancer screening. The sensor, consisting of filter paper coated with single-walled carbon nanotubes and antibodies against human mesothelin, was said to measure the level of mesothelin to test for the presence of cancer in a patient.
The project claimed that tests on human blood serum showed a dose-dependent response, and that his method was 168 times faster, 1⁄26667 times as expensive, and 400 times more sensitive than ELISA, 25% to 50% more accurate than the CA19-9 test, and over 90 percent accurate in detecting the presence of mesothelin. However, several years of trials would be needed to determine whether the new device would be sensitive and specific enough as a screening test for pancreatic cancer.
Andraka has spoken about the inspiration for his work—including the death of a family friend—in forums including TEDx Nijmegen in 2013. He conducted his work under the supervision of Anirban Maitra, Professor of Pathology, Oncology, and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Andraka has applied for a provisional patent for his method of sensing pancreatic cancer and as of 2012 was communicating with companies about developing an over-the-counter test.
In October 2013, Andraka appeared as a guest on The Colbert Report to talk about his work.
A 2011 article published by Sharon et al. refutes many of Andraka's claims about specificity of using mesothelin as a biomarker for pancreatic cancer. Specifically, the group showed that mesothelin serum levels in healthy donors were not statistically different from serum levels in pancreatic cancer patients. Dr. Ira Pastan, who discovered mesothelin, said that Andraka's method "makes no scientific sense. I don't know anybody in the scientific community who believes his findings." George M. Church, professor of genetics at Harvard University, also raised concerns about the cost, speed, and sensitivity claims. The novelty of Andraka's work has also been questioned. In 2005, seven years before Andraka won the Intel ISEF, a group of researchers at Jefferson Medical College and the University of Delaware reported a carbon-nanotube based sensor for use in breast cancer diagnostics that uses a methodology nearly identical to Andraka's purportedly novel methodology. In addition, a carbon-nanotube based sensor similar to Andraka's was reported in 2009 by Wang et al., a group of researchers at Jiangnan University and University of Michigan, and a carbon-nanotube based sensor for applications in cancer diagnosis was reported in a 2008 paper by Shao et al. that used a methodology similar to Andraka's.
In 2012, Andraka filed a "World Patent" under the Patent Cooperation Treaty, which resulted in a preliminary search to determine patentability. The examination found "a lack of inventive step" and prior art in US Patents 7824925 and 8110369. No subsequent patent has been filed in any of the patent offices under the PCT and a "Code 122" European Patent not filed was issued on June 3, 2015.
While being an advocate for open access, he was criticized for not publishing his discovery openly for anyone to use and build upon, and then trying to file a patent for it.
Jack Andraka was born in Crownsville, Maryland and is of Polish ancestry. Andraka enrolled as a freshman at Stanford University for the 2015–2016 academic year.
Andraka has been openly gay since he was 13. When asked to be interviewed about his sexual orientation, Andraka 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. I didn't have many role models besides Alan Turing."
Andraka's father, Steve, is a civil engineer and his mother, Jane, is a Certified Anesthesiology Assistant. Andraka's 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 an MIT THINK Award.
Awards and recognition
- 2012 Gordon E. Moore Award
- 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, Fourth-place, Chemistry.
- 2014 National Jefferson Award Recipient, Samuel S. Beard Award for the Greatest Public Service by an Individual Thirty-Five Years or Under
- 2015 Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation Coca-Cola Scholar
- 2012 Smithsonian Magazine American Ingenuity Award
You Don't Know Jack (2013)