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  • Earlier this year, I won an international science competition.

  • (Laughter)

  • Ever since then, a bunch of people have come up to me and asked,

  • "How on Earth could a 15 year old have come up with a new way

  • to detect pancreatic cancer?"

  • My answer, "A ton of hard work, a year and a half to be precise,

  • and a ton of failures."

  • Recently, I developed a novel paper sensor for the detection

  • of pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer.

  • It is 168 times faster, over 26,000 times less expensive

  • and over 400 times more sensitive than the current gold standard of detection.

  • The best part is --

  • (Applause)

  • the best part, it costs 3 cents and takes 5 minutes to run.

  • (Applause)

  • It all began one day when I decided to go online and start researching

  • statistics on pancreatic cancer.

  • We had recently lost a close family friend who was like an uncle to me

  • who had succumbed to the disease of pancreatic cancer.

  • What I found was eye-opening.

  • Over 85% of all pancreatic cancers are diagnosed late

  • where a patient has less than 2 percent chance of survival.

  • That means less than 2 people out of every 100 [survive].

  • In addition, it has an abysmal 5 year survival rate.

  • Only 5.5 percent of people will survive after 5 years.

  • The average life span of someone with pancreatic cancer is 3 months.

  • One of my dad's friends actually suffered of pancreatic cancer,

  • and a week later he was dead.

  • So I was wondering, why we are so bad at detecting pancreatic cancer.

  • What I found was eye-opening and shocking to me.

  • Our "modern medicine" is a 60 year old technique.

  • It is highly outdated and grossly inaccurate.

  • It misses over 30 percent of all pancreatic cancers.

  • In addition, it's pricey.

  • It costs 800 dollars per test and it's not covered by insurance.

  • So, it's not an option for low income patients.

  • In addition, pancreatic cancer is a non symptomatic disease.

  • That means that all of its symptoms are really general

  • such as abdominal pain, jaundice.

  • So, a doctor can't easily diagnose it.

  • Then I started making a scientific criteria,

  • that I would imagine a sensor that was optimal would have.

  • It would have to be simple, sensitive, selective, rapid, inexpensive,

  • and minimally invasive to a patient.

  • I was pretty confident that I could create such a sensor, but I wasn't quite sure how.

  • Then, I started doing a bit more research

  • and I found out why such a technological advancement hadn't been made.

  • What I found is that, due to the daunting nature of discovery,

  • no work has really been done on this.

  • What is happening with pancreatic cancer when you diagnose it,

  • you are looking for a cancer biomarker

  • or a protein that's found at higher levels in your blood stream.

  • This sounds really straightforward, but it is anything but.

  • You see, you have all this healthy blood, liters and liters of healthy blood.

  • But, you are looking for this tiny increase in this tiny amount of protein.

  • That's next to impossible.

  • Essentially, what you are doing is you are looking for a needle in a haystack.

  • But worse, you are looking for a needle in a stack of [nearly identical] needles.

  • So then, what I did, is I began researching because I had to find some target to look at.

  • I started actually with a database of over 8,000 different proteins

  • found in pancreatic cancer.

  • Luckily, on the 4,000th try, I finally hit gold.

  • I found this protein I could use.

  • Its name was mesothelin.

  • It is just your regular protein

  • unless you have pancreatic, ovarian, or lung cancer.

  • In which case, it's found at highly expressed level,

  • at highly over expressed like really high levels in your blood stream.

  • Then, the key about this protein is that it's found early in the disease

  • when a patient has close to 100% chance of survival.

  • So, if I could detect this protein,

  • then I could hopefully cure pancreatic cancer, basically.

  • Then, I shifted my focus to trying to detect the protein because that was the big question.

  • My breakthrough came in the most unlikely of places.

  • It came in high school biology class -- the absolute abhor of innovation.

  • (Laughter)

  • I basically smuggled in this article on single walled carbon nanotubes

  • I had been dying to read.

