Jack Andraka, Saving Lives From Cancer

A high School sophmore created an inexpensive early detection test for Pancreatic Cancer – Until now less than 10% diagnosed survive because the cancer spreads before it is detected–expensive to test.

obamaobamaB.Seed : Thanks so much for being on our blog Jack. A Student, lecturer, research scientist. An inventor, specifically an inexpensive early detection test for Pancreatic (as well as ovarian and lung) Cancer. Wikipedia reports that “The disease occurs most often in the developed world, where about 70% of the new cases in 2012 originated”. Why do you think the most developed nations are most at risk?

Jack : A study published by the NIH explains that they were unable to completely explain the rise and fall of pancreatic cancer-related mortality in different parts of the world, though smoking tobacco is a contributing factor. Additionally,” the change in use of various diagnostic modalities may explain the differences seen in our study


Being overweight or having diabetes might increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer and the risk might increase with a high intake of meat, and decrease with a high intake of vegetables. All these factors can place people in the developed nations at a higher risk for being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

B.Seed : kyak2“… we’re not a super-athletic family. We don’t go to much football or baseball.” North County HS, “A Premier STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics,) High School”. As a Kid you were around science and technology quite a bit it seems – a way of life. Were you bullied much growing up? Do you play a musical instruments? A favorite kind of music?

Jack : I really didn’t fit in well in my elementary school – I was so into math and science and the school I attended would skip math all the time to make pots or go on field trips ! I really wanted to dig into more math and science and when we did it was so rudimentary. I was happy when middle school came around and the charter school I attended emphasized math and science fair. But middle school can be a painful time growing up for everyone and it sure was for me. I didn’t get physically bullied but it was a hard time for me because I did well at competitions and there was jealousy and I was also struggling with coming out as gay.
My mom was determined to find out what I was good at so she had me try many musical instruments. I tried the piano, the clarinet, the saxophone, cello, violin, and flute. I was mediocre at best. I hear all the time how music and math are supposed to mirror each other but I’m good at math but music …not so much! I’m afraid to tell you that I love Disney music and my friends and I get together and sing along with those songs as well as Taylor Swift songs.

B.Seed : You list Alan Turing, widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence, as a role model. “The secret of science” he once said “is to ask the right question, and it is the choice of problem more than anything else that marks the man of genius in the scientific world.” After losing a friend to Pancreatic cancer this is what you did – ask the right question. In a National Cancer Institute(NIC) post in 2010, it said among other things; “Single-walled carbon nanotubes have been HIGHLY TOUTED for their potential as novel delivery agents for cancer detection and therapeutic agents.” Do you believe there was a consensus to ignore the possible use for the Pancreas?

Jack : There are a lot of amazing people working on pancreatic cancer but sadly it is an under funded disease compared to other cancers. I think a lot of funding and therefore scientists (who have to make a living after all) gravitate towards the cancers that receive most attention and money. Although it is the 4th leading cause of cancer related deaths in the US the other leading cancers (lung, colon, breast, prostate) receive 3-6 times as much funding and the average dollar amount of basic research grants is 18-29% less. Meanwhile pancreatic cancer researchers were awarded between 2 and 6 times less grant money than young researchers studying these other cancers. And the community of pancreatic cancer scientists and doctors studying this disease has “historically been small, fragmented and poorly funded) ( stats from pancan.org)

Jack and Chole Diggs were featured on Al Roker’s show “Wake Up with Al”.

Iroker think the lack of money, publicity about the disease and scientists working on it contributed to the lack of progress made.

B.Seed : You are of Polish descent i believe. Polish mathematicians were instrumental in breaking the Nazi Enigma code machine and they collaborated with Turing, to help England defeat Germany in WW II. You have YouTube videos titled “Polish-US Science Symposium” and “Jack Andraka & Naomi Shah, Zeitgeist Europe”. Can you tell us where the symposium took place and did you go there? Have you been to Poland?

Jack : I really wanted to attend the Polish science symposium but I couldn’t because I’m still a high school student and the event took place in the middle of standardized testing. That’s why I made a video for them! I am proud of my Polish heritage and I hope to visit one day. I was able to go to the Google Zeitgeist Europe held outside of London with Naomi. Some of the highlights of that trip were meeting Mark Goodman (Future Crimes) who studies cybersecurity, the Wikihouse people who asked me a question I’ll never forget :”what would you do with your life if there was no one to send a resume to?”, and of course re-connecting with Naomi, who does such brilliant research herself!

B.Seed : TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), a global set of conferences run by the non-profit Sapling Foundation say they are ” driven by this goal: How can we best spread great ideas”? You spoke at a TED conference in 2013, Long Beach CA. You do a lot of speaking for anyone much less a teenager. The idea that cancer/disease detection should be inexpensive is something you stress in your talks. Is this an idea that others in the medical profession/industry have or are starting to embraced?

Jack Andraka at TEDx Orange Coast.

