No matter how big your dream is, never give up on it.
Such was the message Monday as hundreds of students filled Plachta Auditorium in anticipation of science prodigy, Jack Andraka.
Andraka opened the night by covering how he began his research on cancer and why it all started.
“Cancer hits so close to home for me,” he said. “Only three months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, my uncle was dead. I needed to learn more.”
Andraka was determined to learn how the disease could be detected in earlier stages. He found the major cause of mortality in pancreatic cancer to be late detection.
With only Google, Wikipedia and a ninth-grade education for research, he learned there were 8,000 different proteins linked to pancreatic cancer.
“I researched all 8,000 proteins. It wasn’t that easy,” Andraka said. “Most kids went on vacation or to camp for the summer. I locked myself up in my room and did research.”
After having an epiphany in his high school biology class, Andraka was eager to change the world. By combining antibodies and nanotubes, he created a network that works with one protein, therefore indicating the presence of cancer.
Andraka contacted 200 professors at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in search of a lab for research. Only one professor got back with him – Dr. Anirban Maitra.
“I got rejected 199 times, I was called ignorant and foolish,” Andraka said. “I didn’t let it stop me from trying.”
Being interviewed after school in only sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt, he got the lab from Maitra. In addition to Maitra, 28 other Ph.D.s were in the room listening.
“I think we set a world record for how many post docs can fit into a nine-by-nine room,” Andraka joked.
Working on his cancer research became difficult at times. He would often find himself discouraged.
After countless hours in the lab, Andraka developed a 3-cent paper biosensor that detected lung, ovarian and pancreatic cancers in under five minutes. He learned the possibilities for this sensor are endless, by changing the antibodies. Through his technique, Andraka found it possible to detect other illnesses including Alzheimer’s disease.
“I learned to never give up on my hopes and dreams,” Andraka said. “I got told ‘no’ by so many people. Each rejection only made me stronger. I realized that you are the greatest advocate for your ideas and dreams.”
Motivation for Andraka became rare. However, finding a disturbingly accurate statistic changed all of that.
He learned 100 people die each day from pancreatic cancer and asked himself how many lives he could save if he kept his mind on the people he was going to help.
He discussed his hope for change in science and technology in the world. Developing nations have limited access to knowledge, causing a fundamental problem.
“Knowledge is a basic human right,” Andraka said. “The cure for cancer could be locked inside the mind of one of the 5.5 billion people out there with no access to information.”
Aside from the many science projects Andraka is working on, he spends his free time outdoors kayaking, playing Cards Against Humanity with friends and worrying about prom.
South Haven freshman Margaret Filbrandt found Andraka inspiring.
“As a future educator, it makes me think of how I want to run my classroom so I can inspire kids to do amazing things like him,” Filbrandt said.
At the age of 15, Andraka has accomplished more than what most people can do in a lifetime.
“I thought Jack was really impressive,” said Maria Hamell, a Kent freshman. “I just thought it was really cool, that at such a young age, he is doing things to help people in the future with cancer. That’s a big thing these days.”
Andraka came from an inner-city high school in Baltimore known for gang violence and a drop-out rate of 50 percent. After Andraka won numerous awards, the increase in science interest at his school has increased 150 percent.
“Knowing that I can make one person love science, it is absolutely life-changing,” Andraka said.