An openly gay high school junior from Crownsville, Maryland was honored by the Vatican on November 16.
Jack Andraka, 16 years old, received the Giuseppe Sciacca Award, courtesy of the Vatican, for creating a new, cost-effective test that will allow early detection of pancreatic cancer. This award, named after an Italian architecture student who died at the age of 26, recognizes exceptional youth and their accomplishments.
And this Vatican honor might be a hot current event, but Andraka’s story has been making press for awhile. Read up on his scientific break-through and watch a video clip on it here.
“It’s really amazing to be recognized by the Vatican, especially as a gay scientist,” Jack Andraka WBAL News in Baltimore. “I mean this would be unheard of just a few years ago. To be part of this bridge of progress is really amazing.”
Andraka was motivated to begin his research by a close family friend’s diagnosis of, and subsequent death from, pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is often a scary diagnosis because it kills 94.5 percent of patients within five years of diagnosis due to late detection—in stepped Andraka and his invention.
He wanted to discover a way to detect the illness earlier, when chances of successful treatment are much higher. At 15 years old he submersed himself in science journals in order to gain the necessary knowledge needed for this type of technology. He read through thousands of 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 nearly 100 percent accurate dipstick method that he came up also allows doctors to detect early signs of ovarian and lung cancer, and this revolutionary testing procedure has earned the teen the grand prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair on top of the praise of the Vatican.
Andraka notes that although he’s currently working with two biotech firms to further study and manufacture the test, it won’t become available to market for at least five to ten years.
Just a short personal aside that my own grandmother died from pancreatic cancer less than two months after her diagnosis, so I know first-hand how awful this form of cancer can be.
Additionally, from a scientist’s point of view, I find Andraka’s intelligent thoughts on the gap between youth and science to be both enlightening and frightening.
While it’s fascinating that such a critical and inexpensive test could have been developed by a teen, it’s also disappointing that it took until now—and until a youth’s interest and involvement—for this early detection test to be discovered.
“The voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new horizons, but in seeing with new eyes.”
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
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