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Fifteen Year Old's Test Strip Invention Holds Major Potential for Earlier Diagnosis of Mesothelioma

Within the past year, sixteen year old Jack Andraka’s life as changed drastically from that of a typical high school student to that of an inventor, scientist and cancer researcher. After a close family friend died of late stage diagnosed pancreatic cancer, Jack began researching the disease using Google and Wikipedia to learn as much as he could with the belief that there must be something out there that could allow for earlier diagnosis. The current tests used for pancreatic cancer are over 60 years old.

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer are not very specific to the disease. They include fatigue, weight loss, nausea and loss of appetite, all symptoms of any number of ailments as well as most types of cancer. Small tumors on the pancreas are also difficult to detect with CT or PET scans due to its location between the stomach and spine.

After three months of research, Jack came across a study identifying mesothelin as a biomarker for pancreatic cancer. Mesothelin (MSLN) is a protein present on normal mesothelial cells which line the internal organs and are present throughout the entire body.

Pancreatic cancer and mesothelioma have a few things in common, both tend to be diagnosed late stage, both are difficult to treat due to that fact and as a result, both come with a very poor prognosis. Both are also forms of cancer with an over expression of the protein MSLN.

It was when Jack was learning about carbon nanotubes (CNTs) in Biology class that he had his ah-ha! Moment though. CNTs are extremely small particles and because of their unique electrical and chemical properties, they present very exciting opportunities for scientific research. Jack thought that he could lace antibodies to CNTs so that they would react to MSLN.

Jack sent his proposal to 199 professors before receiving approval from Johns Hopkins professor, Dr. Anirban Maitra. Dr. Maitra gave Jack use of his lab to develop a filter paper test strip dipped in CNT’s which when exposed to a blood sample, the MSLN in the blood binds with the antibodies to form larger molecules thus changing the paper strip’s electrical properties.

The test is potentially 100% accurate, costs about three cents, takes about five minutes and is over 100 times more sensitive than current tests. It has already been tested and proven accurate in blind human trials.

Earlier diagnosis of mesothelioma holds the potential to turn the fatal disease into a chronic one. Pacific Meso Center is currently working to develop a breath test that will be able to detect a person’s pre-disposition to mesothelioma from the microscopic molecules carried in a their breath.

Jack received the Gordan E. Moore award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for his invention, earning a $75,000 prize and has been contacted by multiple companies about potentially licensing or commercializing his idea.