At just 15, Jack, a high school freshman was too young to drive and too young to vote but he was not too young to use his computer, Google and Wikipedia and then seven months of lab time to develop a potentially revolutionary approach to cancer detection.
It happened because a man who was like an uncle to Jack suddenly went from being seemingly healthy to gravely ill, a human skeleton in just three months, and who then died of pancreatic cancer.
Deeply shaken, Jack began researching pancreatic cancer.
Soon Jack learned that pancreatic cancer kills 98% of those who contract it and that they typically die within a few months. And of those few who do survive it, nearly all of them are dead within five years.
He also learned that with early detection, this deadly cancer is treatable, but seldom is it detected early because the 60 year old means of testing for it is only partially reliable and it is an expensive testing process many people can’t afford.
From his extensive reading on the topic, Jack began developing a means of testing for the increase in proteins that reveal the presence of pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancers. But working in his home could only take him so far.
Jack needed a sophisticated lab and contacted 200 professors and scientists at Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere with a plan, a timeline and a budget.
He received nearly 200 rejections.
Then suddenly a “maybe” came from Anirban Maitra, a Professor of Pathology, Oncology and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
After meeting with Jack, Professor Maitra approved the project and seven months and 4,000 tries later Jack had his revolutionary solution.
In 2012, Jack was awarded the grand prize at the Intel Science Fair, and along with other Intel awards, received about $100,000. I don’t know what it takes to bring this to market but Jack will need government approvals and will likely contract what he has created to a major pharmaceutical firm.
But one day hopefully soon, many millions of lives, including potentially your life or the lives of some of your loved ones will be saved because a 15 year old boy with no formal training persisted where medical giants, with all their billions of dollars in funding and their thousands of scientists, had been unsuccessful.