Back in May, 15-year-old Maryland freshman Jack Andraka won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. He took home a prize of $75,000, and the video of him learning he’d won is truly adorable.
But even if Andraka won the science fair, beating out more than 1,500 competitors from around the world, the real winners may be all of us. His project could revolutionize cancer testing, making it not only more accurate, but far, far cheaper.
Andraka explains that his test uses a strip of paper, much like those used by diabetics to gauge blood sugar, dipped in a solution of carbon nanotubes--just a single atom wide--mixed with an antibody to a bio-specific marker for a certain cancer or virus.
The nanotubes change in electronic conductivity when their antibodies come into contact with the target virus, and that change in conductivity can be detected by those same inexpensive meters used by doctors and diabetics.
Although this isn’t the first time this technique has been used, Andraka has put the pieces together in such a way to produce remarkably accurate diagnostic results.
While working at a Johns Hopkins University lab, Andraka tested his invention on 100 patient samples. It laps the existing technology--the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (or ELISA)--in accuracy, speed, and cost efficiency.
“I got a really fierce patent lawyer right after I won ISEF,” Andraka told Forbes reporter Bruce Upbin. And he’ll need it--he’s already been contacted by four companies, and he’s working on getting a patent and getting published. He’s also scheduled to speak before Congress to advocate for increased funding for pancreatic cancer research--he says the death of an uncle from pancreatic cancer inspired his work--which has only a 5.5 percent survival rate.