Windows 8 users may need to go to full screen to see the video.

Jack : Speaking at TED and TEDx conferences around the world helps me spread my message that the internet and open access to scientific journals can help bring more people of all races, genders and socio-economic classes to the table and connect them with each other and to the knowledge they need to solve big problems in their communities. Social media has been a wonderful way for me to learn and be mentored by great leaders in the medical field. I particularly want to mention #hcldr (health care leader) twitter chat where medical professionals, innovators and business people come together every week to discuss and learn. I think the educated connected patient movement is an important movement supported by the #hcldr community working to ensure treatments are available and transparent. I realize that developing a treatment or sensor is expensive but after hearing from so many people around the world who are losing family members to cancer, I hope to make a cancer sensor that is inexpensive enough for everyone to use.

B.Seed : You are headed to Stanford – bioengineering/medical school i believe. You have a friend/mentor at John Hopkins, Anirban Maitra, Professor of Pathology, Oncology, and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering – He gave you lab space for your research. Did you apply to that school and would you go there?

Jack Andraka’s mentor Dr. Anirban Maitra with cancer fundraiser Catherine Griffith.

amircathyJack : I’m still waiting for some more schools to reply but I was fortunate enough to be accepted Early to both Stanford and University of Virginia. My mentor has moved to head the pancreatic cancer research department at MD Anderson in TX (they are so lucky to have him!). I did not consider Johns Hopkins for undergraduate studies because I wanted to experience a school out of my area.


B.Seed : In a january 8, 2014 article, Matthew Herper, Forbes magazine Staff writer says ” I decided not to include Andraka on the list(30 under 30), overriding the recommendation of an expert judging panel, because the work was not yet published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal … By taking a teenager’s excitement and using it to turn him into a folk hero, TED and many, many media organizations including my own have provided false hope to cancer patients and given the general population a distorted view of how medical science works.” You are critical of scientific journals for charging lots of money to read articles. I see that you emailed Herper before the article. Did he take your words to him out of context? As of today, is your method a ready-to-go dedicated test?

Jack : It was hurtful for Mr Herper to ask me about my work and then say these things in public – I mean I’m the only person he has written about why he didn’t chose to put me on a list! I was contacted by most of the people who he sent my paper to and they told me that they really liked and respected my work and even invited me to work in their labs. But that’s his business – I understand the pressures he is under to attract readership and controversy is a great way to drive readership and interest! I don’t think raising awareness of the need for more funding for pancreatic cancer and showing that interesting ideas can come from anyone, even a 14 year old, provides false hope but (in my opinion) gives well deserved publicity for the need for more public support of pancreatic cancer scientists while inspiring other young researchers to solve difficult problems.
When I created the test I was 14 and naïvely thought it could get on the market in a few months! I didn’t realize at the time (although my mentor did tell me) how much work needs to be done on a medical device before it can get to market. That’s how it should be- don’t want to get a product to people until it has been worked up well! I’m hearing from labs around the world who are working on similar sensors so I’m sure it will get to the people who need it- the sooner the better! It’s not important to me who brings the idea to market as long as it can help reduce the mortality of this terrible disease.

B.Seed : You were invited to speak at the Science House, Science and Entertainment Exchange of the National Academy of Sciences by co-director Rita J. King. What was that like? Was this the most nervous you have been at a lecture? Does anyone you met stand out in your mind today as being helpful/encouraging in your work?

Jack : I have to tell you speaking at Science House was my most nerve wracking speaking experience! I wasn’t a good speaker yet and being in a small group made me even more nervous for some reason, even though Ms King was the nicest person ever and asked great questions to put me at ease. Maybe it was because my parents and teacher were there but more likely it was because of my inexperience speaking in public. When I spoke at TEDx Orange Coast I met an amazing speaking coach named Barbara Giordano. She really helped me learn to put my nerves aside and put my feelings into words. During my rehearsal for TED I was so anxious though – so many of my heroes were going to be in the audience and I really wanted to get my message across. I messed it up in rehearsal but she helped me re-group and get my thoughts together and I totally enjoyed my TED time on the red dot!

You Don’t Know Jack – Morgan Spurlock – GE FOCUS FORWARD

Windows 8 users may need to go to full screen to see the video.

B.Seed : “He did an eight-minute presentation on the research he’d done and what he discovered,” (Morgan)Spurlock says, “and after I watched that I was like, ‘This guy is fantastic. I need to make a film about him.’” You have a pretty good “genuine” presence on film. Has anyone helped you with public speaking, a course maybe?

Jack : If you had seen my initial attempts at science fair you would have been horrified! I used to have a prepared speech that absolutely couldn’t be altered or interrupted. When I was 11 I would just start at the top “My name is Jack Andraka and the name of my project is…” and just rush on without a stop! My older brother, who also did science fair, helped me so much (mostly by telling me in big brother fashion that I sucked and needed to just talk naturally!). I practiced explaining my project a lot and my mom would annoy me by interrupting and making me start at different points – it is just like practicing a piece of music- you have to be able to practice bits individually before you can string them naturally together in a performance. Then as I mentioned above, I was connected with Barbara Giordano who really helped me find my voice to let my message and passion for the subject shine through.