  • A single walled carbon nanotube is essentially an atom-thick tube of carbon.

  • That's -- just imagine a really long pipe.

  • It is one 150th of the diameter of your hair.

  • And it has these amazing properties.

  • They are super, super cool.

  • They are like the superheros of material science.

  • Then, I was trying to roll over this concept of -- we were learning about -- antibodies.

  • Antibody is basically a lock and key molecule

  • that attaches specifically to a certain protein, in this case, the mesothelin.

  • I was trying to combine that specific reactivity

  • to how carbon nanotubes are really sensitive to their network

  • of the 3 dimensional structures of their network.

  • Then, it hit me.

  • What I could do is I could put an antibody in this network

  • such that would react specifically to the mesothelin.

  • Then, also I would change its electrical properties based on the amount of mesothelin,

  • enough so that I could measure it with the 50 dollar Home Depot ohmmeter.

  • So, pretty easy.

  • Just as I had this epiphany, my biology teacher storms up to me,

  • because she spots me reading this article, snatches it out of my hand,

  • because I was supposed to be writing an essay,

  • then, storms off and gives me a lecture.

  • After class, I finally convinced her after a huge lecture

  • on how I should respect her in her class --

  • I finally got my article back because that is all I really wanted from her.

  • (Laughter)

  • Then, what I did is I began researching this promising idea.

  • Then, I needed a lab space

  • because you can't do cancer research on your kitchen countertop.

  • (Laughter)

  • Basically, what I did is I wrote up a budget, a timeline, a procedure, and a materials list

  • so all the professors I emailed knew that I meant business.

  • So, then, what happened is I emailed 200 different professors

  • at the National Institutes of Health and Johns Hopkins University.

  • Basically, anyone who had anything to do with pancreatic cancer.

  • Then, I was kind of expecting to sit back and wait for positive emails to flow in

  • and I would get a pick and choose.

  • (Laughter)

  • Then, reality took place.

  • Over the course of a month, I got 199 email rejections.

  • One of them went as far as to systematically pop a hole in each part of my procedure.

  • So, it was a bit depressing.

  • But, there was 1 lukewarm maybe professor.

  • I finally tracked him down, after 3 months, nailed down an interview.

  • I go in with my knowledge of 500 plus journal articles I have read.

  • We start the interrogation.

  • Because what happens is over the course of this hour long interview

  • he calls in more and more experts, trying to pop holes in my solution.

  • I sit through all of it and I answer all of his questions.

  • I guessed on a few of them. (Laughter)

  • But, the interrogation paid off.

  • I got the lab space I needed.

  • Then, I started on a 7 month long journey in order to finally find the solution.

  • It seemed at first nothing was working.

  • Everything was really screwed up and there were millions of holes in my procedure.

  • Over the course of 7 months,

  • I slowly, painstakingly filled each and every one of those.

  • At the end, I ended up with the paper sensor

  • that could detect a 100% of all pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancers.

  • (Applause)

  • But, I've learned a really important lesson over the course of my journey.

  • What I've learned is that through the Internet, anything is possible.

  • Theories can be shared and you don't have to be a professor

  • with multiple degrees to have your ideas valued.

  • Regardless of your gender, your age your ethnicity, regardless of anything,

  • it's just your ideas that count.

  • To me, that's all that really matters.

  • "Redefining relevance" for me is looking for new ways to use the Internet.

  • We really don't want to see your duckface pictures.

  • (Laughter)

  • Instead, you could be changing the world with the Internet.

  • You could help detect pancreatic cancer.

  • So, if I could detect pancreatic cancer,

  • just imagine what you could do.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

Earlier this year, I won an international science competition.

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B1 pancreatic pancreatic cancer cancer protein detect laughter

【TEDx】For A World Without Cancer: Jack Andraka at TEDxOrangeCoast

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    Andrew posted on 2013/10/14
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