The Story of How Young Jack Andraka And Google Changed Cancer Detection

I’m a bit of a TED Talks junky, so I frequently listen to people that are inspiring, thought-provoking and passionately engaged.  But I can honestly say that none has made me quite as optimistic about the future as did the story of how young Jack Andraka and Google changed cancer detection.

From the first moment I watched Jack’s video my mind was a buzz with possibilities.  But as a writer I wondered how best to tell this incredible, but simple story that has so many worthy stories wrapped inside of it.  Like how:

Passion trumps profit as a motivator

Jack was passionate about finding an early test for pancreatic cancer, something that kills 100 people a day, because someone he loved died from it within months of being diagnosed.  Pancreatic cancer is rarely detected early and therefore rarely treated successfully.  Jack wasn’t thinking about or motivated by a paycheck, yet he dared to do what big moneyed pharmaceutical companies could but did not.   He was interested in lives not profits.

Ignorance is an excuse not a reason

Jack went from not even knowing he had a pancreas to developing a “dip-stick” type blood test,  similar to what a diabetic might use, to test for pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer and he was able to do it, in large part, through the use of Google to research information.

Perspective can make maturity and youth equals

Jack is only 15 years old.   Yet, he was able to look and see what many older and wiser eyes could not – a better way.  So how much better is Jack’s invention at detecting pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer than what is currently available?

  • It’s 168 times faster.
  • It’s 26,000 times less expensive.
  • And over 400 time more sensitive (for more accurate & earlier detection)

Simplicity is at the heart of every complexity

Jack is into math and he’s big on challenges.  So he knew the solution to complex problems can sometimes be found in the simplest connections.   The key is finding the right ones.  And he found the right ones to make a paper sensor that could detect pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer in five minutes for as little as 3 cents.  (Forbes has a great interview with Jack.)

Perseverance can only win without conformity

Jack may never have even started his quest to come up with a better way to detect pancreatic cancer, if he had believed he needed to be older, wiser, more educated, have funding …  He just tried and kept on trying even in the face of  198 rejections. He contacted 198 professors asking for laboratory help and got rejected.  the 199th – from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine agreed to meet with him.

Individuals innovate, smart corporations facilitate

Jack would never have gotten as far as quickly in his research without the use of Google.  A lot of Google!

Here is Jack in his own words:

I can’t help wondering what Jack Andraka will use Google to tackle next.  A cure for cancer?  What other young Jacks or Jills have you heard are changing the world?



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