How Jack Andraka, 15, Used Google to Fight Cancer

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I’m a bit of a TED Talks junky, so I frequently listen to people who 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 invented a new cancer detection test by sifting through research freely available on Google.

From the first moment I watched Jack’s video my mind was abuzz with possibilities. But as a writer I wondered how best to tell this 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 or would 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 makes 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 and 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. He contacted 198 professors asking for laboratory help until one from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine responded.

Individuals innovate, smart organizations facilitate

Jack would never have gotten as far as quickly in his research without the research and data that's freely available on Google. A lot of Google!

I can’t help wondering what Jack Andraka and Google will tackle next. Maybe a cure for cancer! What other young Jacks or Jills have you heard of that are changing the world?

Here is Jack in his own words:

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