B.Seed : You are scheduled to speak at The American Montessori Society Annual Conference. Maya Angelou, Jane Goodall, Marian Wright Edelman, Greg Mortenson, Daniel Pink, now you. Great company right? I am sure you have more than a few requests for speaking. How is your health? getting enough sleep?

Jack : It was so exciting to speak at the American Montessori Society Annual Conference. I read a lot about Maria Montessori’s values and they resonated with me so it was easy to talk about my work and how I was motivated to work towards a solution and discover and learn on my own. I love talking to teachers who are committed to helping kids understand the world and to ‘un-packing’ the streams of information available to them now via the internet and helping make sense of that information and place it in context.
I’m on my US book tour now and it’s an awesome experience talking to kids in elementary, middle and high schools and showing them that they too can innovate and change the world for the better. Kids are naturally optimistic, energetic and passionate about making a difference and it is so exciting to see them look at me and realize if this kid, who didn’t even know what a pancreas was, could make a cancer sensor at age 14, imagine what I can do!
It is hard juggling school and travelling and sometimes I miss events like spring varsity team awards or have to pass on a speaking engagement but I try (with lots of help !) to manage both parts of my life. I was on varsity swim team this year and try to swim wherever I am
B.Seed : You bring the same message to everyone – Science shouldn’t be a luxury, cheap early disease detection. In their book “The pH Miracle”, Dr. Robert O. Young and Shelley Redford Young speak on preventive health – I post an excerpt from time to time(https://thebrightseed.wordpress.com/more-about-mucus/). I also like Dr. Sebi. Are there any (medical)doctors that you read regularly?

Jack : I love reading anything Dr Berci Mesko (@berci) writes. He is a medical futurist with great ideas! Dr Gary Fingerhut (@Gary_Fingerhut) of Cleveland Clinic Innovations is super interesting to talk to as is Dr Eric Topol (@EricTopol). Dr. Daniel Kraft is a personal hero- he is from Maryland, won a big science fair award and went on to an amazing career as a medical futurist and pediatric cancer doctor. Dr Catherine Mohr is awe inspiring and inspirational. I also learn so much from my #hcldr community – a big Twitter community with engaged and forward thinking people.

B.Seed : book2A 2014 Jefferson Award, the nation’s most prestigious public service honor. USA Science and Engineering Festival, you are a board member. An invitation from the first lady. You also have a new book out called “Breakthrough: How One Teen Innovator is Changing the World”. This book, how long did it take to write? Andraka Technologies, LLC. What kinds of products do you envision your company producing?

Jack : I really wanted to write a book but had no idea how to start. I had several literary agents approach me about a book contract and I chose the agent that really clicked with me, Sharlene Martin of Martin Literary Agency. She is a mom and unfortunately lost a family member to pancreatic cancer as well so we work well together. She realized that I was overwhelmed with school and working at the lab and speaking so she connected me with a writer, Mathew Lysiak. What an amazing writer- he wrote a book about the Newtown tragedy and he was able to help me put my story into words. We met over the summer and just talked. He would write up what we said and email it to me and I would read it and make corrections and then we would meet some more. He was so interesting and talented and it was easy to talk to him about even very painful things like depression and sadness. Finally we had a book and an auction and we were so fortunate to have Harper Collins be the publisher! It was a thrill to see the hardcover in real life and hold it in my hands. I’ll never forget that feeling and thank Sharlene, Matt and Harper Collins for their guidance and patience.
I am working on nanorobots and delivering cancer fighting drugs as well as improving my sensor thanks to a grant I received as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. I hope that Andraka Technologies will produce sensors for disease diagnostics as well as water quality. I have so many ideas! I hope that I will continue learning and developing ideas to improve everyone’s health. I am totally inspired by Singularity U’s vision of improving the lives of billions of people

B.Seed : jackandraka.net and jackandraka.org – nice pages. Are you the designer of your websites?

Jack : No I didn’t design the websites! Sharlene recommended Book Candy Studios and they made one that told my story well and lets people email me and connect on social media too

B.Seed : So what’s the next big activity for Jack Andraka in 2015?

Jack : So excited to be on this book tour to talk about “Breakthrough”. I just love inspiring people who come to hear me speak to think of their own innovations or solutions (Jack with Larry Page, CEO Google) to improve our world. I’lllarrypage2be travelling all over the US and then I am going to Europe, Australia and Asia too. Can’t wait to keep learning and connecting with people of all ages with big ideas. And of course it’ll be interesting to start college and hopefully decide on a major!!

B.Seed: Thanks for being here. Anything you would like to say to our viewers?

Jack : Great ideas can come from anyone! You can make a difference. Use the internet to learn and connect and get inspired to change the world

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