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Earlier this year, I won an International Science Fair.
Ever since then, a bunch of people have been asking me,
"How on earth could a 15 year old have developed a new way
to detect pancreatic cancer?"
My response?
A year and half of hard work and over millions, millions of failures.
It was pretty depressing.
Recently, I developed a novel paper sensor
for the detection of pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer.
The sensor -- what's so cool about [it] is it is 168 times faster,
over 26,000 times less expensive and over 400 times more sensitive
than the current method of detection.
The best part, it costs 3 cents and takes 5 minutes to run.
It all began one day when I was researching
online statistics about pancreatic cancer.
You might ask,
"Why on earth would a 15 year old be interested in pancreatic cancer?
Shouldn't he be interested in video games?"
What actually got me interested is
a close family friend who's like an uncle to me, had passed of the disease.
What I found on the Internet was eye-boggling.
What I found was 85 percent of all pancreatic cancers are diagnosed late,
when someone has less than 2 percent chance of survival.
The average survival time is about 3 months.
So, there is demographic of about how 2 percent of people will survive.
Now, I was wondering why are we so bad at detecting pancreatic cancer?
I mean, a society is advanced as ours
should have already been able to detect this long ago.
What I found is that our "modern medicine" is a 60 year old technique.
That's older than my dad.
Also, it is grossly inaccurate.
It misses over 30 percent of all pancreatic cancers.
In addition, it's pricey.
It costs over 800 dollars and it is not covered by insurance plan.
So, it's not an option to lower income patients.
In addition, it is rarely ordered
because pancreatic cancer is, what we call, non symptomatic disease.
It doesn't show any symptoms.
Usually, they are just like really random symptoms like abdominal pain.
Who doesn't have abdominal pain sometimes.
Then, what happened is --
I thought there has to be a better way than this really crappy technique.
I started to setting up the scientific criteria,
"How was I going to detect pancreatic cancer?",
I mean, I was a 15 year old.
What I said, is it would have to be inexpensive, rapid, simple,
sensitive, non-invasive, and also selective.
So, then, I was researching.
I began to realize why we haven't been able to detect pancreatic cancer.
What I found is that -- What you are doing is you are looking for
this tiny biomarker of protein that is found in your blood stream.
And, that sounds very straightforward, but it's anything but.
The problem is that, your blood, it is already abundant in proteins.
You have liters and liters of it in your body.
So, find this tiny increase in this tiny amount of protein in there
is next to impossible.
Then, what I realized is that
what you are trying to do is kind of like find a needle in a haystack.
Only worse, it is trying to find a needle in the stack of nearly identical needles.
From there, what I did is I began looking at my search online
because what other source does a 15 year old kid have.
I actually started with a database of over 8,000 different proteins.
I just started chugging through these.
And, luckily, on the 4,000th try and I hit gold.
I finally found this one protein
and I was next to insanity there.
The protein I found was called mesothelin.
It is essentially your ordinary run of the mill protein
unless you have pancreatic, ovarian, or lung cancer.
In which case, it's found these extremely high levels in your blood stream.
Then, the key here is that this protein is found in the earliest stages of the disease
when you have close to a 100% chance of survival.
So, if you could detect this, you would barely have to worry about the cancer, then.
So then I started shifting my focus to
how I was actually going to detect this protein.
It came in the most unlikely of places.
My big breakthrough.
High school biology class. (Laughter)
It is stifling of innovation.
What I did is I kind of smuggled in this scientific article
on these really cool things called carbon nanotubes.
It was like under my jacket and I was reading it under my desk.
A carbon nanotube, you might wonder, what on earth is that?
It's essentially is a long thin pipe of carbon.
It is one 150th of the diameter of your hair and it is an atom thick.
So, it is extremely small.
But, it has extremely amazing properties.
That's like the super hero of material science.
Now, just as we were learning about -- or I was learning about these --
while I was reading the paper and the amazing properties,
we were learning about this things called antibodies.
An antibodies are these super cool organic molecules.
They basically attach to one protein and only that protein.
They are really particular.
It is kind of like a lock and key molecule.
I was rolling around this concept, how could I connect the carbon nanotube's
amazing properties to how this antibody reacts with the only protein?
In this case, the cancer biomarker, mesothelin.
Then it hit me.
What I could have, is this antibody,
I could put it in this network of carbon nanotubes
such that it would react only to the specific protein biomarker,
but also what I would do is I changes its electrical properties
based on the amount of the protein present, so much that I can measure it with
the 50 dollar ohmmeter that I got from Home Depot.
Then, what I did is,
my biology teacher, she spots me, she is like an eagle here.
She storms up red in the face.
She is like, "What are you doing, young man?"
Snatches it out of my hand.
And, after the class, I finally beg with her to give me back the article,
and, she eventually complied,
and, that was really all I cared about from that experience.
From there, what I did was I started refining this cool idea I had.
Then, what happened is I need a lab space
'cause I can't do cancer research on my kitchen counter-top.
So, then, what happened is I wrote up this idea.
I made a materials list, a procedure, a budget, and a timeline.
I emailed it to 200 different professors
at Johns Hopkins University, the National Institute of Health.
Basically, anyone who had anything to do with pancreatic cancer.
They kind of expected I could sit back and just relax, wait for the positive emails
to flow in and me get accepted into a lab.
Then, reality took hold.
And I got 199 rejections out of those 200 and 1 lukewarm "maybe."
That was kind of downheartening.
But, then what happened is I pursued this maybe professor.
And, 3 month later, I landed down a date with him.
I go in, on with the 500 plus journal articles I have read.
What happened is over the course of the interview
he keeps calling in more and more experts, more and more.
They keep firing more and more questions at me trying to pop a hole in my procedure.
Actually, I was kind of prepared for this because, [in] one of the rejection emails,
the professor systematically went through each of my procedure points
and slowly ripped it apart saying how each and every one of them was a mistake.
So, I was kind of prepared for this. I had a study guide.
Then, what happened is I finally got the lab space I needed.
Then, I began on the 7 month long journey.
As soon as I started, I was expecting,
"Oh, I am just going to chug through this and be done in 3 months."
Actually, it turned out to be 7 months
because, as soon as I started, millions of mistakes started coming in.
I have realized my procedure wasn't as perfect as I had initially thought.
Also another valuable lesson I have learned from this is
that nothing is as simple as it seems on paper.
From there, what I happened is I painstakingly filled
each every one of those holes in my procedure that I had found.
These include like blowing up my cells in a sensor fridge,
killing my cells, and killing proteins, and then, killing my carbon nanotubes.
I seemed to be killing everything.
But, eventually at the end, I ended up with one small paper sensor
that could detect pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer
with 100 percent accuracy.
Through this, I have learned a very important lesson.
Through the Internet, anything is possible.
Theories can be shared
and you don't have to be a professor with multiple degrees
in order to have your ideas valued.
It is just your ideas that count on the Internet.
Being brave and being fearless here to me is
that you don't have to use the Internet in conventional ways.
We don't really need to see your duckface pictures on the Internet.
(Laughter) (Applause)
Instead, you could be changing the world with the stuff you do on the Internet.
So, if I had done all my research on Google and Wikipedia, and I am a 15 year old,
imagine what you could do.
Thank you.
(Applause) (Cheers)


【TEDx】ジャック・アンドレイカ 「15才で、がんの低価格検査法を発明するには」 (Inventing a Low-Cost Test for Cancer at Age 15: Jack Andraka at TEDxMidAtlantic 2012)

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