A sixteen-year old openly gay high school junior from Crownsville, Maryland was honored on November 16 with the Giuseppe Sciacca Award, courtesy of the Vatican, for creating a new, cost-efficient test that will allow early detection of pancreatic cancer. The award, named after an Italian architecture student who died at the age of twenty-six, recognizes exceptional youth and their accomplishments.
“It’s really amazing to be recognized by the Vatican, especially as a gay scientist,” Jack Andraka told WBAL News. “I mean this would be unheard of just a few years ago. To be part of this bridge of progress is really amazing.”
Inspired by a close family friend’s diagnosis of (and death from) pancreatic cancer, which kills 94.5 percent of patients within five years of diagnosis due to late detection, Andraka became interested in discovering a means to detect the illness earlier, when chances of successful treatment are higher. Then fifteen, in order to gain the necessary knowledge needed for the technology, he had to read through thousands of science journals, some of which cost $35 an article.
“It was very cost-prohibitive,” Andraka said. “Because of this we have this big disconnect between youth and science. A Katy Perry single costs 99-cents. A science article costs $35, so there is a big mixed message.”
The highly effective (nearly 100 percent accuracy) dipstick testing method that Andraka created allows doctors to detect early signs of the illness with a non-invasive paper sensor that shows an increase in a certain protein, which indicates presence of pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer early on. The revolutionary method also won the teen the grand prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
Following the Vatican honoring, Andraka is slated to spend a week in Berlin, Germany, working with Max Plank Society—an engineering organization.
According to Andraka, although he’s currently collaborating with two biotech firms to further study and manufacture the test, it won’t be available to the market for at least five to ten years.